Self-Directed Learning Theory vs Guided Learning Theory Explained

By XINNIX | July 26, 2023 | Training

Choosing the right learning style for your entire organization is a challenging responsibility for leaders.

The two most common learning approaches applied are self-directed learning theory and guided learning theory. Both have their advantages and disadvantages to consider before choosing the right one for you.

Let’s take the complexity out of the process and help you find the best learning style for your exact needs!

Self-Directed Vs. Guided Learning Theory

Self-Directed Learning Theory

Self-directed learning is different from guided learning. Self-directed learning occurs when the student is in charge of dictating when and what they need to learn rather than getting direction from an outside source like a teacher or coach. Also known as autodidacticism, self-directed learning involves the learner taking control of the design, execution and evaluation of their own learning strategies.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Directed Learning

Some advantages are:

  • More flexibility to meet unique needs.
  • The ability to learn wherever, whenever.
  • Improved knowledge retention potential.

Some disadvantages of self-directed learning are:

  • Potential for lack of direct feedback.
  • The training needs to be monitored and assessed to check the progress.
  • Potential for disparate knowledge across the organization.

Guided Learning Theory

This theory supports learning that is directly influenced by an outside source. It could involve making study recommendations, offering access to information and materials, or delivering praise for accomplishments. The most crucial aspect is that the person receives direction to keep them on track with their own education. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Guided Learning

Some advantages are:

  • Potential for more consistent guidance.
  • A more collective learning process for everyone involved.
  • Potential for more direct feedback.

Some disadvantages are:

  • Risk of choosing an inexperienced trainer.
  • Material that may not be relevant to each individual.
  • May not be as flexible for different agendas as self-directed learning. 

Considerations for Choosing Between Self-Directed or Guided Learning

Culture and Collaboration

A cooperative workplace is more crucial than ever as employees rank corporate culture as a top need

Although it can be difficult to reduce your employee turnover rate, businesses with flexible work policies and a happy workforce tend to attract and keep more employees and customers. But most importantly, these features cultivate strong workplace relationships and culture, instilling a sense of camaraderie and loyalty.

Although both self-directed and guided learning can provide a collaborative environment for your organization, the latter can potentially improve teamwork immediately.

However, self-directed learning can benefit your team if you pair this learning with monitoring, incentives and encouragement from leadership. Additionally, self-guided learning does not mean solitary support. Consider a team buy-in and establish a collaborative culture by encouraging members to reach out to each other if they need help.

One way you can do this is to encourage team chemistry, growth and culture while aligning business, professional and personal goals across your entire organization.


When choosing between learning types for your organization, the cost is no doubt a crucial consideration.

Self-directed learning programs have the potential to be less expensive for the following reasons:

  • Fewer travel expenses.
  • Reduced retraining costs.
  • Online availability at all times.

Although guided learning can offer these benefits with the right provider, self-directed learning is undeniably cheaper.

The Process of Finding the Right Trainer

It's challenging to find the right trainer for guided learning options since the trainer will need to adapt to the individual needs of your team within your organization.

With self-directed learning, you’ll have training at your fingertips, tailored to each individual and with the ability to track the progress of each person. Tracking each worker will encourage them to be accountable for their learning progress and set and exceed personalized goals.

Freedom and Flexibility

Self-directed learning can provide more flexibility for each individual to meet them where they are professionally.

With self-directed learning, individuals will have more freedom to learn at their own pace, when they have the time to do so. 

Leaders must monitor and track progress, otherwise, self-directed training can quickly become an afterthought. However, too much micromanaging could make learning feel like a chore rather than an enjoyable practice. Consider a balance of supervision and accountability to maximize the learning potential of each team member. 

On the other hand, guided learning requires a more rigid schedule. This varies, though, depending on the training provider and trainer.

Encouragement of Professional and Personal Growth

Self-directed learning encourages and requires leaders to focus on the individual growth of their team — and provide feedback throughout the process.

While guided learning by an experienced instructor can provide regular feedback, it may not be delivered in a manner that is explicitly constructive to the employee.

Employees also need to believe that the educational opportunities presented provide personal and professional advantages, not just one or the other, to remain motivated and exceed goals.

How To Find the Right Learning Style for Your Enterprise

It may be challenging to choose between training programs that support self-directed learning theory or guided learning theory, but XINNIX is here to help you find the approach that’s best for your organization.

XINNIX has led enterprises like yours to operational excellence for over 30 years. One driving factor in that success is our emphasis and care for helping workplace cultures grow. We transform teams by pinpointing the perfect learning style for each organization we work with and instilling the top learning techniques, practices, resources and formats into each company.


Learn more about self-directed learning and how XINNIX can help transform your team and business today.