A Self-Directed Learning Model For 21st Century Learners

SDL Framework ONEONE

A Self-Directed Learning Model For Critical Literacy

by Terry Heick

The above is the latest draft of our self-directed learning framework, version 1.1.

It is based, in spirit, on our Inside-Out School: A 21st Century Learning Model. It is intended to function as a guide for students–likely with the support and facilitation of teachers, parents, and mentors–to help students become expert learners.

The goal of the model isn’t content knowledge (though it should produce that), but rather something closer to wisdom–learning how to learn, understanding what’s worth understanding, and perhaps most importantly, analyzing the purpose of learning (e.g., personal and social change). It also encourages the student to examine the relationship between study and work–an authentic “need to know” with important abstractions like citizenship and legacy.

It is therefore built around the central concept of self-knowledge–better understanding one’s self, and using work and study to inform one’s interactions with the world. It sounds very hippie, we know, but that’s part of the reason it exists–to offer an alternative to standards and content-focused and institutionally-centered “delivery” of information.

Application: Teachers and learners in grades 6-12+

The Context Of This Model

The theory here is that the 21st century is characterized by access, networks, digital media, and connectivity, which immediately dates old learning models and focuses.

In a progressive learning environment, students should constantly be generating original ideas from multiple sources of information–and be doing so guided by teachers, mentors and communities, all in pursuit of self-knowledge and self-created meaning and creativity.

Coming Updates

We’ll be creating an updated version soon as we put this version into practice with students. (Update: we still need to do this!) Collaboration, creativity, and existing exemplar models probably deserve a role. As does some kind of support to help students see things critically (critical thinking).

We’ll also take a look at making the font bigger, and maybe expanding this to two pages and offering it as a pdf for download. And add some color to make it easier to grasp at first glance.

TeachThought Self-Directed Learning Framework Draft 1.1

1. Begin With Self-Knowledge

What’s worth understanding?

What problems or opportunities are within my reach?

What important problems & solutions have others before me created?

What legacies am I a part of & what does that suggest that I understand?


2. Analyze Context

What is the modern and historical context of this topic, issue, etc.?

What do I need to understand about this issue to grasp its significance and scale?

How do pathos/ethos/logos factor? What patterns are apparent?

What do experts & non-experts know/believe they know about it?


3. Activate Existing Knowledge

Roughly brainstorm what you already know: Make true/false statements; give examples & non-examples, or otherwise organize your existing knowledge in some useful or elegant way

Concept map your knowledge in a given context

Interact with relevant media, resources, & networks

Analyze for both the obvious & the nuance; the implicit and explicit


4. Design Learning Pathway

How can I learn what I need to know?

Of what I need to know, what can I gain quickly, & what will require more in-depth study?

What technology resources can offer me access to relevant content, resources, & communities?

What learning forms or models makes the most sense for me to use?


5. Clarify Knowledge

Analyze need for creativity, innovation, & information

Form new questions based on learning

Establish what is or isn’t within your present reach of understanding

Revise future learning pathway based on your learning experience, and/or the interaction with mentors & community members


6. Apply Understanding

What are my standards for quality?

What scale does it make the most sense for me to work & study?

What change in myself should I expect as a result of my work & study?

What related actions do the citizenships of which I am a part suggest or demand?


A Self-Directed Learning Model For Critical Literacy

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Beth Panitz

A student in my fifth grade special education class is motivated when he feels that a topic is relevant to him, but otherwise refuses to complete assignments. I am considering ways that a Self-Directed Learning Framework would meet his needs.
I am interested in addressing the Common Core State Standards using instructional materials that he will find highly motivating. Are other teachers pursuing this learning model as a way to prepare their students for college and career in the 21st Century?

paul moss

The framework is fantastic. I am wondering if it might be useful to have an addition in the application section based on reaching out to networks? Who can help me? Who knows about this? Who will give me feedback?


If you use a similar layout next time (Hexagon) would you start with Self at the top. When something is circular most Westerners would read from the top and clockwise.