Self-Directed Learning for Ambitious Employees
Self-Directed Learning for Ambitious Employees

Self-Directed Learning for Ambitious Employees

Leadership Development, Employee Learning & Development, Company Culture, Employee Well-being   — 4 MIN


According to Gartner research, high-potential (HiPo) employees bring 91% more value to an organization than non-HiPos and exert 21% more effort than their peers. To keep ambitious employees from moving to other companies, it’s important to provide them with engaging and challenging professional development opportunities to show that you’re willing to invest in their future. However, ambitious employees have different learning needs than their peers. They learn faster than traditional workshops and online courses, and they don’t like to take much time away from their current responsibilities to train for their next role. They need flexible options for improving their knowledge—and the material needs to suit their advanced interests. 

Self-directed learning allows employees to choose their learning paths and proceed at their own pace. It’s up to HR and L&D to make that possible.

What is self-directed learning?

Self-directed learning is a training approach that puts learners in charge of identifying their own learning needs, creating their own learning goals, and executing their learning strategy. It essentially shifts the responsibility of learning from an instructor to the learner—in this case, a HiPo employee. 

Self-paced learning and self-directed learning are closely related, but not the same. 

Self-paced refers to the speed at which an employee takes in a certain volume of information. Self-directed allows employees to choose the information they want to learn when to learn it, and how to learn it—in short, giving them a degree of autonomy over their learning and development.

Why self-directed learning can be beneficial for both high-potential employees and the organization

A self-directed learning model allows learners to choose topics and skills they want to explore in greater depth. At the same time, it allows employers to train promising candidates for future roles in the organization. 

Advantages of self-directed learning for employees

Working at a company that provides self-directed professional development opportunities is great because:

Employees feel like a vital part of the company. When employers invest in individualized training, it shows that the company sees potential in their future with the organization.

It allows ambitious employees to learn as quickly as they want. HiPos often feel frustrated when more methodical peers (and even instructors) aren’t following along at the same pace as they are. With self-directed learning, employees can spend the amount of time they need to properly understand the material.

It puts the employee in control of the areas in which they want to focus. According to a LinkedIn survey, 43% of Gen Z workers say they prefer to set their own plan and approach for workplace learning. Considering that nearly 30% of the workforce will be Gen Z by 2030, companies need to adapt their professional development strategies to meet their preferences. 

Helps employees enjoy more autonomy. By choosing what they want to learn, promising employees build confidence and knowledge, and managers can see their willingness to step up and move forward to their next role.

Self-learners experience deeper learning when they’re truly engaged in the material. A one-size-fits-all training course might require learners to memorize spoon-fed knowledge, but it only scratches the surface of the knowledge they’ll need in their future careers. Self-directed learning requires employees to wrap their minds around relevant material, think critically about tasks, and recognize how they will apply that knowledge at work.

Advantages of self-directed learning for the organization

To remain competitive in today’s job market, companies must invest in their people—particularly those who show potential as future leaders. Self-directed learning benefits businesses because:

It builds the overall learning culture. If organizations want to stay competitive, they must integrate flexible training opportunities that appeal to remote, hybrid, and onsite employees—particularly those who want to advance within the organization. Over time, this helps to build a pervasive and positive learning culture.

It makes employees want to grow their knowledge, instead of feeling forced to learn. Chasing down employees to finish modules can feel like herding cats. Self-directed learning interests employees because it’s knowledge about areas they want to improve upon.

It helps gauge initiative in future leaders. By handing over the keys and encouraging employees to self-direct, they can no longer be passive. This separates high achievers and potential leadership candidates because if they are willing to go above and beyond in their learning endeavors, they will likely do the same as they climb the ladder.  

It provides real results when assessing future training needs. As employees engage in self-directed learning opportunities, leaders can take note of what methods work for which types of team members. By collecting feedback about the knowledge each person has gained, managers can suggest other similar learning opportunities that will continue to improve their skill set. 

Self-directed learning still requires guidance. Here’s how L&D professionals can help.

Even ambitious employees need structure and supervision in their learning endeavors. Companies should provide updated, relevant options for materials that will close employees’ skill gaps and help them advance while also supporting the organization’s business goals. Managers need to remind HiPo employees that the lessons they have access to are there to help them grow and reach their fullest potential.  

Customized learning journeys allow L&D to develop content around skills that employees need most and about topics they are most interested in learning about. The journeys can align with organizational objectives, company values, and skills topics that are vital to your operations as well as to the employee’s future with the company.

The content that’s included in an ambitious employee’s learning journey should be:

Concise and engaging

Highly knowledgeable employees need to be pulled in right away to maintain interest. Most importantly, they won't want to take a lot of time to absorb the information and will want to do it when it fits into their schedule. Partnering with Blue Ocean Brain allows employees to complete microlearning lessons at their own pace at a time that works best for them.  

Offered in a variety of formats

Fast thinkers become antsy reading through long bouts of text. They need multiple stimulating modalities, including videos, interactive brain games, knowledge checks, and interesting articles that discuss real-world scenarios. They’re also likely to enjoy group discussions that allow them to toss ideas back and forth with co-workers regarding what they learned. Blue Ocean Brain offers all of those.

Coupled with feedback mechanisms

HiPos are highly competitive. They want to know how well they are doing at their job, where they need improvement, and what they need to do to get there. When they complete self-directed learning programs, they will need to perform self-assessments but also receive feedback from leaders that provides an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Blue Ocean Brain’s Leadership Guide for Winning at Feedback offers quick tips and strategies your leaders can add to their arsenal to help them deliver personalized, productive, and inclusive feedback to promising employees.

How Blue Ocean Brain can help you retain ambitious employees

If intelligent employees don’t feel appreciated and can’t envision a future in your organization, they will move on. By integrating Blue Ocean Brain’s bite-sized content into your professional development program, employees can continue to upskill in the areas that will benefit their careers as well as your business. Schedule a consultation so we can get started.