What Are the Benefits of Self Directed Learning For High School Students in the USA?

Stress and demoralization are the key features of high school life for students (as well as teachers) as suggested by research and reports. A large number of students leave their classroom feeling over-stressed by the weight of their academic pressure. This often leads to anxiety and depression. 

Is conventional schooling the source of discontent and stress? Or is it the learning itself?  The frustrations and demoralization brought about by expectations of a standardized curriculum, the endless tests and the school compliance create an antagonistic relationship between the students and teachers as well as with the schooling environment.  Actual learning does not seem to pose the problem. 

Tony Wagner posited in his book Making the Grade, that “Schools are obsolete and must be reinvented.” Some schools are trying to make changes;  self-directed learning is slowly gaining popularity as the alternative mode of learning away from the dominant system that depresses authentic natural learning.

As this previous report has shown, self-directed learning in American high schools has been associated with better academic performance and generally a greater learning achievement. 

With that said, what then, is Self-Directed Learning?

What is Self-Directed Learning? 

Self-directing learning as a concept may or may not include a teacher or mentor. Mainly, the student controls how and what they want to learn. Learners play around with their own goals, interests and strengths to discover their best style of grasping new information. A teacher can help guide this process. 

At Pacific Sands Academy, students form a plan and identify tools and resources for their own learning, while evaluating their own performances and overall outcome. 

Pacific Sands Academy values characteristics such as integrity, intrinsic motivation, diligence and perseverance among other similar traits. 

What are the Aims and Objectives of Self-Directed Learning for High School Students?

We hope that in pursuing self directed learning, students find joy in their hearts again.  Plus, we hope they find topics that interest them and that they truly learn how to be life-long learners. 

The Benefits of Self Directed Learning for High School Students

1. It’s the Natural Way of Learning

This is learning through life and experiences. It’s how humans as animals have learned for millennia before schools came about. Moreover, this is how adults out of the school system learn.

Self-directed learning values the individual and develops self-confidence. These learners show initiative, proactivity, perseverance and general life satisfaction. Human beings are generally in charge of their own lives. Therefore, even in learning, taking charge of how one wants to learn helps them develop decision making skills, boosts intelligence and enables them to feel better about themselves and thereby growing self-confidence. Plus, the more this develops, the more it builds young adults that are aware of their feelings, desires and needs and weigh them against whatever available options they have and this is something they carry through to adulthood. 

2. Self-Directed Learning Saves Learners From Systemic Pressures

When learners opt for self-directed learning, they reduce the possibility of suffering from the coercive nature of regular schooling. If a learner has slower reading speed, no one will classify them as slow. Neither will anyone call them lazy, as often seen in the school set up. This is not to say that they will be completely free of derisive gestures. What self-directed learning does is to allow them to learn at their own pace and enjoy the process without feeling inadequate. 

Another way to look at this is that traditional schools aren’t always able to meet the needs of every individual learners. Some students may always lag behind and they often are compared to the rest of the students. This may cause them to lose the moral to keep trying and this may lead to fear of failure. This can never happen in self-directed learning. A student in this alternative method can never be subjected to this kind of stress.

3. Self-Directed Learning is not Limited by a Curriculum

In this mode of learning, learners are free to explore wider interests than those pre-defined by a school curriculum that allows for only too many interests. This means if a learner is interested in a certain area, they can explore it further beyond what a typical school would have time for. This enables them to pick up information based on their interests. They can grow them further and it can help them develop their gifts and skills better and early enough. 

4. Self-Directed Learning Reinforces Collaboration

You would probably argue that the traditional school set up is better at reinforcing collaboration. However, you would perhaps be confusing adherence to rules for that. Real collaboration can only thrive in their own self directing learning process without the rules. It would be with fellow peers or family members. This collaboration mimics team work without the hierarchy or imposed requirements. 

Learners easily learn how to freely negotiate and discuss concepts to serve their personal values and goals. This method breeds happiness and a desire to bring out or support the said self-direction in others too. Through this experience, self-directed learners train themselves to be cognizant of other people’s needs. For this reason, they don’t nurture unhealthy competition that’s witnessed in the traditional school set up. So whether the learner researches independently or with others, there is a frequent cross-pollination of knowledge and ideas going round.

5. Self-Directed Learning Promotes Creative Problem-Solving Skills

Due to the nature of this learning model, students don’t always have all the tools and resources at hand or within immediate access. This makes them quick adaptive thinkers. They learn how to dwell within certain limitations. Plus, they also learn how to embrace such limitations as challenges that require innovative solutions. In the end, they find creative solutions to their problems and this builds pride and learning becomes fun. 

6. Self-Directed Learning Develops Overall Life-Skills

Self-directed learning is embedded in the application of basic human skills such as communication skills, thinking skills, social skills as well as self-management skills among many more. It’s true these skills can still be instilled in school, but they will not thrive due to the limiting nature of the school set up. But in self-learning, there is nothing to hold the learner back because these skills have to be applied daily to a higher level and in many varying contexts. 


There is a huge difference between learning and schooling. As described in this article, students who choose self-directed learning methods over conventional school curriculum gain a higher quality of experience and learning.  Visit our Independent Study High School Program to learn about our offerings. 

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