Self-directed learning: A fundamental competence in a rapidly changing world

  • Thomas Howard MorrisEmail author
Original Paper


Self-directed learning is a fundamental competence for adults living in our modern world, where social contextual conditions are changing rapidly, especially in a digital age. The purpose of the present article is to review key issues concerning self-directed learning in terms of (1) what are the historical foundations of the self-directed learning concept?; (2) who may benefit from self-directed learning?; (3) who is likely to carry it out?; and (4) what does research show regarding outcomes of the self-directed learning process? The author takes into consideration humanistic philosophy, pragmatic philosophy and constructivist epistemology, which together concern a process of learning that is individual, purposeful and developmental. Potentially everyone can benefit from self-directed learning competence, but both societal and individual factors may influence whether self-directed learning is likely to be carried out. The author discusses a number of empirical studies that examine outcomes of the self-directed learning process in informal/non-formal online contexts and in formal educational settings. Research findings highlight the importance of realising the opportunity to foster learners’ self-directed learning competence in formal educational settings.


Review Informal adult learning Formal education and teaching Constructivism Pragmatism Humanism 


L’auto-apprentissage, une compétence indispensable dans un monde en rapide mutation – L’apprentissage auto-dirigé est une compétence décisive pour les adultes de notre monde moderne, où les contextes sociaux évoluent constamment, en particulier à l’ère du numérique. Le présent article poursuit le but de recenser les grandes questions sur l’apprentissage auto-dirigé : 1) Quelles sont les bases historiques du concept d’auto-apprentissage ? 2) Qui peut tirer profit de l’auto-apprentissage ? 3) Qui est susceptible de l’accomplir ? 4) Que révèle la recherche sur les résultats de la démarche d’auto-apprentissage ? L’auteur prend en considération la philosophie humaniste, la philosophie pragmatique et l’épistémologie constructiviste, qui ensemble affectent une démarche d’apprentissage individuelle, intentionnelle et évolutive. Toute personne peut potentiellement tirer profit de la compétence en auto-apprentissage, mais des facteurs individuels et sociétaux peuvent influencer la probabilité que l’auto-apprentissage soit accompli. L’auteur analyse plusieurs études empiriques qui examinent les résultats de la démarche d’auto-apprentissage, à la fois dans des contextes en ligne non formels et informels et dans des cadres éducatifs formels. Les résultats scientifiques signalent l’importance de créer des opportunités de stimuler la compétence en auto-apprentissage dans les cadres éducatifs formels.


Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


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© UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationTechnische Universität KaiserslauternKaiserslauternGermany

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