3 Reasons to Become a Self-Directed Learner

By Debra J. Cohen, Ph.D Dec 28, 2016
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Attending conferences, seminars and training activities is usually a fun and rich experience. Sometimes you learn a lot at these events, and sometimes you primarily enhance your professional network. But in today's fast-paced business environment, where staying competitive and being recognized for your leadership and proficiency in HR is critical, many of us need to turn inward for motivation and direction in building behaviors for success.

Why become a self-directed learner?

You know yourself better than anyone. You know what you've done in your career, and you should know what is expected of you in your current role (or a role to which you aspire). Don't wait for a class or a conference to enhance your knowledge, skills and abilities—tend to your development needs daily.

Adults learn best through experience. Adults are typically internally motivated and self-directed. We like things that are practical and relevant. And best of all, we're goal-oriented. Put these learning preferences to work by creating your own development plan.

Your development is your responsibility. No one knows better than you where you want to go in your career and how (quickly) you want to get there. By taking charge of your development every day, there are many things you can learn and practice for your own success.

In my book, Developing Proficiency in HR: 7 Self-directed Activities for HR Professionals (Society for Human Resource Management, 2016), you will get practical tips on how to assess your proficiency in the behavioral competencies that every HR professional needs to have, followed by hands-on exercises aimed at developing these behaviors on your own and in a variety of ways. The book is designed to transform passive learners into active learners by helping HR professionals build their behavioral competencies at their own pace, based on their own needs. It outlines seven self-directed activities that can boost your professional proficiency by applying the following concepts of adult learning:

-- Role play.

-- Case studies.

-- Networking.

-- Purposeful discussion.

-- Purposeful observation.

-- Volunteering and portfolios.

Here's one example:

One of the seven activities in the book provides a framework for learning by focusing on how a personal challenge can spark development through discussion. This Socratic method is often thought of as a form of teaching or as a teaching tactic. It can be a powerful method for directing learners toward critical thinking. And while Socrates focused on moral education, this method can be applied to learning more about yourself and to critically evaluating your own job-related knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics necessary to successfully perform in an HR role. Purposeful discussion can lead to learning and understanding which behaviors should be applied in various circumstances to achieve the best results.

As a practical matter, we are all exposed to learning opportunities every day. And we all have the ability to create learning moments for ourselves. Rather than shying away from what we struggle with in our professional careers, we as HR professionals should move deliberately through our journeys to tackle learning challenges head-on in a safe and effective way. Let the journey begin.

Debra J. Cohen is a noted speaker and trainer in the Washington D.C. area. 

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