• Vol. 37 No. 7, 580–590
  • 15 July 2008

Self-directed Learning in Health Professions Education



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Introduction: Self-directed learning has been recommended as a promising methodology for lifelong learning in medicine. However, the concept of self-directed learning continues to be elusive, with students and educators finding difficulty in defining it and agreeing on its worth.

Methods: In this paper we review the literature of self-directed learning in health professions education and present a framework based on Malcolm Knowles’ key components of self-directed learning.

Results: The key components of self-directed learning are: the educator as a facilitator, identification of learning needs, development of learning objectives, identification of appropriate resources, implementation of the process, commitment to a learning contract and evaluation of learning. Several but not all of these components are often described in the published literature.

Conclusion: Although the presented framework provides some consistency for educators interested in applying SDL methods, future studies are needed to standardise self-directed learning curricula and to determine the effectiveness of these components on educational outcomes.

More than 600,000 new citations were published in MEDLINE in 2005; this raised the total number of indexed citations to more than 14 million citations. In a study be Williamson et al, 2 out of 3 primary care physicians described the volume of literature as unmanageable, and 1 out of 5 reported that they were not using or were unaware of the 6 selected recent clinical advances in medicine.

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