Five Characteristics of Self-Directed Learners

Since my first child was born, Rhaine, nearly 21 years ago, I have pondered and investigated the roots and characteristics of self-directed learners. I found the information overwhelming. Each researcher had a different idea of what constituted a self-directed learner. They each had extensive lists of characteristics. What I didn’t find was a list of characteristics and means or counsel on how to achieve these characteristics for my child.how to create self-directed learners

For years, I read literature -books, articles, research -and notated each characteristic in a small notebook. I wrote down quotes, attributes and the researcher who discovered such attributes. I sat down one day with my battered notebook and started flipping through the pages, searching for a pattern among the different notes I’d extracted from researchers. I struggled to find one.

Collapsing in bed, exhausted, one night, I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts kept swirling through my mind as the information distracted me from all rest. With exasperation, I arose and went to my office in the loft. I flipped through the pages of my book once again, still overwhelmed. I felt driven to find the pattern.  All of my children were still at home and I had the added responsibility of a new step-daughter. I wondered how I would ever be able to instill these attributes within these loving children if I could not understand them myself.

Unrolling a piece of white butcher paper across the hardwood floor, I knelt down with my notebook and Sharpie in hand. I began scribbling out every trait. If the trait was repeated by another researcher, I put a scratch mark beside it. The butcher paper had to be unrolled more than once to give more space. It was daunting. Only when I had it all listed on the paper did I recognize why I had been so overwhelmed. Standing on a chair, I taped the paper to the wall and stood back to evaluate my progress. I still could not recognize any patterns in the adjectives and nouns. The words simply blurred in my vision.

I began again with the butcher paper, using the original work on the wall. I listed the different characteristics of self-directed learning but grouped them this time. Finally, a pattern emerged. I noted that there were really five main ideas or five characteristics that could summarize everything.



These five characteristics are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Study Skills
  3. Goal-oriented
  4. Strategist
  5. Self-assessment

Having the lengthy list narrowed down has then helped to direct my efforts in teaching autonomous learning skills to students and especially to my children, who promoted this professional direction. Daily, I will share my findings from my research and my personal experiences.

Tracy Harrington AtkinsonBy Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners and learning styles. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8,   The Personal Pursuit of Perfection and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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