5 Simple Steps to Developing a Self-Determined Learning Plan

Learning by doing is not new.  One such example is 4-H, a series of clubs around the United States that formed in the early 1900s. While some think of 4-H as focused entirely on tasks related to rural life, that is far from an accurate picture of 4-H today.  Instead, it is a diverse and robust model for promoting learning by doing, whether it be robotics, building rockets, raising pigs, photography, growing flowers, gaining public speaking skills, or getting leadership training.  In addition, as youth sign up for projects in 4-H clubs around the United States, one of the first categories from which they can choose is “Self-Determined Project,” a chance for young people to set the agenda, choose their own project and run with it. Consider this document/guide for the self-determined project.

It starts with the following:

“You can design your own 4-H project. Design it around something of interest to you. It can be a hobby, an interest, or something you have wanted to do.

The world is an exciting place with unlimited things to do and learn about.  Think big! This is your chance to expand your horizons.”

Do something you have always dreamed. Investigate micro-organisms, the starts, or the way government works. Write a newspaper column. Don’t be limited by what has been. Produce something that no one else has ever produced before! This is your chance to start something new for you and 4-H!

The document/guide provides a simple but excellent model for self-directed learning. Following is my paraphrased version of the five steps.

  1. Decide what you want to do for your project.
  2. Develop a plan for how to do it.
  3. Determine what help you need to do each part.
  4. Design a means of documenting your progress.
  5. Disseminate (share) what you did and what you learned along the way.

The document also helps one develop a timeline and find a “helper.”

Self-directed learning is not complex. It is just increasingly foreign in a formal contemporary education model that elevates pre-determined standards and outcomes above most anything else. This simple model for self-directed learning works well as a guide, and it can be used in any context:

  • for informal learning,
  • as a tool for teachers helping students experience a bit of self-directed learning within a traditional school experience,
  • for home-based education,
  • as a professional development plan for someone in any field of work, or for
  • graduate student working on a thesis or dissertation.

What are the benefits? 

  • It builds confidence.
  • It builds competence.
  • It builds character.
  • It builds skill in problem-solving.
  • It builds research skills.
  • It builds goal setting skills.
  • It builds skill in self-direction.
  • It builds…literally builds something of value to you and others.
  • It is intrinsically rewarding.
  • From the positive psychology perspective, it gets at all five elements of the PERMA model: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.

How many other learning experiences in a person’s formal education get at this many different benefits?

Posted in customized learning, education, home-based education, individualized learning, self-directed learning

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.