Today, employees consistently want to be engaged at their workplace while having the opportunity to develop their professional skills and keep up with fast-moving technological advances.

In a LinkedIn Learning Survey with 2,000 Gen Z workers, it was reported that

43% of Gen Z workers prefer learning based entirely on a self-directed approach while only 20% of L&D professionals plan to offer Gen Z learners this level of self-direction. 

This difference in expectations between Gen Z and Learning and Development professionals could cause employees to disengage. However, 74% of L&D professionals are ready to make changes to their training programs in order to accommodate employee needs.

This article discusses how to create a self-directed learning environment for Gen Z workers and four tools that will encourage self-directed learning among all employees.

What is Self-Directed Learning?

Self-directed learning (SDL) is the act of independently assessing learning needs, creating goals, identifying ways to learn that information and taking the initiative to learn about that topic. According to the Towards Maturity 2017 report, 96% of L&D professionals top priorities are to increase self-directed learning. Why is this such a high priority?

Because employees want to learn!

In a Deloitte study, 85% of participants cited learning as being highly important to them in their job. 

SDL provides an outlet for continual learning, especially because more often than not, employees know what they need to learn. Advantages of self-directed learning include:

  • Greater schedule flexibility
  • Closing the skills gap
  • More focused learning in highly specialized fields

How to Create a Self-Directed Learning Environment

Stating that you want to start utilizing self-directed learning is simply not enough. Creating a workplace environment that supports this type of learning will motivate employees, especially Gen Z workers, to continually learn new skills and not become disengaged from their work.

Here are five ways to create an optimal self-directed learning environment in the workplace. 

  1. Communicate shared goals Communicate how learning helps individuals and the entire organization; emphasize how self-directed learning can increase learning and development.
  2. Create custom learning paths Custom learning paths supports independence while also giving employees the tools they need to be successful.
  3. Offer on-demand learning Put more emphasis on digital courses than in-person courses.
  4. Trust employees to take charge in their learning Support employee’s need for self-directed learning by trusting them to explore.
  5. Encourage unplanned or out of order learning activities Use techniques such as informal learning to encourage learning at every faucet of their time at work.

Once you’ve created an environment that supports this type of learning, its necessary to give employees the tools to execute SDL.

The Towards Maturity 2017 Report also noted that one of the biggest barriers of creating an all-encompassing learning culture was the lack of skills amongst employees to manage their own learning. Here are 4 tools to help employees deploy self-directed learning.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is an online training platform that seamlessly delivers training courses to organizations across all industries. It deploys virtual training to end-users (employees, suppliers, customers, partners, etc.), manages training materials and tracks results aimed to improve end-user performance.


xAPI allows for deeper tracking of SDL. This application is able to track the information learners seek whether that be through the eLearning content provided by a company or outside information on the internet. xAPI makes it easy for the L&D team to see self-directed learning in action.

Course Integration

Company specific content should come from the company’s Learning and Development team. However, an LMS with the capabilities to integrate outside courses is critical for users and administration. Users are easily able to locate courses on the platform, saving a ton of google search time, and administrators can easily track and report the data collected from the system. There are 2 types of course integrations that are useful to have in your LMS:

  1. Subscription Pay per time period for unlimited courses. Ex: LinkedIn Learning allows users to have access to unlimited courses for a monthly fee.
  2. Off the shelf content Pay by course. Ex: EJ4 allows users to pay for each course they want to view.



Quick Quiz is a Slack application that allows users to quiz each other. After an employee has initially learned something from an article or video, testing that knowledge will solidify the learning process. Giving employees the tools to manage their own learning and promoting a supportive environment around self-directed learning will create a competitive advantage for your company.

Sign up to receive industry tips, trends, & insights