What is Self-Directed Learning

& how does it look at WyldFlower Learning Community?

When people ask me about WyldFlower Learning Community, it is impossible to explain how we do what we do, and why we do what we do without first explaining what Self-Directed learning is.

It’s also important to clarify what it isn’t. In this post, I will share the definition and examples of Self-Directed learning in action. In a future post, I will discuss what Self-Directed learning is NOT.

Kids can be excited to go to school! That is a promise I freely make because I know it to be true for us. These kids get MAD when we have snow days…seriously- they threaten to walk to school…in the snow, uphill, both ways! No joke. 

How is this possible? Let me share the definition of Self-Directed learning with you and give some examples that spark joy in their hearts and minds, leading them to love their time at school! 

So, What is Self-Directed Learning exactly?

For decades, Peter Gray has beautifully defined capital S, capital D, Self-Directed learning. This learning emerges out of a child’s natural drive to understand themselves and the world around them. 

Children able to direct their learning will naturally use whatever resources are available in their environment, including knowledgeable and skilled others, to achieve that end. 

Children make meaningful choices and create meaningful connections. It is far more than strictly learning academic materials. It is a journey to know the self, the community, and the world.

Dr. Gray, in a previous Psychology Today post (here), stated that “Children will educate themselves by following their interests, without being subjected to an imposed curriculum, either in or out of school.” He goes on to state that “We are all, constantly, educating ourselves as we pursue our interests, make our living, and strive to solve problems in our daily lives. Most of what any of us know—regardless of how much curriculum-based schooling we have attended—has come from self-directed education.” (Gray, 2017)

Why is Self-Directed Learning Important?

Children (aka humans) are organically curious, creative, playful, social beings. If these characteristics are encouraged instead of stifled, who knows what kind of future our kids would create! It would surely be Wyld! 

Self-Directed learning is vital. It allows all the best parts of humanity to develop in a healthy and supportive environment. It provides hope for healthier humanity where people are realizing and meeting their full potential. Can you imagine a place where members of a school are engaging with the community around them in meaningful and cooperative ways? That’s what Self-Directed schools look like!  

When children are part of a community of learners, like WyldFlower, Self-Directed learning leads to Self-Directed Education. Learning is the process, the links in a chain, that become an education perfectly profiled to the individual learner. 

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education defines Self-Directed Education as “An education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner, whether or not those activities were chosen deliberately for the purpose of education.”

In other words, as a child, you choose to pursue something, an activity, or an experience for pleasure and end up learning whether you meant to or not. You simply can’t help it. It’s nature.

You are wired to learn. Here is a great quick video to further illustrate the concept of Self-Directed Learning. 

Real Examples of Self-Directed Learning

Since children are determined to master their culture and become successful adults; we see them play with the tools of culture. If you worry about the ‘curricula,’ here it is-

It is life. 

Here are a few examples from our everyday life at WyldFlower.

Money is the currency we use to acquire desired items, right? So counting, adding, subtracting, calculating, balancing, estimating, etc. are all part of the learning process children choose to engage in when they pick out a snack item and pay for it themselves. Or when a student proposes their budget to purchase supplies needed for a baking “Offering” (our version of a class) they want to put on at WyldFlower and share with the community. 

Building a fort today? You will measure, balance equations intuitively, engineer, construct, redesign, reconstruct, expand for additional square footage, and ‘feel’ the math before you need the numerical equation. You will have obtained a concrete understanding of the equations other kids are forced to tackle from the abstract numeration first and hope to one day understand what all those numbers and symbols mean. 

Technology is the tool children know will be necessary to imagine and create their future so they are naturally drawn to it. They are watching you… 

They have an inborn desire to master the skills they know to be vital to future success and satisfaction. Again, you don’t have to force this, you just need to provide enriching and safe experiences for children to choose from and watch them flourish. Minecraft takes over the tech space and creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking explode! 

Language acquisition and vocabulary development are all happening simultaneously to the money exchanges, the offering form write-ups, the fort construction, and the Minecraft playing. You would be asking for help from another member of your community. You would be looking to the expert in the room to help you tease out the process if you didn’t immediately know how to do it on your own. You will read the manual or instructions because you realize that it contains the info you need, and reading is the mechanism by which you access that information. 

Reading is necessary to gain access to information and resources, so they go through the process of learning how to do so. They choose to tackle it, they get the support and resources they need to do so. They also get all the time they need to master, without the pressure or stress of standardization practices. 

The examples of Social-Emotional Learning are too numerous to count! Between the WJC (our governing body) and School Meeting (the ‘principal’ of the school is composed of 1 vote per person) and all the mixed-age interactions…it is just sensational! 

I will have to post about them specifically in the future. 

This wasn’t meant to become a book 🙂 

Creativity is the highest form of intelligence because it goes beyond knowledge recall and extends into knowledge creation.

Wrapping it up…

As a Self-Directed learner in a community of Self-Directed learners you give directions, take directions, manage regulations, adjust, make concessions, and compassionately traverse relationships and unique personalities all the while.  

A lot like real life, don’t you think? 

Doesn’t this sound just like getting a new job, maintaining a family, or starting a new hobby? 

You learn what you need to; when you need to and navigate relationships along the tightrope walk of life. 

I have heard a kid say, “WyldFlower is just like living my life, every day.”

Yep kid, it’s just like that. 
Living your best life, every day, I hope!

We are always learning.

Everything is interesting if you have the right attitude. Self-Directed learners take full responsibility for their learning.

They chose and live.

They grow and flourish.

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