Ten Ways To Support Self-Directed Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic struggle is real. It has affected many families for some months now—especially children in their most important learning years.

And it isn’t over yet because hundreds and thousands of parents are joining Facebook homeschooling groups looking for guidance.

A deep sense of consternation comes from the question, “What will our children learn if they aren’t physically in school?”

On the other hand, some families aren’t that worried. And even if local activities from homeschool co-ops may need to take a pause, for the most part, learning happens all the time, anywhere.

Homeschoolers in the US were estimated to be around 1.6 M from 2017-2018. Parents develop individualized learning programs that can be parent-led or learner-centered and self-directed.

Our previous blog mentioned how important it is to help our young ones and prepare them to be self-led learners.

In this blog, I share ten ways I use to support my son’s self-directed learning activities. Please remember that every child is unique. And we can find resources that may still need further adjustment to fit individual needs.

1. Clarify the meaning of learning

What does the word learning mean to you? You have to clarify this from the start. Because you want to make sure that what learning means to you is the same as what it means to your child or anyone you are supporting. In general, you need to understand what you are aiming for if you want to learn something.

Like a computer that uses input devices such as keyboards, microphones, etc., the human body uses its sensory organs to see, touch, smell, hear, or taste—mostly seeing and hearing because we read and listen to learn.

Just like a computer with input devices that receives data, the human brain operates the same by receiving sensory information. 

For me, learning is progress. It’s about moving forward. But it all starts with information. We receive such information, and we process it, then we use it – to make decisions, create something new, fix something broken, and solve problems.

One of the fathers of cognitive psychology, George A. Miller, discovered that the mind could hold 7 (plus or minus 2) things at a time. This insightful finding brought to light the information-processing model.

Information Processing in the Human Brain and the Computer System

When you google the words Information Processing Theory you will find various articles and blogs that compare how the human brain and computer process information.

Learning is about receiving, processing, storing, and retrieving information for meaningful use. 

So, experiential learning is excellent because one gets to use more senses to receive information. It is multi-sensory learning.

Then like a Central Processing Unit (CPU) of a computer, the brain processes information.

The computer output devices may print out the processed data. Or the user can view it through a monitor or hear it through the speakers or headphones.

Now, what should we expect as an output for humans? We look at one’s behavior or actions—a beautiful, heartfelt piano solo after years of lessons. Observe someone arrive at an ideal decision after reading, hearing, and discussion of information. 

We learn when we create something new. Especially if we use that creation to solve problems. However, learning also happens when we discover what doesn’t work. 


“Remembering George A. Miller,” Association for Psychological Science – APS, September 26, 2012, https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/remembering-george-a-miller.


2. Teach learners how to learn on their own

You may not have to do this because most people are self-led learners. All they need is the opportunity to explore and learn on their own. But below are some of the ways to assist in self-directed learning.

  1. Help a learner clarify what he likes. 
  2. Help formulate the question, “What do I need to do to accomplish a goal?” 
  3. Empower a learner to seek information freely and use it meaningfully – in making decisions, solving problems, singing a song, or building anything new.

Depending on the learner’s age and communication level, you may take the opportunity to discuss or explain what happens during learning. Talk about how the mind receives, processes, stores, and meaningfully uses information. Show the above infographic for better illustration.

Many years ago, I accepted a position as an analyst. During my first week, I had no idea what to do. But someone advised me that I’m supposed to find things out for myself. And I can do that by freely asking around and researching until I find solutions to get things done.

I realized that I have been doing that all along – from childhood to adulthood and motherhood. Sometimes, all we need is someone to show us that we are already doing the right things. All we need is to stay on the right track.  

3. Provide opportunities to explore

Travel is a multi-sensory activity. Think about the morning and afternoon walks you take with smaller children. You watch them pick some dried leaves or rocks. They look at it, touch it, and may put it in their mouths – yikes! 

So, you need to anticipate what they would do and make sure you keep them safe. The point is, you allow kiddos to explore but at the same time, ensure their safety.

In 2017, we were on a road trip from Las Vegas, passing by Utah, heading to Wyoming to spend a week in Yellowstone. We were teaching our then 13-year-old son how to use the road atlas if the Global Positioning System (GPS) wasn’t available. And because he loves geography, learning to read a map was so fun and enjoyable while traveling.

But the exciting part was discovering our son’s excellent navigational skills. One afternoon (day 2), during our drive back to our cabin, he pointed out that we were heading in the wrong direction. My husband assured him not to worry. But my son replied, “Dad, we’re leaving the park.” He saved us 50 extra miles of driving. 

On many occasions the following day, I noticed my son quickly eyeballing a map. Then he knew where to go. He seemed to be so good at it that we asked him to plan our trips in that huge park. 

Whether you’re traveling, gardening, surfing, cooking, or sailing, never underestimate any opportunity to explore something new.

In many ways, traveling helps you find yourself – a journey of self-discovery. And it amazingly helps you discover more about people or places you thought you already knew well.

4. Encourage autonomy in learning

We all value our independence. And it is usually a parent’s goal to nurture young children to grow into a fully independent and matured individual. Thus, it makes sense to honor a child’s choices and follow his or her cues. 

As mentioned in the book From Childhood to Adolescence by Maria Montessori, most children and teens request assistance to do things independently. 

  1. Pay attention to a learner’s interest without judgment. 
  2. Understand, acknowledge, and validate why they like something or why they want to perform an activity.
  3. Help obtain resources for skills development.

Learner autonomy boosts self-confidence and enhances self-esteem, which in turn promotes positive relationships. And when an individual feels good, it’s easier for them to learn new skills or help others.


