On the Road to Self-Directed Learning

‘Meaning is not what we make it but what can be made — there is always more than one way, all we have to do is embrace what lays before us.’ Mark Dyson

The following article is a development of two articles first featured on the Teacher’s Guild in article 1 and article 2.

On the Road to Self-Directed Learning

“Learning and Innovation Skills: Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not. A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.

Creativity and Innovation. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Communication and Collaboration.” P21.org

To introduce the concept of lifelong learning is one thing. To take control is something else entirely: It requires a holistic, systematic and generic approach to make it happen, so we have somewhere to create, to own our own content and learn new skills. More importantly, it has to be visible, navigable while also opening for choice and personalization.

What if we can actually design, our own self-directed learning?

We live in a world of experts, or do we? Since those with key insights are often excluded from decision-making. This challenges the preconceptions as to who we are, our role, our importance even.

If we can direct our learning, we form it to our needs, desires, making it so it fits us, not us having to fit into the manacles of a curriculum decided by other people. We also need structure. In a complicated world we cope by specialization. Across industries, and within the boundaries of our professions, we create silos. Each silo speaks its own language.

We no longer have the ability of really interacting in the way we used to — when the world was a much simpler place to live and do business in. We also face unprecedented challenges. It’s estimated that by 2050 the world will be home to nine billion people, meaning current food production will need to almost double. Think about out. Producing food means using land, yet we have less land to use. Land means water. Some places of the world are drying up, others are drowning.

Take information; how many of us, when looking for information, in the course of our search, come across other sources, other articles or stories that captivate us. One thing leads to a next. This is discovery. It is to be encouraged in self-directed learning — but only when it serves purpose. Building a library can such a purpose. Or developing ideas, even for projects we are not currently involved in.

Designing Self-Directed Learning

Designing Self-directed learning implies a number of simple, yet very important interrelated aspects. One of these is EXPERIENCE — the experience of learning.

Experience is Active participation in events or activities, leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill. The apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind. Or an event or a series of events participated in or lived through.

Another aspect is MINDSET. A mindset is a mental framework, one we use to pre-program the way we view and do things — before we do them.

Another is the ‘becoming an expert’. To be an expert is to know something at a high level of understanding, seeing implications, sensing what is important, what is not, so we can act as an expert and give objective opinion.

Yet another aspect is LEARNING MODELS — seeing how changing perceptions can be accommodated in a model that represents how we learn. In this respect we have the ‘experiential learning model’ from David Kolb. Kolb has built on those who has gone before him, and similarly, ideas extend forward in time because of what has gone before us. Learning is the same.

We have aspects of design, of changing existing conditions into more desirable ones. We have design thinking models that explain the mindsets, processes and frameworks of design thinking. However, the frame of reference is separate, when in essence, they are both elements of the same LEARNING ECOSYSTEM.

An ecosystem understanding and applying ecosystem concepts can help us to explore wider, adjacent spaces of possibility outside of traditional contexts , identify opportunities; co-create superior ecosystem interventions; improve the potential of existing situations; build capabilities and lead more adaptive, creative organisations (Lawyer 2017). We can use an ecosystem understanding to develop a framework for self-directed learning. A framework is the construction that bears the livable and the visible. It is the element with the longest lifecycle that is there to support the changeable, adaptive state of existing. Can we invent a framework that accelerates self-directed learning by making it dynamic, changing to our needs, visible, navigable and manageable?


The process of designing self-directed learning starts with an idea.

What if we could exert so much control over our own learning that we can influence the process of transition by being connected to it?

Only the right ideas can create our future: Ideas are often the first thing we need even before we start to analyze what is that is getting in the way of you achieving our goals. Ideas can from anywhere. Any idea is as valid as the next until weighed and validated.

So here’s the idea: The power of learning can be harnessed collectively if we see ourselves as part of an ecosystem. We need powerful concepts to pull in the interest and engagement of others. The concept of a learning ecosystem is connected to an aim:

To develop powerful learning tools that can transform the way learners think about themselves when they realize they can gain insights opening new opportunities.

We need to take control, that is for certain in the 21st century. But we also need to learn about the pitfalls, and be ready to face the storms and conditions that occasionally influence the world around us, which in turn influence us and not least how we become aware of the power to educate ourselves. The ecosystem is an interesting analogy since we will at some point experience the stormy weather in our lives which can no longer be separated into personal, educational or working — it’s all inter-connected.


So direct our own learning, we also need to see ourselves as being connected with the world. That may seem like stating the obvious but really, it isn’t. We need to take part in the process of transition from directed to self-directed learning. To do that, we need to be active in knowing what is on the horizon as much as what is around us. If we don’t take part in that process of transition, we take a large risk by isolating ourselves. So how can we understand this? What can we look at that can provide some insight and get to grips with some big ideas? We need something familiar we know, something we can work with.

We are good at seeing the world in terms of risks and what we need to do and build to avoid them — but are we good at doing that for ourselves and turn this around to see possibility instead? Here’s the difference — by being proactive in forming opportunity — we build resilience to the adverse affects of change. If we influence others, we can exert influence.


