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Self-directed learning: the quiet revolution in corporate training and development.

When we consider that U.S. businesses budget over $59.8 billion a year to provide over 49.6 million employees with formal training and development courses, it is worthwhile to search for better ways to develop the learning organization (Training, October, 1996). The development of self-directed learning (SDL) has been increasingly applied to this problem by leading U.S. companies and has achieved savings of 20-50%. If business is expected to share in the education of the workforce, it is vital that its responsibilities be defined and that it achieves its objectives at the lowest cost possible.

Today's rapidly changing world generates a constant flow of new knowledge. Workers are having difficulty adjusting to the information age. It is now expected that most workers' jobs will change dramatically over every five-year period. As a consequence, the task and the skills needed to perform them must change as the new work and work environment evolve. As these changes occur, the expanded educational needs of the workforce must be met to maintain personal and corporate competence.

Self-Directed Learning (SDL) Builds the Learning Organization

There has been a "quiet revolution" going on in the training departments of some of corporate America's most prestigious companies. For example, a series of national seminars were conducted by the International Quality & Productivity Center on Self-Directed Learning during the past three years. Companies such as Motorola, Disney, Aetna, Xerox, U.S. West, Levi Strauss, Owens-Coming, and American Airlines have all been implementing SDL in their long-term training and development strategies. These companies have discovered an educational practice that has its roots in the Socratic method. It is called self-directed learning. Organizational and technological changes have forced companies to re-examine the way employees learn and what they learn.

The storage time of an individual's knowledge from acquisition to use has shrank because employees must use the latest knowledge available to keep companies at the edge of the competition. In essence, we have entered the age of "just-in-time learning." This type of learning has been discovered to be self-directed learning. It is the only approach possible for keeping learning in sync with the rapidly changing environment. The nature and advantages of this method of learning as well as successful applications will be presented in the following sections.

Self-directed Learning: What Is It?

Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the development of teaching of adults, defines self-directed learning as a process in which "individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes" (Knowles, 1990). Self-directed learning refers to the degree to which a person prefers to be independent and direct his or her own learning activities. The degree of independence in any given learning situation will vary from teacher-directed classroom settings to self-planned and self-conducted learning projects. It is the desire, attitudes, values, and abilities that will ultimately determine the degree of self learning that will take place. A person who prefers a self-directed approach tends to choose the learning objectives, activities, resources, priorities, and level of energy expended more than someone who is other-directed and prefers teachers and trainers.

Adults bring to any learning situation a system of reference which gives them a platform for adding to their knowledge. However, each system of reference is different for each person. Therefore, formal standardized courses may overlap or omit knowledge, to a great extent, for every individual sitting in a classroom. Training or development achieved through SDL is more efficient and effective for a number of reasons (Durr, 1992; Knowles, 1990; Merriam, 1993; Piskurich, 1993):

1. SDL will have greater relevance to the particular needs of each individual learner.

2. Greater flexibility in the schedule of learning is available.

3. SDL encourages the development of patterns for each individual in approaching and solving problems.

4. More frequent and timely updating of skills and knowledge is easily possible.

5. Skills and attitudes for future personnel as well as current work-related needs are possible.

6. In highly specialized fields, SDL can provide more focused learning.

7. The learning dollars may be distributed among all employees at reasonable costs. At present, two thirds of corporate training dollars go to college-educated men and women (Stone, 1991).

8. Finally, as a result of the foregoing, company experience shows that the cost of training can be greatly reduced (Durr, 1992).

It has been observed that as people develop their self-directed learning skills, they tend to become more self-confident and more apt to solve problems on their own (Guglielmino, P. et al, 1987); Durr, 1992; Guglielmino and Roberts, 1992).

How SDL Saves Money: The Motorola Experience

Motorola, a Fortune 100 company, has demonstrated consistent commitment to training, development, and education over many years. In the early 1980s, Motorola adopted a policy requiring all 100,000 associates worldwide to participate in a minimum of one week of training each year. As the costs rose, the company searched for better ways to deliver the instruction. At this point, self-directed learning was becoming better known with more research to back it up. Use of this method of delivery would result in a dramatic change from the general practice of achieving training objectives only through attendance at instructor-led classroom sessions.

