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Learner autonomy

Learner autonomy

Table of Contents

    Is learner autonomy just another buzzword in the e-learning world? 

    Or is it something you should care about?

    Wonder no more—we’ve got the answers you’re looking for right here. 

    Keep reading to find out:

    • What learner autonomy is
    • The benefits of fostering an autonomous learning culture across your organization 
    • What an autonomous learner looks like
    • How a Learning Management System (LMS) can help you leverage autonomous learning

    Fun, right?

    Let’s get into it!

    What is learner autonomy?

    Learner autonomy is a learner’s ability to be self-motivated and responsible for their own learning. 

    Let’s say you go to the gym. A group class is great because you have an instructor to motivate you. But, the downside is that the class isn’t tailored to your goals, fitness level, body type, and schedule. So, you’d probably see better results if you did your own personalized workout. It’s the same with learning.

    Unlike traditional teaching, learner autonomy gives learners opportunities to make their own decisions. 

    Learners have access to all the training resources and the freedom to develop their own learning strategies.

    So what does autonomous learning look like in real life? Self-access language learning centers are a great example. 

    These centers offer students all the necessary training resources, such as dictionaries, photocopies of exercise books, evaluation questionnaires, etc.

    Self-access centers can provide a fully or partially self-directed learning experience where students either study full-time on their own or combine individual learning activities with classroom practice.

    The term “learner autonomy” originally came from foreign language learning. However, it has quickly worked its way through the education sector, including e-learning.

    Learner autonomy is a staple in the e-learning world. L&D teams can provide employees with self-paced online courses or other training materials safe in the knowledge that they have the skills to take charge of their own learning. And employees can access training via an LMS and learn at their own pace.

    It’s important to note that learning autonomy is rarely innate. So, it’s generally the instructor’s (or L&D team’s) responsibility to promote learner autonomy techniques and teach learners how to study on their own.

    In short, not all students are natural autonomous learners. In most cases, educators or training teams must help them develop metacognitive awareness and discover learning strategies that work for them. 

    Once learners have the right learning methods, they can:

    • Create their own learning process
    • Conduct self-assessments
    • Efficiently use learning resources
    • Identify learning opportunities

    To achieve this level of discipline, analytical thinking, and self-awareness, teachers should teach and promote learner autonomy as early as possible throughout the school years.

    But why is it important for learners to be autonomous? Let’s have a look at the benefits.


    Four learner autonomy benefits you need to know

    Independent learners are more accountable. As a result, they’re more likely to take the initiative and plug their own skills gaps (rather than wait for training to be spoonfed to them). This reduces the learning curve and leads to higher-performing employees.  

    And these are not the only benefits of leveraging learner autonomy in a business setting.

    Read the most common learner autonomy benefits below.

    Benefit #1: Motivation

    Independent learning motivates learners to achieve their educational goals. But for this to happen, instructors and L&D teams must help employees set realistic learning goals first.

    Then, each employee can work towards their objectives at their own pace, implementing the learning strategies that work best for them.

    In addition to clear objectives, the ability to self-evaluate without the pressure of potential external judgment can be a huge motivator for some learners. This is especially true in a high-pressure professional environment.

    Benefit #2: Flexibility

    An autonomous learning approach is more flexible for both learners and instructors. Instructors can take on more of a coaching role, while learners take the driving seat. 

    Learner autonomy offers learners the flexibility to personalize their learning strategy, self-evaluation techniques, schedule, and how they track their progress. This results in a better learning experience.

    Benefit #3: Lasting influence

    Learning how to learn is an underrated skill. When learners are in charge of their learning, they get to know which techniques and strategies work best for them.

    This is a valuable skill that will prove useful throughout their professional lives. Continuous learning is a core part of most L&D strategies, so having the skills to learn independently is hugely beneficial for employees and businesses alike. 

    So, once learners gain autonomy, they can transfer this skill to any future training program and learning opportunity.

    Benefit #4: Increased engagement

    When leveraging learner autonomy, you rely on learners’ ability to solve problems, go through the learning material, and form their own opinions.

    Plus, learners can discuss and debate their opinions and findings during synchronous learning meetings or on asynchronous discussion boards. This encourages critical thinking and boosts engagement. 

    And we’re not just talking about learner engagement. There is a direct correlation between learning and development opportunities and employee engagement. Professional development matters to employees because it helps them perform better, upskill for promotions, and gain confidence. 