McCarthy, Jesse. “Practical Life: ‘Help Me to Do It Alone.’” Montessori Education. Montessori Education, January 25, 2017. https://www.montessorieducation.com/blog/practical-life-help-me-to-do-it-alone.

Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence. Amterdam, Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, n.d.


5. Develop individualized programs

One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is independence in developing a personalized program. After all, self-directed education is learner-centered and will most likely clash with traditional program-centered models.

The more I know about my son’s interests, likes, dislikes, and unique learning abilities, the more I can find the best fit program. 

And if it still needs further adjustment, I would know better how to modify it to fit his learning needs. Learning should never be stressful. But it should be calm, relaxed, and enjoyable.

6. Teach collaboration

Collaboration is when two or more people work together for a common purpose. It requires communication and interpersonal skills. See below for some examples. 

Communication Skills
  • Active listening
  • Written communication
  • Verbal communication
  • Nonverbal communication
Interpersonal Skills
  • Caring
  • Helpful
  • Patience
  • Respect

So, if there’s an 80/20 rule, honing communication and interpersonal skills to collaborate efficiently amounts to eighty percent of the load.

Any idea, no matter how promising, may not go anywhere without collaboration. Given that your children are free to choose an activity, they still have to collaborate with you to provide appropriate guidance, resources, and support.

7. Provide guidance

A self-directed model of learning does not equate to an absence of parent involvement. As mentioned earlier, communication and interpersonal skills are crucial in collaboration.

To point out, I think it’s always important to ask our child, “What do you prefer?” or “What’s your decision?” “Is this working for you, or do you need something better?”

If he needs help, I do what I know best to provide guidance:

  1. Research
  2. Combine information
  3. Pick my top three recommendations
  4. Present the pros and cons of each
  5. Encourage him to select the best option

8. Provide resources

My teen son’s passion is photography. He started with a smartphone; then, he borrowed my old DSLR camera.

In the beginning, I was so excited because I could teach him whatever little I know about photography. After all, I thought I was ahead.

I recommended that he start shooting under automatic settings so he could get familiar with the settings. But to my surprise, he insisted on going straight to manual mode. I remembered him saying, “Mom, can I please just do this by myself?”

After an hour in the park, he came back to show me a stunning sunset photo that made my jaw dropped. I’ve had that camera for over ten years, and I never went that far using the manual mode. Amazing!

No doubt that we have finally discovered my son’s gift. If he can produce excellent photos with my old cropped-frame camera, what else could he do with newer, full-frame, and better ones? How far could he go with more powerful lenses?

To clarify, I’m parenting a child with learning disorders. Then I unintentionally discovered one of his unique gifts. So, you can’t blame me for saving every penny for resources to hone his skills.

I remember spending a lot, so my son can develop many skills. But something about the dollars invested in supporting a natural talent or an inborn gift is incredibly worthwhile.

Anyway, photography tends to be expensive, so we had to plan it out carefully. To avoid the unnecessary expenses of buying the wrong equipment, we initially rented cameras, tripods, and lenses before deciding which to purchase. We looked for a trusted mentor. And we researched for memberships that offer learning materials.

I can think of many other interests and passions that can break your bank. Not to mention, the word “resources” is not limited to financial. Count human, time, and effort in. So, providing resources is no joke. 

It’s important to realize how online groups and communities help us identify resources. Learning about other people’s experiences point us in the right direction. But only if we understand how to bridge the gap between their input or feedback and our needs.

9. Observe

Know your child inside out.

Performance improvement activities in most organizations and workplaces require observation skills. Because observation is essential when monitoring progress. If you will recall earlier in this blog, I mentioned that I view learning as progress.

Think about babies watching grownups walk and hearing them speak. After a while, babies crawl or start to take their first steps. Then they would try to make sounds. 


Eventually, they would attempt to say a word they hear a lot. But maybe unable yet to speak it fluently. You note progress. Hence, you can see that these babies are in the process of learning to walk and talk.

They take their first steps, fall, and try again until they can walk. Each time they try and get better shows progress – learning.

10. Document

Writing can be a cathartic tool with incredible healing benefits. If you love to write and have been journaling, then documentation would be second nature to you.

If this sounds too cumbersome, know that you don’t have to jot everything down; you can snap a photo and type some notes. Later, you can expand on the thought and elaborate further.

I document my observations, key-takeaways, or anything insightful about the learning experience.

Here are some of the questions I use as a guide:

  • How does my child receive, remember, and use the information when making decisions or solving problems?
  • Does he find learning a particular topic enjoyable and fun, or tedious and stressful?
  • Progress?
  • Goal Achievement?
  • What worked and what didn’t work?

I use the apps Momento and Journey for journaling. Momento is excellent when traveling, and also, if I want to include several photos in the note.

On the other hand, I love Journey because the notes sync across all devices. It would be another full blog to write about a comparative review of these two apps. But I need to have both. 

To sum up, every child or individual is unique. And honoring one’s choices in learning helps alleviate the stressful culture in today’s education.

We hope we provided you with value in this blog. Please always prioritize safety and security as you implement an individualized and learner-centered education.

Self-directed learning boosts self-confidence and enhances self-esteem bringing about positive and healthy relationships. And when you feel good, you quickly learn new skills and become more helpful to others.

Clarify the meaning of learning
Teach learners how to learn on their own
Provide opportunities to explore
Encourage autonomy in learning
Develop individualized programs
Teach collaboration
Provide guidance
Provide resources
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