Review of the literature provided little guidance for large corporations such as Motorola to determine if employees were prepared for self-directed learning. Two studies that had been conducted with large companies, however, were found. One was a study of managers and non-managers at AT&T (Guglielmino & Guglielmino, 1981). The other was a study of managers at the Hong Kong Telephone Company (Roberts, 1992). Neither evaluated the self-directed learning readiness by occupational categories. Motorola, therefore, desired to explore the learning readiness of its global workforce by employee category because a large part of its training is occupation-specific. Richard Durr was hired in 1993 to integrate SDL into the company's learning process. The following represents primary data concerning the Motorola experience.

A General Model of the SDL Process

Mr. Durr essentially followed a general model for implementing a SDL for large companies as developed by Paul and Lucy Guglielmino and shown in Fig. 1. This consists of the following steps:

1. Identify learning needs. Self-diagnostic training needs of each employee were identified at the Paging Division of Motorola in Boynton Beach, Florida.

2. Evaluate the SDL readiness of employees ("associates," in Motorola terms). The company used instrument based on answering 58 questions, The Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) (Guglielmino, L., 1977). The SDLRS, which was developed and field tested in 1977 at the University of Georgia by L. M. Guglielmino, has a Likert scale with five response options (Guglielmino, L. M. 1977/78). It was subsequently expanded to 58 items and has become the most widely used instrument for the assessment of readiness for self-directed learning (McCune, 1988). The latest reliability estimate of the SDLRS, based on a split-half Pearson product moment correlation with Spearman-Brown correction, is .91. The sample consisted of 3,151 individuals from a wide variety of settings throughout the United States and Canada. The majority of the validity studies of the SDLRS have focused on convergent validity; that is, they examine correlations of SDLRS scores with measures that would be expected to correlate positively, such as number of learning projects conducted, hours spent in self-planned study, or observer ratings of behaviors thought to be indicative of self-directed learning. The adult form of the SDLRS has been translated into French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, Finnish, Greek, and Italian. More than 75 doctoral dissertations have been completed using the SDLRS. (For further information about the SDLRS write Guglielmino & Associates, 734 Marble Way, Boca Raton, FL 33432).

3. Orient and motivate employees for SDL. The principle and philosophy of SDL is presented at meetings of groups of employees. Motorola emphasizes "Learning and living, your time, your way" to sell the flexibility and advantages of the program. A trainer guide by Guglielmino and Guglielmino was available for the orientation at Motorola. In addition, Motorola prepared an 18 page "Learning and Development Process Guide" giving guidelines, forms, programs, and courses available. Please see the Appendix which illustrates an example of Motorola's "Learning Plan Process and Enrollment Procedure."

4. Employees are then asked to develop learning objectives that are useful to them individually. They next develop a plan for completion of the program and the resources they may require.

5. The training director develops or obtains the learning resources needed. This may include the study center or classroom, audio and video players, interactive video equipment, self-paced workbooks, long distance conference equipment, and internal and external experts. A database of internal experts should be developed especially because they cost less than outside consultants.

6. The learners select the times they wish to work on long-term objectives and short-term objectives. By having short-term objectives, they can apply learning to new tasks or improvement of tasks they are working on right now. At Motorola, hourly workers must do their training on company time. Others may do it part on company time and part on their own time. Presently, everybody is expected to spend at least 40 hours per year on formal learning. The former CEO of Motorola stated, "We should be thinking about one month of learning for each employee per year."

7. The training director develops a system for evaluation of results, which may be done in several ways. One is to compare the savings in learning from using SDL versus teacher-directed learning to achieve the same results. Another method is to measure learning by manager-employee interviews or by written examination to determine whether the amount of learning is increased by SDL for the same or less cost. Motorola used both of these methods.

Payoffs From Following SDL Strategies

Two types of payoffs from SDL have been found by researchers. In the first case, there has been the discovery of a link between SDLRS scores, job performance scores, and job performances. (Durr, Guglielmino, and Guglielmino, 1994). In the second case, the experiences of such firms as Xerox, Levi Strauss & Co., and American Airlines show significant savings in training costs.

