Being A Self-Directed Learner


One of the key differences between undergraduate and graduate education is that graduate students are responsible for a much larger part of the learning process.

In Negotiating Graduate School, Mark Rossman (2002) states, “Learners in graduate school must view themselves as active partners in the learning transaction and should try to control as much of the process as possible. They need to ask relevant and probing questions related to their own learning objectives. They need to view the teacher or professor as a resource for learning rather than the sole conveyor of knowledge.”

Becoming a self-directed learner and taking primary responsibility for learning is important to success in graduate education. Distance education students especially can benefit from understanding the principles of being a self-directed learner, as all distance learning takes place outside the traditional classroom.

Determine Your Learning Needs

As you begin a project, ask yourself what you want to learn. You may need to start by thinking about your educational and professional goals, which will help you determine the direction your learning needs to take. Meet with your faculty mentor about your ideas for taking control of your learning outside the classroom. Your mentor can help you refine your learning needs.

Set Clear Objectives

Decide what you will learn in the course of your project. This is another step where working with your mentor is beneficial. Your mentor can help you create manageable goals and connections.

Specify Necessary Learning Resources

Begin compiling resources necessary to successfully achieve your learning objectives. Resources can be added or removed as necessary while you work through your project. However, beginning with a good foundation of resources will help you gain momentum early.

Determine the Results

Finally, you should decide what the product of your learning will be. Your end results can take the form of a paper ready for publication or a literature review. Maybe you want to complete an independent reading course or research project. Other ideas include creating a training program for undergraduate students, producing a webpage, writing a manual or revising a syllabus. Be sure to develop a manageable timeline for accomplishing your learning objectives and producing the final product.

As a self-director learner, you will possess an understanding of how best to plan and accomplish your goals. These skills are beneficial regardless of whether you choose an academic career or a career outside academia.


Rossman, M.H. (2002). Negotiating Graduate School, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.