Self directed learning

self directed learningOrganisations these days face growing pressure for increased results from fewer people and therefore need to invest heavily in learning and development. Yet expenditure on training and development does not always produce results for individuals or their organisations. Neither does individual learning always integrate with organisational needs. Something different is needed.

Self directed learning is a way of creating a situation where learning is owned by the individual and aligned with organisational needs. Individuals take responsibility for decisions about their learning and work with others to achieve it.

Brefi Group offers three models:-

  • Facilitated learning groups
  • Community learning
  • Self directed development programme

Facilitated learning groups

In this model, a small group is supported by a trained facilitator; but responsibility for the learning remains with the group. The model can be used within organisations, or it is an excellent means of sharing both costs and experience between organisations. In a chief executive or managing directors' group, for instance, care would be taken to obtain a mix of experience without any conflict of interest.

Individuals negotiate a learning contract and report progress on it. Each group of six to twelve people has an advisor to take them through the process, which could involve meeting every four to six weeks over a period of nine months.

Very often, the morning is used for the facilitator or another visiting expert to introduce some training, possibly following a standard course, and the afternoon is dedicated to addressing a common problem or coaching one individual on an issue relevant to that person's organisation. This ensures that the learning is related to practical experience.

The facilitator combines a neutral process role with access to specialist knowledge.

Organisations using facilitated learning groups cite business benefits such as cost savings, improved customer relations, lower staff turnover and an improved organisational culture. Entrepreneurs and chief executives particularly value the group's role as a confidential sounding board and an independent support structure, as well as for specific learning.

Community learning

Brefi Group has access to some of the pioneers of community and self directed learning. The basis of community learning is to create an organisation-wide commitment to personal improvement and to deliver this accurately designed for each person with minimal costs in time and money.

With group coaching, each person first defines what they need in relation to their work, then how they need it delivered. They then agree how to achieve it within the ethos of the group. By forming contracts between groups of staff to support each other, not only is the learning delivered at minimal or no cost to the company, each person gets only what they need, at a rate to suit their abilities.

It begins with one day coaching sessions in small groups taken from similar levels across the organisation. A facilitator, trained in group dynamics and coaching, provides the theory, ethos and motivation for each person to create a learning need statement. Learning diaries and contracts are provided for each individual. Sub groups are formed and contracts for co-coaching are committed, supported by the facilitator. The facilitator interviews each person during the day.

Later, participants with related learning goals are combined into new sub groups to review progress and set longer term contracts. A groundswell develops in the organisation as new more complex support groups are automatically formed. Topics of learning are circulated, with offers posted to join in a sub group, to mentor or to provide insights. The facilitator responds to requests for literature or guidance. At this point only two days has been spent per person in a formal setting. Development now proceeds through individual meetings arranged to suit company workloads; in the work place or outside in their own time.

After some weeks the facilitator canvasses the now complex groups as they form more interconnected resource networks and provides a report to the company on strategies found, achievements, prognosis, assessments and suggests any further support to accelerate learning and performance.

Mentors accelerate the process; the individual manager can monitor group contracts and provide company specific guidance. The target is that within three months most of the company should be identifying needs and getting support for what each individual needs in a way best suited to them and the learning required. Optionally, at the end of this time, a series of lectures can be run on learning theories to support the continuing process of self-developing networks. Those who show an interest in the process can be trained in community learning theory and techniques to support the process from within the organisation.

The success of community learning depends on: -:

  • Experienced proactive facilitators, skilled in both business and personal development.
  • Acceptance of the responsibility for learning by a critical mass of individuals.
  • Understanding of the process in HR, Training and at Board level.
  • Sufficient patience in the process to become accepted by the company culture.

Self directed development programme

This programme is about improving personal effectiveness by being able to manage and innovate in a changing commercial environment and evolving social order. This involves people and process skills; in particular learning how tolearn, in order to increase the options available for behaviour and processes. The programme requires participants to take responsibility for their own learning and to create a learning community, learning with and from each other.

The role of the tutors is to support participants as they identify and address performance improvement needs and opportunities, and to learn with the group, demonstrating the learning flexibility that is core to the approach. There are few formal presentations. The tutors listen, encourage and, where appropriate, challenge individuals to work in various ways – individually, in pairs, in small teams and in the large group – and to make sense of the learning. Everyone involved is responsible for the success of the programme for self and for others.

On completion of the module participants will be able to:

  • Recognise effective behaviour in a range of settings
  • Describe their own learning style preferences and understand individual differences and needs.
  • Identify personal learning blocks and ways to deal with them.
  • Demonstrate choice and use of appropriate interpersonal skills in a variety of personal, team and organisational situations.
  • Apply knowledge and skills to better manage organisational complexity.
  • Implement a personal plan of continued skills improvement.

The programme differs from traditional training models: -

  • The traditional hierarchical relationships with tutors are altered
    The journey of learning to learn begins from the moment the programme starts: the tutors sit amongst or to the side of the students and wait. Frustrated students may ask to be taught or for guidance on what to do. The tutors reflect back the concerns of the group and decline to provide answers. Only when participants take responsibility for meeting their own needs and request specific collaboration from staff are the tutors able to respond and to help more directly to contribute learning around immediate needs such as leadership, planning, use of time and information, handling stress, memory skills.
  • Structure has been removed from two thirds of the timetable
    The deliberate dismantling of structure, and the consequent struggle by students to provide it for themselves engages the creative capabilities of the mind to achieve more complete learning by harnessing the extraordinary power of both the creative mind and the requisite focus of logical sequential thinking. Experiencing with others deeper and broader thinking and relating generates more insight and understanding based on a sounder appreciation of perception and meaning.
  • The programme process itself is used as an important learning vehicle
    Participants are invited to learn about learning, as they are learning. Tutors model the process of learning, flexibility and enquiry themselves. A climate of discovery and challenge is created and expectations are taken beyond the limitations of preconception towards extraordinary levels of improvement. Individuals and groups examine limiting beliefs; active learning by questioning and testing is encouraged.
  • Responsibility for outcomes is shifted to participants
    Conventional structure returns at the end of the programme to assist participants with return to work. A framework for reflection upon the culture, roles and expectations of the workplace is used and the importance of patience, timing and political awareness is recognised. Participants design an event to share their performance improvement with an external visitor, which leads into a longer phase of reflection and the writing by each participant of a post-module assignment reviewing personal learning during and after the module.

Organisations benefit most when they are prepared to back this innovative approach and demonstrate a genuine desire for behavioural change and participate in the pre and post-module work.


Brefi Group designs, develops and licenses coach training programmes for managers who wish to improve their leadership style and for individuals who wish to qualify as professional coaches.

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