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Never Stop Learning + Self-Directed Learning (SDL)= Growth in Human Capital [NSL+SDL=GHC)

By Dr. Lisa M. Coffey

July 2022

Key Words: learning, self-directed, self-regulation, human capital, the continuous improvement process


I was fortunate to grow up in a family-owned business that allowed me to cultivate my business understanding through trial and error. I did not always hold a Ph.D.; I put my formal education on hold for 25 years to become a young mother and wife. But I never stopped learning. Every time I had a networking opportunity, seminar, or conference, I kicked and screamed, but I knew I had to keep learning to increase my human capital. Read that story in my book iDid and uCan 2.


Learning is a lifelong process that continues far beyond the boundaries of institutional education. Human capital is vital to the success of any organization. Knowledgeable human resource managers understand the necessity to continually improve the workforce's skills, knowledge, and expertise. In most cases, workplace learning can increase productivity, facilitate growth, and inspire innovation. Because work environments are constantly changing as technology is implemented and updated, policies are revised, and system-wide enhancements are made, employees must engage in continual learning. By doing so, employees are kept abreast of the latest trends, maintain their employment flexibility, ensure their competitive advantage, and maintain job security.

Corporate training managers design multi-faceted curriculum programs to meet the organization's changing demands by teaching new knowledge to employees.

A practical approach to organizational learning is self-directed learning (SDL), which allows the end-user to self-regulate their learning needs, goals, and outcomes. Malcolm Knowles proposed SDL in 1975. Self-regulation is simply the end-users control of the education setting. This control allows flexibility so the student can work on professional learning at a convenient place and time. Learners with strong self-regulation skills can succeed in self-directed courses because they have the discipline to work independently, seek help when necessary, and think critically.

The changing world creates a consistent flow of new knowledge, and workers must keep pace with this wealth of experience as their job requirements vary. Often, new knowledge comes through SDL programs. SDL is a process in which individuals take control of their learning needs through self-evaluation and assessment to formulate a plan, implement a learning strategy, and evaluate the outcome. In SDL programs, individuals take on independence and responsibility for their learning initiatives.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Research suggests advantages to both the employee and the organization. Encouraging SDL in the workplace allows employees to embrace the idea of continual learning. Employees who engage in workplace training programs maintain their competitive advantage and job security. Other employee advantages include learning at a personal pace, tracking one's progress, and personalization from many class options.

Corporations benefit from employees engaging in knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing. In addition, efficient SDL programs are compatible with traditional programs, and lastly, SDL programs often cost less than other professional development programs.

Motorola, Xerox, Levis Strauss & Co., Walt Disney Company, and American Airlines operate successful SDL programs at cost savings. Each additional training hour translates to potential savings. Measuring return on investment involves measuring learners' behaviors after completion, measuring improvements in production/service, and converting economic productivity.

Although SDL programs prove to be cost-effective over time, the start-up costs can be a potential drawback for many organizations with the economic and human resources to develop a good program. Trainer expenses to produce an ever-changing curriculum that is relevant, clear, and concise since teacher instruction is absent can become time-consuming and costly. Other organizational limitations include technology issues and providing content that mirrors the learning styles. Learner disadvantages include lack of immediate help from instructors when needed, a loss of social interaction, feelings of isolation, and impatience in future traditional instruction. Finally, employees who lack self-regulation skills often do not complete their coursework or complete it poorly, resulting in a cost to the company but no benefit.


Self-directed learning is a growing education platform in the corporate world. Unfortunately, continuing research on these programs' effectiveness is on the decline. Nevertheless, SDL programs can benefit organizations with economic resources and talented training managers to design and implement such programs. Organizations must consider the various learning styles of the employees and the employee's level of self-regulation when designing the program. Instruction must stay ahead of the learning curve, which requires consistent updates. Overall an SDL program is a learning method that has proven successful in some organizations and, after careful review, could prove beneficial in other organizations. SDL programs are helpful to employees with the ability to self-regulation, which will translate to improvement in the organization.

Key Takeaway:

Never stop learning and take advantage of SDL programs at your workplace. Self-paced programs allow for learning to occur at your pace while avoiding burnout. Take your time but always build your human capital. Are you taking advantage of SDL programs? Human capital stays with you forever.

© 2022 Dr . Lisa M. Coffey



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