Skip to main content

Supporting Self-Directed Learning: A National Needs Analysis



It is broadly agreed that physicians must be self-directed learners, and many studies measuring medical student readiness and capacity for self-directed learning (SDL) have been reported. However, less attention has been paid to faculty tasked with guiding students to develop SDL skills. In an effort to determine whether faculty feel equipped to foster SDL, a needs assessment was developed.


The faculty needs assessment for fostering SDL (FNA-fSDL) was constructed and distributed nationally to medical educators. Faculty perceptions of the value of SDL, administration support, and faculty development were queried. Items also measured faculty recognition of cognitive, affective, and metacognitive strategies shown to cultivate SDL. Descriptive statistical analysis and frequency comparison tests to identify potential group differences related to work responsibility, classroom/clinical setting, and level of learner served were performed.


Among the 359 respondents representing diverse areas of medical education, there was overwhelming agreement that physicians in training should be self-directed learners and that faculty require training in educational approaches promoting SDL. Faculty were more likely to recognize strategies supporting development of metacognitive skills and least likely to identify those related to cognitive aspects of learning. Fewer than half of faculty had received training in fostering SDL at their home institutions or at conferences.


While there is strong support for the development of SDL among learners, these results suggest most faculty do not feel sufficiently trained to accomplish this goal. The FNA-fSDL can be used by institutions to assess their own faculty.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Artino AR Jr, Brydges R, Gruppen LD. Self-regulated learning in healthcare profession education: theoretical perspectives and research methods. In: Cleland J, Brydges R, Gruppen LD, editors. Researching Medical Education. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2015. p. 155–66.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  2. Knowles MS. Self-directed learning : a guide for learners and teachers. New York, NY: Association Press; 1975.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Functions and structure of a medical school: standards for accreditation of medical education programs leading to the MD degree. Association of American Medical Colleges; American Medical Association; 2020. Accessed September 9, 2019.

  4. Burke AE, Benson B, Englander R, Carraccio C, Hicks PJ. Domain of competence: practice-based learning and improvement. Acad Pediatr. 2014;14(2 Suppl):S38-54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Harvey BJ, Rothman AI, Frecker RC. Effect of an undergraduate medical curriculum on students’ self-directed learning. Acad Med. 2003;78(12):1259–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Premkumar K, Pahwa P, Banerjee A, Baptiste K, Bhatt H, Lim HJ. Does medical training promote or deter self-directed learning? A longitudinal mixed-methods study Acad Med. 2013;88(11):1754–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Murad MH, Coto-Yglesias F, Varkey P, Prokop LJ, Murad AL. The effectiveness of self-directed learning in health professions education: a systematic review. Med Educ. 2010;44(11):1057–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Stegers-Jager KM, Cohen-Schotanus J, Themmen AP. Motivation, learning strategies, participation and medical school performance. Med Educ. 2012;46(7):678–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kassab SE, Al-Shafei AI, Salem AH, Otoom S. Relationships between the quality of blended learning experience, self-regulated learning, and academic achievement of medical students: a path analysis. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2015;6:27–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Sandars J, Cleary TJ. Self-regulation theory: applications to medical education: AMEE Guide No. 58. Med Teach. 2011;33(11):875-886.

  11. Gandomkar R, Sandars J. Clearing the confusion about self-directed learning and self-regulated learning. Med Teach. 2018;40(8):862–3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Grow GO. Teaching learners to be self-directed. Adult Educ Q (Am Assoc Adult Contin Educ). 1991;41(3):125–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Vermunt JD, Verloop N. Congruence and friction between learning and teaching. Learn Instr. 1999;9(3):257–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Bolhuis S. Towards process-oriented teaching for self-directed lifelong learning: a multidimensional perspective. Learn Instr. 2003;13(3):327–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Pilling-Cormick J, Garrison D. Self-directed and self-regulated learning: conceptual links. Can J Univ Contin Educ. 2013;33.

  16. Hanson D. Instructor’s guide to process oriented guided inquiry learning. Hampton, NH: Pacific Crest; 2013.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Brown SD. A process-oriented guided inquiry approach to teaching medicinal chemistry. Am J Pharm Educ. 2010;74(7):121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Vermunt JD. Process-oriented instruction in learning and thinking strategies. Eur J Psychol Educ. 1995;10(4):325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Vermunt JD, Vermetten YJ. Patterns in student learning: relationships between learning strategies, conceptions of learning, and learning orientations. Educ Psychol Rev. 2004;16(4):359–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Vrieling E, Bastiaens T, Stijnen S. Process-oriented design principles for promoting self-regulated learning in primary teacher education. Int J Educ Res. 2010;49:141–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Schunk DH, Zimmerman BJ, editors. Self-regulated learning: from teaching to self-reflective practice. New York, NY: Guilford Publications; 1998.

    Google Scholar 

  22. ten Cate O, Snell L, Mann K, Vermunt J. Orienting teaching toward the learning process. Acad Med. 2004;79(3):219–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Sawatsky AP, Ratelle JT, Bonnes SL, Egginton JS, Beckman TJ. Faculty support for self-directed learning in internal medicine residency: a qualitative study using grounded theory. Acad Med. 2018;93(6).

  24. Ginzburg S, Brenner J, Willey J. Integration: a strategy for turning knowledge into action. Med Sci Educ. 2015;25(4):533–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Evensen DH, Salisbury-Glennon JD, Glenn J. A qualitative study of six medical students in a problem-based curriculum: toward a situated model of self-regulation. J Educ Psychol. 2001;93(4):659–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Artino AR Jr, Dong T, DeZee KJ, et al. Achievement goal structures and self-regulated learning: relationships and changes in medical school. Acad Med. 2012;87(10):1375–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Blanch-Hartigan D. Medical students’ self-assessment of performance: results from three meta-analyses. Patient Educ Couns. 2011;84(1):3–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Eva KW, Regehr G. Exploring the divergence between self-assessment and self-monitoring. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2011;16(3):311–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank Lynn Foster-Johnson, Ph.D., for critically reading the manuscript and providing valuable insight, Saori Herman, MLIS, AHIP, for her assistance with references, and David Orner, MPH, for help with survey distribution.


This study was supported by an Educational Scholarship grant from the International Association of Medical Science Educators.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joanne M. Willey.

Ethics declarations

Ethical approval

This study was deemed exempt by the Hofstra University Internal Review Board.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lim, Y.S., Lyons, V.T. & Willey, J.M. Supporting Self-Directed Learning: A National Needs Analysis. Med.Sci.Educ. 31, 1091–1099 (2021).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Self-directed learning
  • Faculty development
  • Learning-oriented teaching