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What is Self-Service Learning?

— by Jordan Bradley


Self-service – it’s a term that most of us view as synonymous with convenient, quick and hassle-free.

Can the same be said about learning independently and completely unassisted?  With the advent of elearning, can highly motivated people better their careers through self service learning?

Should these principles be applied to a process that traditionally takes time and patience (and money)?

Just what exactly is this idea of ‘self-service’ learning?

What does self-service learning mean?

Well here’s the bit that might be quite surprising – ‘self-service learning’ is not some term coined about a new type of learning technology like those self-service checkout machines you’ll find at convenience stores and supermarkets.

No, self-service learning is simply accessing the knowledge you require using the array of online tools you have available to you. You’re probably already doing it, actively taking on new information via self-service learning without even knowing it.

Patricia McLagan was the first to talk about ‘self-service learning’ as a theme of trends and from her initial musings I have deduced my own definition of self-service learning:

Self-service learning is using the resources available to you to learn about almost any desired subject matter on your own initiative, without guidance or prompts, undertaking research and learning from self-found materials.

OK – this isn’t a new concept. For millennia we’ve had access to scripts, books and we’ve learnt, absorbed and developed as humans by interacting with the world and the people around us.

But in our increasingly connected world, never has it been easier to access information. That’s why this is the age of the self-service – a time in which learning has rather quickly become available to the masses in a way that it simply wasn’t before.

What do you want to learn? It doesn’t matter – the point is, you can. Managing your own learning has never been easier.

We’re no longer confined to learning through other people, in regulated settings that require more time, patience and money than is necessary.

Now we can learn at our own pace, individually, in our own time, at our own convenience.  We as professionals can apply a blended learning approach to our own professional development!

So is there no longer a place for traditional learning?

I’m not saying that all learning should be entirely independent.

Of course, the learning of certain topics still requires a face-to-face element, such as:

  • Medicine
  • Engineering
  • Military combat
  • Driving automobiles
  • Sports

The list goes on; essentially, there are and always will be so many areas that require – even depend – on a physical or practical element of learning.

And with good reason. There are a whole host of benefits to traditional learning methods, such as:

  • Immediate, easily articulable feedback
  • Responsive problem solving
  • Personal, tailored tutoring
  • Ability to appeal to the needs of different learning styles such as kinaesthetic learners
  • Reduced likelihood of permanent misinterpretations

Again – I could go on, but for the sake of this post I’ll limit myself.

So no, traditional learning does of course still hold an incredibly important role.

But what I am trying to say is that we now have the biggest opportunity to pursue and enjoy unrestricted learning.

I believe that’s worth talking about. I believe that’s worth celebrating.

How did self-service learning originate?

Whilst the term itself wasn’t mentioned for the first time publically until 2011, the concept of self-service learning is ingrained in human history.

We are naturally curious as a species.

Learning has been a fundamental component of the development of the human race, and mankind has always had to find ways to learn for himself, making the most of the resources that are available to him.

Acquiring knowledge, learning skills and gaining expertise in any given area has always required time, dedication and perhaps a natural passion or gift too.

In some pursuits, learning has also required additional resources, such as money, status and of course education.

But in today’s era of self-service learning, these barriers are being dismantled. Man has always been able to learn on his own accord; never has he been able to learn so much on his own accord.

What are the benefits of self-service learning?

  • It’s pressure-free (there are no deadlines, timescales or expectations!)
  • You learn at your own pace
  • It’s not location exclusive
  • It’s highly convenient, fitting around your other responsibilities
  • You’re not dependent on others or vice versa
  • You’re in control; you make the decisions
  • It’s highly rewarding and provides an enhanced sense of achievement

What are the drawbacks of self-service learning?

  • The only person there to motivate you is you
  • If you don’t understand something, you can only figure it out yourself
  • It can be lonely and frustrating
  • Some subject areas have limitations; you may need to uptake traditional learning to complement your new-found knowledge
  • Without guidance you can be susceptible to misinterpretations and consequently invest a lot of wasted time

What does the future hold?

As I have made clear throughout this post, I advocate learning through both traditional mediums and learning independently via self-service learning.

Self-service learning is only going to grow as our online capabilities extend. On the other hand, some subject matters will always be exclusive to traditional learning methods.

One thing’s for sure: how to acquire knowledge, skills and expertise and the ways in which we can do this will always be up for discussion.

What you have to decide is whether you want to learn it yourself, or pay to learn in a more regulated environment. Sometimes this will be a straightforward decision; for when it’s not, consider the following:

  • What (if any) practical elements does this topic include?
  • How confident am I in my own ability to learn what is required in order to comprehensively understand this specific subject?
  • How much will I benefit from supervision when attempting to learn this topic?
  • Do I feel motivated and passionate enough to learn about this entirely on my own initiative?

Both options have their benefits and drawbacks as discussed, so choose carefully and remember to also do what’s right for you – no one can truly advise you on that part except you.

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