Consider this example from Motorola. In 1993, Motorola introduced the idea of using the SDL approach to training and development in the Motorola Worldwide Learning, Training and Education Research Conference. Richard Durr, Motorola Paging Division, spearheaded the research effort of the company in Boynton Beach, Florida. Durr discovered that the self-directed approach to learning solved three important issues. First, training could be done when it was most needed by the learner; second, more training could be done in the same time frame using this method; and third, the training could be done at a lower cost to the company.

Before implementing a self-directed approach to training and development, Motorola determined the readiness by testing associates (employees) with the SDLRS. An analysis of the workforce was carried out by job categories and by level of employee. Results were compared with appropriate norms, and the decision was made to initiate the SDL system. Implementation steps were as follows: evaluate individuals for SDL readiness using the SDLRS; provide SDL training for those who need it; provide credit for SDL projects undertaken; have the training organization determine credit hour value of each project; create Learning Resource Centers; continue research in SDL activity and measure results.

In 1994, 633 associates undertook 853 self-study courses. This represented over 3,000 hours of SDL training in just four months. In 1995, 1,920 learning plans were completed, resulting in 4,080 self-study hours, or 40% of the total course offerings. Approximately 50% of the associates selected a self-study course to learn what they needed. The average cost per hour for delivering the traditional classroom instruction was $13.34, while the average for delivering the self-directed material was $7.76. It is interesting to note that the results of the learning indicate the self-direct approach proved as good as, or better than, the traditional learning method. Recently, Motorola Paging Division has made a commitment to extend this SDL approach to all of its sites worldwide.

Durr found that at the Boynton Beach plant with 35,000 employees it took one year to reach breakeven on the savings to cover the $360,000 cost of starting the learning lab. Thereafter, the savings of SDL over traditional learning for the most recent year by quarters were 9%, 12%, 10%, and 18%. SDL is expected to grow to 30,000 hours by 1997 and represent 70% of total training hours compared with 30% for traditional classroom learning. Considering that industry as a whole spends $59.8 billion per year, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the industry savings could be at least 12% of this amount, or $7.1 billion per year.

Future Developments

As more companies learn of SDL and the gain in results including savings in training costs, SDL will become the norm for industry training and development. It will constitute a competitive edge for the pioneering companies who will be much further along on the organization learning curve. New strategies for training teams as well as solving complex design, marketing, and production problems will evolve. In addition, the mass of new workers entering the labor force will have been trained by SDL so that they will expect and be ready for it. M. Lewis Temaris, Dean of the College of Engineering and Vice President for Information Resources, in an article, "Teachers: Key to Educational Technology," Miami Herald, February 18, 1996, states, "Thus the traditional 'stand and deliver' method of teaching, in which teachers function primarily as information dispensers, becomes obsolete. Instead, the teacher functions more as a facilitator for problem-solving, a learning coach who directs, encourages and supports the student."

Five model technology schools, elementary through high school, have been testing this model. CEOs and teachers in all types of institutions need to recognize that self-directed learning is the process that links educational technology directly with the learner. This process not only saves time and money but creates a more competitive work force. With the development of the Internet and multimedia tools, SDL will surely gain in usage within the business community.


National Center on Education and the Economy. America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages! The Report of the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Rochester, NY.

Avishai, B. (1984; January-February). What is business's social compact? Harvard Business Review, pp. 38-48.

Bernhard, H. B., & Ingols, C. A. (1988). Six lessons for the corporate classroom: Harvard Business Review, pp. 40-47.

Durr, R. E. (1992). An examination of readiness for self-directed learning and selected personnel variables at a large Midwestern electronics development and manufacturing corporation. (Doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic University). Dissertation Abstracts International A 53/06, p. 1825.

Durr, R. E., Guglielmino, L. M., & Guglielmino, P. (1994). Self-directed learning readiness and job performance at Motorola. H. B. Long and Associates, New ideas about self-directed learning. (Chapter 13) Norman, OK: Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional Education, University of Oklahoma.

