Top tips for creating a self-directed learning environment


One of my main goals as a teacher over the last two years has been to create a learning environment that is as self-directed as possible. Essentially this is an environment where students take initiative and responsibility for their own learning. By creating such an environment, it is hoped that the learners become motivated, persistent, independent, self‐disciplined, self‐confident and goal oriented.

Based on my experiences during this time, below are my top tips for creating a self-directed learning environment.

Have your learners got access to devices?

Ideally, to allow students to direct their own learning, they should have access to an internet-enabled device. In the past, the teacher was generally seen as the main source of information. Today, the internet is now the single greatest source of information we have. This moves the focus away from the teacher and allows students to direct their own learning – all made possible with a device that is getting cheaper by the day. At my school, we provide our student with Chromebooks. We also supply headphones (as well as encouraging students to bring their own).

What Learning Management System (LMS) are you using?

To set-up a self-directed learning environment, teachers need a LMS that works for themselves and their students. There are a number of different LMS’s available, and I currently use three tools that enable me to set up a self-directed learning environment: Blogger, Google Sites, and Google Classroom. Each of these tools serves its own purpose as outlined below:

Blogger: We use this for our class blog. This is essentially where we put all our instructions for each day/block. Check out our blog here.

Google Sites: We have created a website using Google Sites for our class. Essentially our website is our ‘file cabinet’, where students can find most of the resources that they would need to direct their own learning. A lot of the time, our class blog will have links to information that can be found on this site. Check out our class website here.

Google Classroom: As we use Google Apps for most of our work, we use Google Classroom mainly to distribute assignments and templates to students. Google Classroom is so efficient as it easily makes copies of templates for each student as well as creating folders within the teacher’s and student’s Google Drive.

Have you considered how your classroom space enhances learning?

The set-up of the physical space plays a big part in successfully creating a self-directed learning environment. Teachers need to consider how the space they are creating enhances the 21st-century skills of collaboration, creation, communication and critical thinking. These skills are critical in creating a self-directed learning environment. Click here to see more about ‘The how and why behind our Innovative Learning Space‘ .

Do you provide students with Individual Learning Plans?

In a true self-directed learning environment, I believe it is necessary to go one step further than differentiating the learning – we need to individualise the learning. Access to devices and the internet means work can be tailored to suit the needs of the individual, rather than the needs of a small group. To do this, it is critical that teachers have thought about ways that they can create Individual Learning Plans for their students. Each student can then direct their own learning based on what they need to learn. Click here for my post on how I create Individual Learning plans. To see how this ties in with our LMS’s, click here.

Are you providing your students with work that is engaging and student-centered?

For self-directed learning to work successfully, students have to be engaged. I believe that student-choice increases student engagement. In my class, I have set up an inquiry template that I believe is authentic, engaging and student-centered. Click here to view my post on ‘How and why I encourage inquiry learning in my class’. This type of inquiry learning naturally requires the students to direct their own learning.

What strategies are you using to encourage self-management?

The ability of students to self-manage is critical in setting up a self-directed learning environment. As teachers, we cannot expect that all of our students are going to have the necessary self-management skills that they need to direct their own learning from day one. Teachers therefore need to have systems and strategies in place that encourage students to self-manage. In my class, we use Student Licenses to encourage our desired behaviors for our students. Because students are directing their own learning, we also let our students create their own daily timetables. To encourage students to own their learning each block, we have our students create Daily Learning Plans so they can think about what they want to achieve and what success will look like for them after each block.

Have you made the mind-shift from traditional instruction?

Above all else, the main thing required to set up a self-directed learning environment is for teachers to make the mind-shift from traditional instruction to becoming a facilitator. There is very rarely a need to be at the front of the class using a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. Make technology work for you and your students. Rather than explaining the same thing over and over, create video instructions that students can watch and refer back to. Make sure you are utilizing software that will give students instant feedback. Most importantly, teachers need to think of themselves as lifelong learners. Keep upskilling, establish a personal learning network, and keep trying to find new methods to enhance student learning.