SDL Definition – Rationale – Background


“In its broadest meaning, ’self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with our without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. (M. Knowles, Principles of Androgogy, 1972)

The Case for Corporate SDL

  1. Businesses cannot meet all the training needs of their employees
  2. Less costly than traditional training.
  3. Enables learners to learn only what they need to learn. No longer do they have to sit through a three-day course to get the three hours of learning they need.
  4. Makes learning a truly sustainable enterprise wide effort.
  5. Is relevant for everyone, from new hires to senior management.


The concept of self-direct learning first appeared as a viable concept the 1970s. While it has experienced success in higher education, it has not been readily adopted by the corporate sector. Where it has, for all intents and purposes, it has been adopted in name only. Letting employees choose what training programs they want to attend or modules they want to study is not self-directed learning as originally conceived by Malcolm Knowles.

Until now there has not been an articulated approach to implementing self-directed learning in the world of corporate training. Self-directed learning represents a major paradigm shift in thinking about the responsibility for workplace learning. In addition, it offers practical benefits for organizations in keeping their employees skills up-to-date in a cost-effective manner.

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