What is learner autonomy?

• 5 min read

Find out why you should establish learner autonomy in your organization

Learner autonomy can enhance a learning strategy and act as a driver of learner engagement. With an autonomous learning approach, autonomous learners are often better prepared for their job function and life in general.

In many ways, autonomous learning (or independent learning) takes the role of the teacher, educator, or learning admin out of the picture and allows a student to create and follow their own learning process. This pedagogy is more about a learner’s ability to take charge of their own learning, learning styles, and goal-setting.

Learners now have a vast array of knowledge constantly available to them. The trick is to organize that knowledge and distribute it to learners to self-access when they need it, or at least have it sorted in a way that allows the learner to know they’re able to easily access the information they need when they need it most. 

Why establish learner autonomy?

The autonomy of your learners to chart their own course set their own goals, and conduct appropriate self-assessments is an invaluable asset when setting out a learning strategy. Some of the benefits include:

  • The cultivation of a keen sense of life-long independence, both inside and outside of work.
  • An increased sense of intellectual curiosity and a hunger for knowledge that isn’t always found to follow common instructional techniques.
  • Fostering innovation and an outside-of-the-box mentality

By providing your learners with the chance to make their own path and set their own learning goals, you are directly empowering their decision-making and allowing them to creatively embark on their own learning adventure.

Creativity also goes hand-in-hand with curiosity and forms the bedrock of what makes individuals pursue lifelong learning. As said by the writer William Arthur Ward, “curiosity is the wick of the candle of learning.”

Consider Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory, which outlines six key principles that are critical to the impact of learning:

  1. Learners need to know why, what, and how.
  2. Learners want to be autonomous and self-directing.
  3. Learners’ prior experience is an important consideration.
  4. Readiness depends on the learner’s needs.
  5. Orientation to learning tends to be problem-centered and contextual.
  6. Motivation to learn is an intrinsic value, with a personal payoff.

These principles are intended to ensure the learning method used benefits the learner.

How an e-learning platform encourages learner autonomy

Autonomous learning intersects with technology in a few obvious ways. When the learner is not constrained by the tutelage of an instructor, they’re free to use the tools and technologies the world offers to their maximum benefit. Most Millennial and Gen Z learners today are already adept at using technology effortlessly.

They can also build personalized learning paths, track and monitor their learning progress, and assess performance within the right learning management system (LMS). Further, the location-agnostic nature of e-learning enables distance learning as well as the capability for the instructor-as-facilitator to “check-in” on learner progress as requested or necessary.

L&D admins can leverage their learning platform for the development of autonomy within an organization by:

  • Making learning available: This is the foundational purpose, in many ways, of a learning management system (LMS). It is important that learning materials are available to learners whenever and wherever they need or want to access the content, and on the device of their choice.
  • Making material relevant: If you’re delivering learning content designed for your engineering department to your marketing team, you’re going to miss the mark. Make sure your learning platform is set up in a way that provides the right courses and content to the right audience, based not only on an individual’s role but also to cover off specific issues or needs that might arise within a given position. Docebo’s Content Marketplace enables training managers to access, browse, and purchase learning materials from prominent off-the-shelf learning content providers. After this, learning materials can be placed in courses, learning plans, and thematic channels to helps learners to dig into a vast range of learning opportunities.
  • Entertaining content wins: While not all course material will be “exciting” per se, it’s important to establish a content engagement experience that is more than flipping through a slide deck. Increasingly, video is playing a larger role thanks to its ability to increase learner stimulation. Providing social learning opportunities as well, in which content can be discussed or shared with others, helps to engage learners by allowing them to participate in active, learning-focused conversations with their peers.
  • Employing a flexible and un-rigid structure: For learners to be autonomous, they need to be able to learn at their own pace, on their own schedule. Administrators can encourage learners to take the time necessary to learn while also respecting the busy workdays everyone has.
  • Powering user-generated content: You likely have subject matter experts within your organization, or after using your learning platform, your employees might become the experts. Allow your learners to put their learning into practice not only on the job but also by creating courses that are distributed across entire teams, departments, or organizations.
  • Making it easy to use: Perhaps most importantly, enabling learner autonomy, requires leveraging a learning platform that is not only easy-to-use but user intuitive, putting the learner at the center of their learning journey. If a user cannot easily navigate the platform, it’s more than likely that they won’t go out of their way to seek out learning content beyond what they’ve been assigned by a manager or L&D administrator that comes with a specific purpose.

Promote ongoing learner autonomy

Promoting learner autonomy within your learning platform revolves primarily around championing a sense of ownership. If an individual feels empowered to learn and understands its benefit to their professional development, they will be more inclined to seek out learning opportunities on their own. In order for a learner to take charge of their own learning, or have a desire to do so, your learning strategy must instill a sense of ownership within the learner. Without it, learners are unlikely to care enough about pursuing learning on their own, regardless of how easily accessible learning material is. 

Take the concept of learning back to how we learn as children when we are naturally tuned to learning informally, or through our own direction. In our formative years, informal learning in new learning environments kept us mentally stimulated, often without even realizing it. Using the same approach as inspiration, while establishing a direction for learners to take with courses, videos, or learning materials that can be accessed any time without formal instruction, empowers learners to take a more active role in their L&D journey – and helps you promote learner autonomy. That’s the concept behind Docebo Learning Suite, it puts your learners in the driver’s seat.