Guglielmino, L. M. (1971). Development of the self-directed learning in readiness scale. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia, 1977). Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 6467A.

Guglielmino, P., & Guglielmino, L. (1981). An examination of the relationship between self-directed learning readiness and job performance in a major utility. Unpublished manuscript.

Guglielmino, P., Guglielmino, L., & Long, H. B. (1987). Self-directed learning and performance in the workplace. Higher Education, p. 16.

Guglielmino, P., & Roberts, D. (1992). A comparison of self-directed learning readiness in U.S. and Hong Kong samples and the implications for job performance. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 3:3. Industry report 1955: An overview of employee training in America. (1996, October). Training.

Murdick, R. G., & Georgoff, D. M. (1979, April). MIS approach to corporate training and development. Journal of Systems Management, pp. 22-23.

Georgoff, D. M., & Murdick, R. M. (1980, May). A matrix model for planning training and development programs for employee groups. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, pp. 42-48.

Knowles, M. S. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.

McCune, S. K. (1988). A meta-analytic study of adult self-direction in learning: A review of the research from 1977 to 1987. (Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1988). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49/11B, 3237.

Merriam, S. B. (1993, Spring). An update on adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 57, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Piskurich, G. M. (1993). Self-directed learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Riley, R. (1994, March-April). Educating the workforce of the future. Harvard Business Review.

Senge, P.M. (1994). The fifth discipline. New York: Double Day Currency.

Stewart, T. A. (1995, November 27). Getting real about brainpower. Fortune, pp. 201-203.

Stone, N. (1991, March-April). Does business have any business in education? Harvard Business Review, pp. 46-62.

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Motorola's Learning Plan Process and Enrollment Procedure


This Guide is intended to assist you in determining appropriate learning and development activities that will assist you in improving performance on your job, preparing you for your next job assignment, and/or achieving organizational learning objectives.

Self-Directed Learning -

A new addition to the training process is the use of self-directed learning as a practice to enable you to effectively participate in valuable learning experiences. Classroom instruction listings and other self-directed learning resources have been selected as a tool to help you identify learning opportunities, but you may use any other resources that may fulfill the learning objectives that you develop. This guide is only intended to reduce the amount of search and planning time needed to decide the appropriate training in which an individual should participate.

For Assistance -

The Learning Organization is ready to serve you in making full use of self-directed learning as another method of achieving required training. Call the Learning Organization at extension XXXX if you would like additional assistance with this process.

Complete Course Description Catalogs are available from your manager or on the Internet at



In order to plan effectively to meet essential learning objectives, you must first determine what are those learning objectives and fill out the planning form (see page 3). Follow these steps to complete your plan:

1. - Complete the Learning Plan. This plan can also be revised as often as necessary when other learning objectives are identified. Refer to Guidelines for Developing a Learning Plan on pages 4 and 5. If you are unsure of any aspect of your Learning Plan (such as what resources to use or number of hours to assign) review/revise your Learning Plan with a learning facilitator. Call the Learning and Development Organization at XXXX to get assistance with this process.

2. - Review/revise your Learning Plan with your manager and have it signed. SUBMIT THE COMPLETED PLAN TO YOUR INPUT SPECIALIST If at any time you revise your plan be sure to review with your manager. After each revision, be sure to re-submit to your input specialist.

3. - If you have instructor-led classroom courses sourced from the Training Catalog listed in your plan you will automatically be registered for the class which falls closest to the date you have specified in your plan. You will receive a confirmation notice in the mail providing you the details of dates and locations of the class. If when you receive the notice and determine that you will be unable to attend, you must cancel your registration at least ten working days before the class is held in order not to be charged for the course. If you cancel within ten days of the class or do not show up, you will be charged the full amount for the course.

4. - Any self-directed learning resources that you wish to use must also be included on your Learning Plan. All self-directed learning resources will be ordered and you will be notified of their availability after your plan is submitted to your input specialist. Call XXXX if you have any questions regarding these resources.

