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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

August 2, 2022

Student Success

Self-Directed Learning: 4 Effective Approaches

male student studying

College students typically have a lot more freedom in how they tackle their studies than they did in high school. This is especially true at Western Governors University (WGU), which follows a competency-based education model. In this approach to learning, students advance through courses as soon as they can show they've mastered the material, instead of having to wait until the semester ends.

The flexibility this model provides can empower students, but it also requires a great deal of self-directed learning. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools at WGU that students can use to personalize their plan of study. Students can work with their Program Mentor to determine their preferred learning style and prior knowledge or experience. With their mentor's help, students can then figure out which self-directed learning approaches, in which sections or courses, will work best for them.

WGU graduate Corri Lewis completed her Bachelor of Science Business Administration–Management degree at the university in January 2019. In April of that same year, she enrolled in WGU's Master of Science in Leadership and Management degree program. Five months later, she completed it and received both degrees in WGU's September 2019 commencement ceremony.

That Lewis received two degrees in a span of just nine months speaks to her commitment to self-directed learning. Here are four aspects of Lewis's approach to self-directed learning that may be helpful to you, too.

1. Complete a Pre-Assessment of Your Qualifications

Part of WGU's competency-based education model is that the college values your past experience and education. Lewis took full advantage of WGU's assessments at the beginning of each course, where she could display what she had already mastered in the course subject matter. This accelerated her learning.

"I took the pre-assessment for every course and was surprised by what I knew going in," Lewis recalled. "From there, I would work through the portions of the program that I did not understand, assess again, and—once ready—take the final assessment."

Lewis gave as an example the HR-related courses within her business degree programs. She found that she was already familiar with many of the concepts just by virtue of being a parent. Taking assessments at the beginning of a course gave her the ability to speed through the content more quickly.

2. Skip Around Course Content

Thanks to the flexibility WGU students are afforded, Lewis was able to tackle course subject matter and complete most of her courses in a highly personalized fashion, rather than sequentially.

"I am neurodiverse," she said, "so I skipped around in most courses to remain stimulated, engaged, and motivated."

Sometimes, Lewis would tackle the more challenging course content first to get it out of the way and leave her with the easier content. Other times, she would dive into the easier content first, as a way of easing into a course or boosting her confidence.

self motivated student

3. Or Take a Linear Approach

On the other hand, that flexibility also allowed Lewis to tackle course subject matter in the recommended order when it suited her. For example, it made more sense for her to complete each section of her math courses in the standard order.

"Math courses involve skills that build on each other in a very specific sequence," she said. "I would power through those very linearly."

WGU's flexible approach to learning is what enabled Lewis to jump around in some courses and go through others from beginning to end.

4. Schedule Courses for Optimum Motivation

That flexibility not only served Lewis within courses, it also served her across her entire course schedule. In order to garner the motivation needed to complete courses she was less interested in, Lewis would schedule her courses according to what she called a "love it, loathe it" model.

"For each term, I chose two courses that I would enjoy and one that would challenge me," she said. "I worked on an enjoyable course, so I could start off with a bang, then endured the more difficult course. Finally, I rewarded myself with another fun course. In this way, I found I could complete more courses in a single term."

As Lewis's experience demonstrates, WGU students can take a variety of approaches in completing their program of studies. Students should work with their Program Mentor to determine the best strategies for them.

Learn more about how WGU's flexible, competency-based model serves adult learners.

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One online university. Four colleges. Flexible degrees.

Our focus on your success starts with our focus on four high-demand fields: K–12 teaching and education, nursing and healthcare, information technology, and business. Every degree program at WGU is tied to a high-growth, highly rewarding career path. Which college fits you?

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