My last blog post looked at the importance and benefits of learner autonomy, but I focused on the theory. Now it’s time to look at some practical ways to develop learner-centred learning. So, in this post I’ll outline five ways you can build learner autonomy into your learning and development. As a heads up, this isn’t via traditional training programmes, but I have included some examples of how to harness the features of autonomous learning in the technology you’re likely to be using.

What is learner autonomy at work?

In a nutshell, learner autonomy is about taking charge of your own learning – for example, when you set yourself a personal goal (such as learning the guitar) and find resources and methods that help achieve it. You might find YouTube videos helpful but your friend might prefer to use an app that reminds them to practise every day. Either way, you have both taken ownership of your learning.

It’s the same at work – most people learn best informally when they are able to browse and find their own content. In our information-rich society, we are used to going online and finding what we need. This avoids the frustration of being served up formal training that doesn’t quite work for us. 

With that in mind, here are five steps you can take to embed learner autonomy into L&D:

1. Educate leaders about the benefits of autonomous learning

Learning methods and tools have been transformed in the last decade or so. But people outside the world of learning don’t always know that: to them, learning is taking a course, doing a test, or attending a workshop. Therefore, the most important step is to secure decision-makers’ buy-in by outlining what learner autonomy is and how it will benefit the organisation. My previous blog post, ‘Learner autonomy: what it is and why it matters in online learning’ is a good introduction! 

2. Use the learning management system to embed learner autonomy in L&D

You might not think of the learning management system as a means of promoting autonomous learning. Isn’t it a repository of learning content? Well, no – it’s a lot more. For a start, it can be used to host bite-sized resources in different formats so that learners can dip in when their interest is piqued. For example, with Docebo’s Coach and Share, you can curate channels (similar to catalogues) of learning and learning resources that people can dip in and out of at will without being tracked or needing to complete anything.

This approach has the additional benefit of making the LMS a go-to place for all types of learning rather than somewhere  learners try to avoid because it is enforced, unrelatable and/or boring. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for formal learning to be dished up with little learning needs analysis to determine whether or not the learners actually require it.

3. Capture your people’s expertise in your LMS

Capture the crowd’s wisdom by using the LMS’s features to ensure learning materials align with your people’s goals. Docebo’s Discover, Coach and Share is excellent for informal, social, and collaborative learning because it can allow learners to contribute their own experience so that others may benefit. It also ensures learning materials are tailored to the organisation and prompts a culture of learning. This will enable everyone to play a part in developing and sharing the organisation’s best practices. Plus, with remote working now part of our working patterns, peer learning in this way reduces isolation and helps create a sense of community as people make connections. It serves as an important way to support  wellbeing.

4. Focus on flexibility

I often think of Cathy Moore’s catchphrase ‘Save the world from boring training’ when I think about autonomous learning. Part of what makes training boring is its top-down approach; in contrast, autonomous learning is about giving learners control. That means it is important not to focus too much on strategy – in fact, the best strategy with autonomous learning is that there is no strategy. Instead, aim to respond to need by providing more of what’s popular. Keep things fresh by removing items rarely accessed. Data is your friend if you want to embed learner autonomy into L&D. This is because it will give you insights into what is genuinely useful and engaging. 

5. Empower learners

If you ask your people how they learn best, I bet they won’t say through formal training! They know what they need – so find ways to find out what that is. Along with data from the LMS, build opportunities for learners to provide feedback and ideas. Everyone can learn from this – as with your leaders, learners don’t always know what good learning resources look like and this is your opportunity to educate them. At the same time, you can explore learners’ goals and preferences – get them involved and everyone can learn!