• 19 May 2024
How to Build Self-Directed Learning into Your Tutoring Sessions

How to Build Self-Directed Learning into Your Tutoring Sessions

Aug 12, 2019

Self-directed learning has important benefits for young learners – from building self-confidence to managing their own time and efforts through planning and critical thinking.

We learn best what we can teach ourselves: it’s a maxim of education that lies at the heart of self-directed learning. Self-directed learning doesn’t equal teacher- or tutor-free learning, but it does mean that the student becomes primarily responsible for directing and evaluating their own learning. To encourage self-directed learnings, tutors can equip their students with the right tools, framework, and resources.

Cultivate, Not Dictate

Self-directed learning helps set the pace of learning to fit the student’s ability, and builds a sense of self-discipline when it comes to managing the learning process from start to finish, or in this case, assessment. Students should develop skills in time management and project management, which will translate over time into other walks of life, such as their careers.

The key here is that tutors should cultivate, not dictate, how students learn. Instead, tutors should think of themselves more as mentors, guiding students through new concepts and introducing students to the resources they need – digital, books, experiential, site visits, and more.

Set Goals

Tutors should discuss with students the parameters of their self-directed learning: what is or are the desired outcome(s)? Perhaps students want to master a foreign language, pass Calculus, or develop a plan of study and actions to get into a top choice university. In each case, tutors can help students identify the benchmarks and criteria of success.

Take, for instance, learning a foreign language, a skill set that can be qualitatively and quantitatively measured. What proficiency does the student want to reach and by when? What categories or kinds of words, phrases, or concepts do they want to master? By setting benchmarks that students understand and accept, tutors can focus more on guiding and tinkering with the process, than losing valuable time to pushing students beyond their present abilities.

Guide the Whole Student

Self-directed learning comes easier to some students than to others. Recent studies have found that this is in part due to how well-equipped students are emotionally and socially. In other words, the more socially and emotionally aware the student, the better they will handle directing their own learning process.

Tutors have an important role to play in shaping these social and emotional skills in the academic context. When a student encounters a difficult hurdle, help them to understand why by focusing on what the students find difficult. It might be the concept, or possibly an underlying frustration with the pace of learning. In either case, tutors can guide students through the process of overcoming a challenge, or if need be, adjusting the learning goals and timetabling.


Students perform better academically when they have a stake in the learning process. When administering a quiz or assignment, have the student mark and record their scores. Then assist with identifying and reviewing any problem areas, repeating the process set out above by setting learning goals and providing students with the resources and basic skills they need to master the content.

Self-directed learning isn’t an instant or short-term strategy; the process takes patience and trial and error. But, again, the skills and knowledge gained in self-directed learning are critically necessary for success at school. What’s more, taking the time to involve, inspire, and set your students on their own course of learning goes well beyond academics. It’s a worthwhile investment in transforming a student into a lifelong scholar.

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