Indian Journal of Health Sciences and Biomedical Research KLEU

: 2022  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 187--189

Engaging a self-directed learning session: Myths and facts

Sheetal Harakuni 
 Department of Microbiology, J N Medical College, KLE Academy of Higher Education, Belagavi, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sheetal Harakuni
J N Medical College, KLE Academy of Higher Education, Belagavi, Karnataka

How to cite this article:
Harakuni S. Engaging a self-directed learning session: Myths and facts.Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res 2022;15:187-189

How to cite this URL:
Harakuni S. Engaging a self-directed learning session: Myths and facts. Indian J Health Sci Biomed Res [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Dec 4 ];15:187-189
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Self-directed learning (SDL) is where the learner takes responsibility for one's own learning. Hence, it involves the active participation of the learner to assess his learning needs. Once the learning need in a given topic or a subtopic is assessed, he should create learning goals, identify resources for learning, apply appropriate learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes.[1]

In competency-based medical education, Medical Council of India (now supported by National Medical Commission) has allotted 60–100 h for SDL in every professional year. The sessions are distributed among all the courses in the curriculum.[2] As we look into the principles of SDL as is defined, there are some changes in the administration of the curriculum required to create an environment for students to practice SDL. The changes required are in terms of the teaching–learning process, students' roles, and teachers' roles. The appropriate placing of the SDL sessions in the timetable designed by each institute is also of prime importance.

At the outset, one should be clear about the few myths and facts related to SDL;

Myth: SDL sessions are the sessions where students are left on their own to learn a topic!

Fact: SDL sessions are well-designed sessions where students are taken through the journey to learn a topic under the guidance of a facilitator, at their own pace and style. At the end of the session, the student should realize that one has reached the goal set at the beginning of the session.

The main purpose of an SDL session is to instill the quality of “Lifelong learning” in the students. The sessions are to be designed keeping in mind this mantra of SDL. It is now obvious that a lifelong learning attitude cannot be developed by merely reading a note, reading a chapter, or attending a lecture. Learning by the student can happen when students identify their deficit in knowledge. This can happen when they are challenged by an encounter where they find themselves lacking in their knowledge or skill!

It is experienced by the faculty that students attend an SDL session without any preparation or they are content about what they already know or are negligent about what they should be learning in the given course material. It is but natural for students to be in that default mode as they are adults who learn as per the need of a given situation. Hence, it is the duty of the faculty to make students realize the deficits by taking them through the journey of SDL so that they become lifelong learners.

 Design a Self-directed Learning Session


SDL sessions are to be placed in the timetable in the later part of a professional year. These sessions are to be of 2–3 h. SDL sessions should have specific objective/s. The objective/s of the session should be with verbs taking learning at the “knows how” or “shows how” level in Miller's pyramid. Hence, these are the sessions where students are allowed to interpret, analyze, demonstrate, assimilate, coordinate, and comprehend the learned knowledge or skill. Thus, to take the learning to higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy, the base of the knowledge/skill should have been provided to the students by a lecture/small-group discussions (SGDs)/demonstration.

Myth: SDL sessions can be on any topic of a given course!

Fact: SDL sessions are to be placed after a lecture/SGD/demonstration which provides the base for learning that would take place in SDL sessions. They cannot be de novo topics.

 Teachers' Role

The SDL sessions are facilitated by the faculty, not taught. The students learn the subject and the faculty facilitate learning by providing resource materials, maintaining the congruence of learning with the set objective of the session, vigilant in maintaining the educational standards.[4] The faculty should adopt the methodology of the learning process by opting for an appropriate mode to attain the objective of the SDL. The verb/s of the session objective guide the mode of the SDL session. For example, if the objective of a session is to interpret/analyze, then case-based/problem-based learning would be beneficial. Moreover, if the objective is where the student has to coordinate, team-based learning or group activity is appropriate.

Myth: The teacher dictates the topic of SDL and students learn on their own.

Fact: The teacher facilitates learning in SDL session by maintaining congruence of learning with the objective/s of the session. The teacher has to provide validated resources and guidance on the learning process.

 Students' Role

In an SDL session, the onus of learning is mostly on the learner. It is the responsibility of the learner to be prepared with the basic knowledge/skill necessary to participate in the given SDL session. The characteristics of a student that ensures him to be a lifelong learner are self-management, self-monitoring, and self-motivation to learn.[5] The student needs to be asked for the readiness assurance test before he appears and attempts an SDL session activity. The students are assessed at the end of every SDL session so that they realize the lessons learned and set a new goal for learning a given topic.

Myth: SDL sessions are to relearn what is already taught in lectures/demonstrations!

Fact: SDL sessions are to build on the concept laid down by lectures/demonstrations, by identifying the gap in learning with the help of the facilitators.

 Assessment of Self-directed Learning Sessions

Every SDL session should end with an assessment. This will ensure learning and also provides the learner with the level of learning that he could achieve. The assessment can be a short essay, seminar evaluation, incomplete handouts/flowchart filling, or performance of skill in a simulated environment. Even a group activity is to be evaluated on a checklist to assess the level of involvement, coordination with other group members, and lessons learned during the activity based on the reflection.

SDL sessions can be utilized in understanding how an individual evolves as a self-directed learner based on Goal Attainment Scaling scores.[6]

Myth: SDL sessions are not included in the final assessment!

Fact: SDL sessions are assessed and the performance is included in the formative assessment. The lessons learned are indirectly assessed in the final assessment through case-based questions and long case discussions.

 Evolve the Learning Process

It is not practical to expect a student to be a self-directed learner from the beginning of a course. To engage in learning so as to build the concept of a topic, the learner should assimilate facts/lessons learned around a topic. Hence, the student should be slowly evolved from the status of the dependent learner to an interested →involved learner to lastly self-directed learner. With this changing role of the student, the duties of the teacher also evolve from coach → motivator → facilitator to consultant.[7]

Hence, the course is gradually taken by explaining the facts in complex situations where the students can apply and exhibit their competency in a given simulated situation. This can take place within a topic of the course and also as the students learn through the courses of the given graduate program.

Myth: SDL sessions are designed in a fixed format by a course!

Fact: The SDL sessions are designed in a way that the student develops a holistic way of developing his/her concept so that he becomes a lifelong learner. The format should facilitate the evolution of learning from dependent learner to SDL.

 Technology to Facilitate Self-directed Learning: “Osler Meets Watson”

Osler says teachers are successful when they facilitate learning as a senior student anxious to help his juniors. Moreover, millennial learners are multimodal learners known for seeking knowledge from various sources using technology. Hence, it is the time when faculty have to embrace technology not only to be on the same page as the learners but also to ease their life.[8] Technology can be used to distribute the resources for learning, conduct readiness assurance tests, communicate the students' performance, and provide feedback. The teachers of the millennium have an additional responsibility to validate the resources that students would be using for learning a concept.

Myth: Technology deviates the learner from the basics and hampers the performance of the teacher

Fact: Technology provides innumerable resources for learning and eases the life of the facilitator by wide accessibility to distribute the resources and assess the learners' performance.


The SDL sessions are opportunities for the students to learn the topics in depth to enhance the knowledge and skills related to a course so that they apply them in their real-life health-care services. The faculty perform a prime role to facilitate and promote learning intending to make every student a lifelong learner.


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