5. - Complete the Self-Directed Learning Student Evaluation Form as each objective is completed that is not achieved through classroom instruction (classroom instruction is evaluated at the end of the class). Duplicate the form on page 6. Completion of this form is acknowledgement that you have completed the learning objective associated with the course. From this form, you will be given training credit. ANY COMPUTER DISKS OR VIDEOTAPES THAT YOU USE OUTSIDE THE SDL LEARNING LAB MUST BE RETURNED. THEY ARE ON LOAN ONLY. IF THEY ARE NOT RETURNED, WE WILL BE REQUIRED TO CHARGE YOU THE RETAIL COST OF THE COURSEWARE.


Your Learning Plan consists of four major components: Learning Objectives, Learning Process/Resources, Target Date for Completion, and Evaluation Standards. Here are some guidelines to assist you with completing those components.

A. Learning Objectives

In this column, you will specify the skill/knowledge that you want to learn. Each learning objective you specify should relate to at least one of the following:

* Improving performance on the job

* Preparing yourself for the next job assignment

* Achieving organizational and/or corporate learning goals

When developing your objectives;

* Begin each objective with a descriptive verb. Avoid using verbs that are vague.

Examples of descriptive verbs: List, Describe, Create, Develop, Identify

Examples of vague, non-descriptive verbs: Learn, Understand, Know

* Make each objective a concise and manageable statement. Avoid writing a paragraph for an objective

* Ensure that objectives are quantifiable and measurable. You should be able to develop an evaluation standard (fourth column of the SDL plan) that will determine whether or not you have accomplished that stated objective.

Examples of poorly written and well written objectives:

If you were interested in learning more about Microsoft Excel, try to avoid objectives like:

* Learn how to use Excel on the Macintosh

Be more specific and use objectives like:

* Create a spreadsheet with associated charts using Excel for the Macintosh

* Create five-up charts using Excel for the Macintosh

If you wanted to become more creative, try to form objectives like:

* Describe the behaviors of a creative associate

* Identify and utilize tools to develop creativity

* Identify the skills associated with a creative leader

Most course descriptions include a list of course objectives or goals. These are good references to use when formulating learning objectives for your Learning Plan.

B. Learning Process/Resources

In this column, identify the resources you will use to accomplish the stated objectives. You are not limited to courses in the Paging Training Catalog. Besides classroom training, think about:

* Self-paced training from workbooks or other printed sources

* Computer based training (CBT)

* Audio tapes

* Video workshops (linear video)

* Interactive video (IV)

* CD based training

* External courses (vendors, community colleges, etc.

* Seminars and conferences

* Subject matter experts for tutoring/mentoring

C. Target Date

Set an ambitious, yet realistic, completion date that will provide you with incentive to move toward your learning goals.

D. Evaluation Standard

When completing this column, ask yourself:

"What will I be able to do differently or demonstrate when I accomplish my learning objectives, that I could not do before?" or

"How will I know and how will my manager and peers know that I have accomplished the learning objectives?"

Your evaluation standard should link your learning objectives to your performance on-the-job. Given a stated objective, develop an evaluation standard that is specific, tangible, and applicable within your job. You may not have an evaluation standard for each objective; you may choose to develop an evaluation standard for a group of objectives.

People frequently say that they cannot determine an evaluation standard until they learn the course content. There are undoubtedly job-specific reasons that have prompted you to pursue these objectives. Use those job specifics as you develop your evaluation standards.

For example, if you developed objectives to learn Excel and your job is going to require you to create charts and graphs, build on that responsibility as an evaluation standard:

* Generate a chart representative of each type needed for the department.

You could also use any questioning documents that may come with the training as a standard:

* Correctly answer to 80% proficiency all the questions at the end of each training module.

If you developed objectives to develop your creativity, look for opportunities in your job to use the newly acquired skills:

* Develop two creative solutions to address the employee morale problem.

Dr. Guglielmino has authored or coauthored over 15 articles and served as an adviser on learning systems to Motorola, Walt Disney World, and other organizations. Dr. Murdick has written numerous books and over 80 articles; before his academic career, he was an engineer employed by General Electric for 13 years.
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Title Annotation:includes appendix
Author:Guglielmino, Paul J.; Murdick, Robert G.
Publication:SAM Advanced Management Journal
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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