Do you agree with these seven characteristics of self-managed learning – 7 S’s? via @fredgarnett

Another mnemonic (… though I’m not sure it’s good mnemonic design (a) to have 7 elements and (b) all with the same initial letter). I think some people I know would disagree with some of these characteristics — especially the points about structure. The descriptions below are just the introductions to each characteristic: click through for full details.

Self Managed Learning (SML) is a structured approach to learning which not only makes the process work more efficiently but also helps people learn things they would not otherwise learn.  Some of its key characteristics can be summarized under the following ‘Seven S’s’.

SML demands that people take a strategic stance in relation to their own learning. Strategy here means thinking long term and with ‘the big picture’ in mind. Too often learning is driven by short term tactical demands – an exam to pass, a new computer system to learn about. There’s nothing wrong with such tactical learning – it’s just that on its own it is too limited for the complexities and challenges we face in modern organisational life.


There is no required curriculum or syllabus in SML – the learning is driven by the real needs of individuals and their Organisations. Learners may need assistance to help them to make their choices of what to learn, but such help avoids authoritarian control.

Self managed

People have to take responsibility for their own learning – but this is not a selfish activity. Self managing includes the necessary and valuable interactions with others.

A simple model suggests that there may be four approaches to learning, and that often people go through these approaches in stages.





Interdependent learners are keen to learn from others, to support others in their learning, to share their own learning and to collaborate in teams. They listen to others, question others to find out new ideas and information and they enjoy engaging in dialogue with a wide range of people. They characterize the best of a learning organisation approach.


The learning is located in a context. SML requires learners to connect with others and especially to integrate their learning with organisational needs. This, in part, comes via one specific SML structure, namely the use of a strategic learning contract as a means for each person to specify what they want to learn – and to share this with others.


Learners are supported in meeting the goals they set themselves in their strategic learning contract. One support structure is the learning group.


SML provides a rigorous structure in order to help
learning – but the structure is content-free. That is, learners decide for themselves how to use the structure. SML is not a ‘free for all’; it operates within the real constraints of organisational life and requires self managing learners to work within resource and policy limits.


SML is not an easy option. Some people think that managing your own learning via SML must be a laid back way to learn. It isn’t. The requirement to set goals and meet them is a tough-minded approach to learning – and having to meet regularly with colleagues to discuss progress means that learners have to keep to their agreed plans (or consciously change them).


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