The formal learning process that we all go through in acquiring a set of knowledge or skills can be quite complex and contain many different types of activities including research, lectures, group work etc. In most cases these activities would be directed by an instructor who will present the course content and from there the learners move forward complete the course work and be examined and receive a grade. In some cases the instructor would request the learners to take the initiative to research and master a set of knowledge on their own and later present that set of knowledge to the whole class. This type of learning is called self-directed learning where the learner has the power to decide on the learning process and the instructor plays the role of a consultant or facilitator.
Malcom Knowles a champion of andragogy, self-direction in learning and informal adult education defines self-directed learning in this way:
A process by which individuals take the initiative, with our without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identify human and material resources for learning, choosing and implement appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes(Knowles, 1975, p. 18)
Since self-directed learning places the learner in a position where they have the power to control the learning from the beginning till the end, it is not something that is suitable for all the learning stages. It is suitable for learners who have the basic knowledge relevant to the field. Signs of readiness for self-directed learning include being: autonomous, organised, self-disciplined, able to communicate effectively, and able to accept constructive feedback and engage in self-evaluation and self-reflection.
The Grows SSDL model places self-directed learning as the last stage in the learning stages: