As professionals who want to provide true skill-building, we’re often challenged to ensure our target audiences achieve learning goals in far less time than in past years. We’re asked to develop “mini” programs, replacing ILT with webinars,eLearning or blended solutions. So how do we ensure that our target audience is truly engaged and receives all the essential learning content?

To accomplish this, we need to provide streamlined content using the most-updated methodologies. As we develop shorter programs with self-directed pre-assignments and post-workshop application exercises, we need to transition learners from the reactive to a proactive mode

“Engaging learners is never more interesting and challenging than
it is today with the variety of options open to us.”

Research tells us that self-directed learning helps maximize the learning experience because people focus their attention on only useful information. In addition, when we’re self-directed, all of us actually do a better job of encoding information and retaining it.

On the other hand, one big challenge is that learners expect external validation for the acquisition of learning. This is an expectation from the way our traditional educational system is structured. Creating successful self-directed learning means coupling the internal drive for learning with external reinforcement.

Here’s one successful approach:Couple a pre-assignment (self-directed reading/self-assessment with access to eLearning for more in-depth structured research and study) with the expectation that results will be presented at a “live” class or webinar with peers and a coach. What we’ve combined is learning at one’s own pace to acquire essential content while motivating the learner to be on top of his or her game when working with peers and the coach.

The same approach works well for self-directed post-workshop assignments – coupling the work done on one’s own with a culminating activity (a conference call, a webinar, a published article to be circulated) that creates application as well as recognition for the learning.

Streamlining learning content is the second challenge. Self-directed learning presents great opportunities for knowledge acquisition, reading, self-insight and even a structured way to gather research and information on any content area.

We can provide creative approaches to help learners acquire, reflect and then apply a deeper level of the knowledge and skills to a variety of situations. Any “live” event can then provide creative ways (cases, games, simulations, etc.) to expand on that knowledge and related skills with an emphasis on in-depth application. The shorter “live” learning experiences become more focused because of the self-directed
pre-assignments; learners actually become far more engaged.

Facilitated discussions allow for critical thinking, decision making and developing innovative solutions with diverse teams in the class or chat rooms. Organizational learning that comes from working with peers is an important benefit of all live events, and the networks created among attendees can benefit attendees in many ways.

Engaging learners is never more interesting and challenging than it is today with the variety of options open to us. And yet when we focus on the ultimate customers – the learners and the goals of what we want to accomplish for them – we can then have fun with the methodologies available, make our choices and overcome challenges along the way.




    • Jeanne M. Van Briesen, Professor – Carnegie Mellon University


    • Todd Gureckis and Douglas Markant, New York University


    • C.M. Lawry, “Supporting and Facilitating Self-Directed Learning”


    • “Conscious Choices: A Model for Self-directed Learning” by Elaine Gray


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