Self-Directed Learning Skills

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In his forward to the book Scaling Leadership, Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation paints the following picture of his work:

So much disruption; so little time. Not only are organizations expected to provide great products and services, but to do so while the landscape is shifting and quaking. For those of us leading, it's both scary and thrilling. It is our job to lead our teams into these great challenges. I don't know about you, but I'm in over my head, and I need help. [1]
Ed Catmull

Your online design can offer one pathway in the development of self-directed learning (SDL) skills for emerging leaders who will be facing these kinds of challenges. Thus, as you envision the creation of such a learning pathway, consider how contemporary professional development initiatives and the growing research on what it takes to cultivate a growth mindset might help you in this process. Consider which SDL skills might be essential for the learners engaging your online course. 

Professional Development

Exponential growth in areas of knowledge, information and communication technologies, global mobility and inter-cultural exchange of ideas has heightened the recognition of the priority of SDL. Increasingly, employers and educators alike are realizing that formal education must adapt, focusing today on the learner’s abilities to learn on their own and in community, outside of and upon the completion of formal educational programs. Workplaces today are strategizing ways to promote SDL within their corporate practices in order to effectively address these global challenges. The same is true for educational administrators today who are designing strategic professional development initiatives for their faculty. How might you design your course to encourage learners to take ownership of their own professional development? Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this growing set of priorities is the realization that we need to listen well to those stakeholders for whom we are credentialing learners. What SDL skills would these places of employment and service recommend that we adopt in our educational strategies?

A Growth Mindset

Over a decade ago, a group of educational researchers began exploring a phenomenon that has been called “the growth mindset.” These promising studies reveal that learners who perceive that their mental abilities can be developed perform better than those who do not. Carol Dweck has conducted numerous studies that reveal the importance of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. These studies reveal that cultivating a growth mindset requires more than simply encouraging effort and motivation in the life of the learner. It turns out, a growth mindset is correlated with a learner’s familiarity with new learning strategies and with the communication strategies of the teacher. Eduardo Briceño, a colleague of Dweck, advanced these concepts, applying them to areas like the workplace, personal relationships, and even character development. In these studies, Briceño offers evidence for how the power of belief can significantly influence success in learning. 

So what can we do as online learning designers to encourage the development of a growth mindset in the hearts and minds of the learners taking our courses? One idea is to focus on developing specific skills that lead to a growth mindset in the learner.  How might these learning priorities be incorporated into the learning activities and assessments in your course? And how might your design scaffold the learning experience so that learners grow towards the exemplary category in these descriptions?


[1] Anderson R. and Adams W. (2019). Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, forward.

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