From TJ Magazine: The rise of self-determined learning

Letting go of the concept of a job for life will offer greater opportunities for L&D, says Egle Vinauskaite.

Reading time: 4 minutes

In the coming years, the global workforce will be seeing a lot of movement on multiple fronts. Good chunks of skills are already becoming redundant even in highly- skilled professions.

People who are now in their 20s and 30s are likely to change jobs on average 12 times over their working lives. Yes, 12 – that adds up to just over three years per job.

So it comes as no surprise that, according to Kineo Learning Insights 2019, 71% of employees think the skills they’ll need in the next three to five years will change.

What’s more striking is that 81% of employers believe their staff already have the skills they need for the same period.

Add that to the fact that almost two-thirds of workers in the UK are willing to consider freelancing, and the snapshot of the not-so-distant future begins to emerge.

That’s your workforce: temporary, independent and intentional. The workers of the future are letting go of jobs for life.

To realise this potential, we need to start thinking about employees’ careers as a multi-decade endeavour

And if those of us in L&D play our cards right, we have a rare opportunity for considerable impact in our organisations.

The feel-good factor for making a tangible difference in people’s careers is a big, juicy cherry on top.

But to realise this potential, we need to start thinking about employees’ careers as a multi-decade endeavour.

An endeavour that transcends a single organisation and requires skills that are acquired, repackaged and reused in multiple different jobs that may or may not exist yet.

Because, while right now employees often see training as a perk for self-development and career advancement within an organisation, their future training will be increasingly assessed strategically in terms of the value-add for their careers overall.

L&D needs to step up its game.

Enter self-determined learning

Self-directed learning is de rigeur these days. Employees have their competency frameworks with clear pathways towards the next promotion.

On top of that, they enjoy access to plenty of resources to use at their discretion, all the while social and other on-the-job learning is facilitated increasingly well. So far, so good.

But how eager are these learners to learn at work? To treat their professional development like a one-person startup that will either finesse its product, or have to close its doors?

Let’s face reality: right now many employees are content with completing a set curriculum and getting their tick.

But mediocrity is being tolerated as long as it’s cheap enough; it’s learning and curiosity that will keep each of us working long-term.

Self-determined learning, also known as heutagogy, can help.

In fact, if you have any professional role models – business people whose podcasts you tune into on your way to work, or just that old colleague who seems to have gone on to do great things – chances are they’re already self-determined learners.

They just don’t call themselves that, of course.

You know the kind: the people who determine their own career goals, confidently map out the path they’ll take, and regularly measure how they’re doing.

Self-determined learning should start with a development conversation centred around the employee’s goals beyond their current job

They own their learning process from start to finish, embrace a good challenge and dutifully reflect on lessons learned.

But most importantly, they’re eager to go further beyond this regular single-loop self-reflection.

Instead they aim to address their underlying assumptions, refine their mental models and reassess their goals.

In science speak, that’s metacognition and double-loop learning. In reality, those are the skills that prepare you for the unknown.

I’m willing to bet that harnessing such drive and self-awareness in the workplace has the potential to solve multiple problems L&D experts are grappling with these days.

Employees would own their development, and with ownership and autonomy comes empowerment, engagement and motivation.

They would also develop the ever-elusive critical thinking and complex problem solving skills that can never be taught in a classroom.

And finally, they would learn the most in-demand skill of all – learning how to learn.

What it might look like

Admittedly, adopting the self-determined learning philosophy would be a leap forward for organisations that are just about getting comfortable with self-directed learning.

It’s quite a bold approach that is yet to be deliberately applied in the corporate world.

However, it’s already being used by forward-thinking alternative education providers like Makers and Founders Academy, who promote self- determined learning to prepare their graduates for the careers of the future.



By adapting some of their learning design principles as well as observations of good freelancers and the world’s top employers, there is a solution.

Self-determined learning should start with a development conversation centred around the employee’s goals beyond their current job.

This may sound employee-centric, but if you place the right people in the right roles, the employee’s and employer’s goals will be in sync.

The relationship of the future is symbiotic – the employee will be a top contributor for the duration of their time with an employer, while simultaneously and unashamedly using it to prepare for their next move.

The employer, on the other hand, will be getting a top contributor who is confident and capable of finding and tackling complex problems in uncertain environments.


About the author

Egle Vinauskaite is a learning consultant at Skillbright Labs.

This is an excerpt from the February 2020 issue of TJ. For the full insight, subscribe here


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