    Are you considering adopting a culture of autonomous learning in your organization? The benefits speak for themselves.  

    You’re probably wondering what an autonomous learner looks like. Well, you’re about to find out.


    What skills do autonomous learners need to excel at?

    To become autonomous, learners need to develop skills that enable them to self-teach complex concepts with minimal involvement from the educator or instructor. 

    For instance, discipline, great time management, objective self-evaluation skills, and goal setting. 

    Let’s dive deeper into each skill a learner must master to become truly independent.

    Skill #1: Goal setting

    For your employees to become autonomous learners, they first need to learn how to set achievable goals and learning objectives.

    Why are goals important?

    According to research, goal-setting can lead to significant academic progress. Another research paper states that as much as 90% of people perform better when they have relevant goals.

    Skill #2: Progress evaluation

    Hand-in-hand with goal setting, self-evaluation helps learners figure out whether they are meeting their objectives or not.

    Plus, monitoring progress provides an overview of:

    • The learner’s strengths and areas of improvement
    • The training material the employee needs to review
    • Any gaps in the learner’s knowledge

    The art of self-evaluation empowers learners to constantly reflect on how they learn, what they want to achieve, and what they need to do to get there. This encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning. 

    Skill #3: Time management

    People tend to underestimate how much time it takes to perform a task. That’s why great time management skills are crucial for learner autonomy.

    Getting time estimates right is important because it helps learners realistically predict the time needed to process new information. This prevents them from falling behind or failing to meet deadlines.

    Meeting deadlines is key in many corporate training programs, especially compliance training. In some industries, employees are legally required to complete compliance training within a set time period. Failure to do so can have implications for the business. So, needless to say,  stellar time management skills are a must.

    And it’s not just about meeting the final deadline. Learners also need to ensure they allocate enough time to each module in the training program. This often means creating several mini-deadlines to stay on track.

    Skill #4: Self-motivation

    Staying motivated is one of the biggest learning challenges in any setting. Autonomous learning encourages learners to find creative ways to stay motivated.

    Goal setting and progress tracking are two great ways to boost motivation.

    So, if a learner already knows how to set realistic and achievable goals, self-evaluate, and manage their time properly, motivating themselves might require less effort than expected. 

    In short, self-regulated learning requires disciplined and motivated learners and honest self-critics. 

    But how can you help learners train their autonomous muscles?

    Learning by doing is one of the most powerful ways to learn. So, giving employees plenty of opportunities to learn on the job. For example, work shadowing, observing, or role-playing.

    There are lots of opportunities to provide hands-on learning experiences in digital learning. Tutorial videos, interactive activities, and simulations are all great ways to encourage employees to learn on-the-job skills autonomously. 

    Implementing a self-directed learning model within your organization is ridiculously easy—you only need a capable LMS!

    Read on to see how that works.

    Four ways an LMS supports autonomous learning in your organization

    LMSs can help you create the optimal space for facilitating autonomous learning as part of your training strategy. Here’s how.

    Way #1: Makes knowledge available

    With the right LMS, knowledge is always only one click away, allowing learners to adapt the course material to their own learning needs and learning styles.

    Way #2: Makes knowledge comprehensible

    Having 24/7 access to course materials means learners can review and refresh training material when needed. 

     Way #3: Offers flexibility

    With an LMS, learners can access their training anytime, anywhere, using any device. 

    The flexibility that comes with an LMS will enable your employees or course participants to go over training materials whenever convenient for them, even when on the go. 

     Way #4: Contribution of learners

    An LMS is the perfect digital tool to encourage learners to ask questions and participate in debates and discussions with their peers. 

    When engaged in social learning activities, new information becomes easier to understand and internalize.

    To sum up, by making courses widely accessible and learning programs flexible, an LMS is the best way to build a culture of learner autonomy in your organization.

    But enough with the theoretical stuff—let’s go practice!


    Wrapping Up

    Now the next time someone asks you “What is learner autonomy?” you’ve got the answers. In a nutshell, it empowers learners to take responsibility for their learning. 

    Autonomous learners get their hands dirty in a classroom or corporate training environment by actively participating in the learning process. This results in higher engagement and better learning results.

    The next step?

    You can find more great content about implementing learning models across your organization in our glossary.