More than half of the global workforce will need new skills within the next five years as technologies continue to change. While companies recognize the need to upskill and reskill employees in order to stay competitive, it’s not enough for Learning and Development (L&D) teams to offer learning programs and call their work complete. Instead, L&D leaders must empower employees to learn on their own terms through development programs that include self-directed learning. 

Self-directed learning empowers employees to assess their own learning needs, build learning goals, and identify the learning resources — whether people, courses, or materials — that will help them achieve those goals. A self-directed learning program is crucial for promoting continuous learning and building a culture of learning

Just as learning agility is a necessity for employees to thrive in a constantly changing workplace, the ability to effectively direct your own learning is an essential competency for modern workers.

Knowing how to direct their own learning isn’t an easy task for your workforce. They must recognize what skills to learn, how to learn them, and when they’ve successfully learned those skills. This is where employees could use support from their L&D leaders and people managers to know they’re on the right learning path. Here are five ways you can encourage self-directed learning at your organization.

1. Link company goals to employee goals

First, you can support self-directed learning by clearly communicating the company’s long-term goals and priorities. Then, ask employees to create a personal learning vision that also aligns with the organization’s overall goals. These personal visions serve as a starting point for individual employees to outline their work-related and learning goals for the year. 

Personal statements also hold individual employees accountable for the company’s business outcomes. For example, after learning their company has a goal of increasing website traffic referrals from Google, a digital marketing employee might focus their personal learning vision on improving their search engine optimization (SEO) skills. Not only will developing this expertise help the employee reach their role-specific goals, but it also ensures they help their company get closer to that website referral goal. 

2. Foster collaboration and social learning

To encourage collaboration and shared responsibility, create an environment of mutual respect where employees are excited to learn from one another. Use social learning as a way for employees to network with their peers and learn from each other. 

Provide online and offline communities for employees to discuss what they’re doing to achieve their learning goals. Colleagues are likely to recommend courses to one another and help each other stay accountable.

3. Find on-the-job learning opportunities

Encourage managers to find ways to delegate new responsibilities related to learning goals to employees. Employees then learn by doing by participating in the development and planning of role-specific projects as well as their personal learning projects.

Managers can also facilitate learning by asking thought-provoking questions rather than giving directive commands. This encourages employees to formulate their own solutions to business needs and offers them a greater sense of ownership. The goal is to coach the development of individual competence and empower employees to take self-directed actions. The more self-directed your work environment is, the more likely your employees will be self-directed learners as well.

4. Make time for learning and mistakes

For employees to better own their learning, organizations must also enthusiastically make time for learning at the individual, team, and organizational levels. For example, companies can schedule an uninterrupted learning hour once a month so employees have space and time to learn.

With learning inevitably comes mistakes. Don’t hide from the mistakes. Support your employees in the errors they might make while learning new skills. Encourage experimentation and recognize the differences in employees’ career goals, performance expectations, and development needs. Provide support to help employees track their progress, gather and offer feedback, and take time to reflect on their progress.

5. Use relevant technologies

Companies also need to provide the technology that fosters modern learning. This includes chat software, learning management systems, and video conferencing tools. A learning program rich in technology options helps employees self-serve their development when and as they need it.

Select digital learning platforms that offer engaging content with consumer-like user experiences. If learning mimics how employees shop or watch movies, they will be more likely to gravitate to learn on their own. Provide training on how to use the tools and gather feedback on the accessibility and ease of use. 

Self-directed learning helps business goals

The need for continuous learning in the workplace will not go away. Upskilling and reskilling employees are essential to maintaining business continuity as technology moves at breakneck speeds. But what should not continue in the workplace are training initiatives rolled down to employees with little discussion of their own learning visions. Learning and development is a two-way conversation where companies identify long-term goals and desired outcomes, while employees identify the skills they need to help achieve those goals.

L&D professionals play a critical role in empowering employees to own their learning. Talk with a learning expert today for more strategies on how to upskill and reskill your workforce to stay ahead of your competition.