We can’t afford to stand still. Not if we want job security, happiness or to do what we enjoy doing. We are not passive people on the other end of the receiving end — we can feed the system as well — for the better. Education has become lifelong learning. Students and workers must educate themselves continually. So our personal, learning and working lives and how they related to the world around us — and the ebbs and flows of recessions and periods of growth are part of the system of change — are all connected even if we can’t see it today.

Just as a city can’t see what weather is coming in a month, or a year. What impact it will have — often leaving permanent traces — cannot be known. But it has to be planned for. We have never been more inter-related with our world than we are today. Our parents my have been able to separate them. Our grandparents certainly did. We can’t do that any more. So we can see ourselves as part of an ecosystem. Unlike the global warming and the side effects and detrimental effects on well-being, we can do something about our own weather system and do something about the changes.

The message here is, just as we need to plan and adapt to weather even global warming, we also need to monitor what is going on around us and see where we can create a better climate — by becoming an active part of the ecosystem we are a part of.


We need to sense what we cannot see — and adapt ourselves to the world in transition. We need to stay on top. When the wind blows, we have to stand on our own two feet. We need to feel secure that what we have to say has value, that what we do makes a difference, both to us and those we engage in.

Therefore, the world of transition can be reduced to the simple level of being aware of how we as individuals interact with the changing world around us. It is knowing that awareness of ourselves is a journey that never ends. I see this as a search for personal truth that is a dialogue with the people and the world around us. This search starts at school and once started, never ends.

Being self-ware also means seeing potential dangers — what can happen if we don’t tap into the ecosystem. What was a career path can become a fight to survive. What was once a skill can become redundant. These are the adverse sides of being part of a system we do not take part in. These are not just words, they represent a reality that determines our future. So just as in global warming, when the rules that were no longer really apply any more, we are part of a ‘paradigm change’ and that change effects all of us.

By not taking part in transition and creating opportunity, we risk not being part of it all.

So what are the upsides? What can we do so we prevent that from happening to us?


The change is also in knowing the control we exert over our own learning process is viable and adaptable. We can learn that our world is far from an ideal world but that should not deflect us from personal paths. Even those like myself, who have dedicated our lives to making, researching, studying and developing knowledge are vulnerable. No one is holy and nobody can afford to rest on laurels, because yes, the world is a different place than it once was and has embarked on a process of transition that knows no end — so the only thing that is certain at all is transition itself.

What was negative can become positive, by coming up with the right ideas. By acting on something, we can change the impact we have on our environment. For a city or a district that means also improving the quality of the environment. The thing is, we are in control and what may seem like a problem can become an opportunity. The same applies for us and how we live our future. The difference is: We are the ones responsible for making the right decisions.


These are new times, changing times and requires an understanding of who we are, how we think and how we can take a step back and see how we interact with others. To manage our future, we need to navigate the present and be aware of how we can take responsibilIty for our own learning, so we can ride the winds of change and the storms that will come when we least expect them to. This is common to all people engaging with others, whether they be students, artisans, professionals or pensioners — it follows us but we need to open our eyes, hearts and minds to see it for what it truly is.

It is important we are ourselves, that we feel secure in being ourselves, that we question ourselves but also feel happy to share what we hold to be true. WE CAN DO THAT BY UNDERSTANDING how we are part of the greater perspective — that we are part of a world in transition and that creativity and empowerment is the key to progress. We need to adopt a different mindset that means thinking less of ourselves and more of sharing what we value.

So my message is this:

Share with open mind. Take control of yourself by learning. Make it a mission to feel good about interacting with the world around you. When you get to where you want to be going, then help others on their journey’s too. We need to understand that we are not alone, that we are part of a Learning Ecosystem. Neither are we alone in the planning or the journey that lays before us. We can help develop that Ecosystem and connect our minds in common understandings.


To take control of learning we need learning tools need to respond to the context of the individual in the world — call it a local-global contextual differentiation. And like the forces affecting weather, do the forces within the context of learning need to be integrated but differentiable — learning, doing and thinking requires integrating and aligning to both the local — and global context.

For learning to be truly open to self-direction, we need a guide to make the implicit explicit, viewing the big picture, relating real world processes, ideating own opportunities, activating dreams & desires. We have to learn to focus and learn to relate to the world. We need to frame inquiry, so self-directed learning requires a framework that has to be objective, relating to existing theories, but also made simple, as part of a universal body of knowledge with simple, identifiable and learnable concepts. Hence the use of ‘The Learning Ecosystem’.


> Present and future learning (CONTINUOUS LEARNING)

> Experiencing that learning is interconnected with thinking and doing (EXPERIENCE)

> Relating the above to internal and external global learning forces (FORCES)

> Take part and share connecting ‘our world’ to ‘the world’ (by PARTICIPATION)

> Attaining higher-order learning by creativity and invention (PROCESSES AND TOOLS)


Lawyer, C (2017). Design and Transform Value in Health: A Service Ecosystem Framework. Pdf file downloaded from www.umio-health.com