Professional Practice Skills

PPS-23  Self-Directed Learning (Outline)

(Adapted from MPS 36, Don Woods 2003)


Pre-class assignment

  1. Read sections What is It?, Why Do It?, New Concepts, How to Do It  and Learning Objectives
  2. Be able to differentiate between Reactive and Proactive Learning


What is It?

Self-Directed Learning is learning in which the individual is responsible for


While this sounds very formal and linear, much on-the-job learning occurs in an informal ad hoc manner in which goals evolve.  A formal look is warranted since most students experience is limited to the “Work to achieve the goals” part, since the school and instructor do the rest. 


Self-directed learning is the primary way you will develop your fund of knowledge and skills when you leave school.  There are two categories of self-directed learning that will be important , Reactive Learning and Proactive Learning


Reactive Learning is prompted by some immediate need.  You may be working on a project and find that you have to develop expertise in cryogenic processing or surface coating.  You may be promoted to the ranks of management and recognize that, without some training, you have the capability to be a really bad manager.  Regardless of the topic, the learning will arise from a need and will be definable in scope and time.  This unit focuses on reactive learning.


Proactive Learning is the maintenance and extension of your knowledge and skills without a specific goal.  Sometimes this is called “keeping up with technology”.  Reactive learning occurs while reading this month’s issue of Machine Design, Business Week, or the Atlantic Monthly.  It occurs when your natural curiosity has you disassembling an old lawnmower, even though you are a process engineer responsible for the production of toilet paper.


Like reactive learning, proactive learning can have a formal component.  You can schedule a certain number of hours in your week to read technical journals, business journals, news journals, or attend short courses and conferences.  This can be done to keep abreast of the field, to prepare for some amorphously defined future, or just to keep yourself from petrifying.


New Concepts

Locating Resources, Evaluating Resources, Learning Information, Assessing Learning




Why Do It?

School is not enough.  Four (or eight) years of engineering school can’t prepare you for everything you will need to know or be able to do. 


After the first week on the job you may be amazed at the depth of your ignorance, and wonder how you are going to catch up.  After 30 years on the job, you will be amazed at how much catching up you have already done.  (That is when you will be boring the next generation of engineers with tales of how it was in “the old days” when you had CD’s and Pentium laptops with floppy disks.)


To be worth your salary in the first year (and in 30 years) you will have to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge.  Pending the development of a direct connection between a computer and your brain, you will need techniques to help you learn.


How to Do It

In this unit we will overview the process of reactive learning, and in the next four units (PPS-24 through PPS-27), look at specific skills.


As you saw in the “What is It?” section, reactive learning is one more example of Project Management/Problem Solving.  We need to set goals (PPS-2 Goals and Assessment) that have measurable criteria (PPS-4 Developing Criteria and Constraints), break down our task into components and make a schedule (PPS-6 Project Planning).


Note: If you are looking for support from your employer (books, software, time, tuition), your learning goals should work to achieve your employer’s business goals.  (If you do not know those business goals, both you and your employer are in a heap of trouble.)


The new skills to develop are


Locating and Filtering Resources

To locate and filter resources, we’ll first look at categories of written information, the producers/publishers of information, and the collectors/cataloguers of information.  The unit includes a few practical suggestions for information hunting.  Then we’ll present a list of filtering questions to help narrow your choices.



Evaluating Resources

To evaluate resources, a numerical rating system is used in an attempt to quantify resource quality.  The system rates the resource to determine if it is

·         Authoritative

·         Quantitative

·         Unbiased

·         Thorough


This rating scheme is most useful for novice users of information.


Learning Information (by reading)

The focus of the learning information unit is the use of written resources.  Learning physical skills, such as shooting free throws, is not covered.  The process of learning is divided into the SQuRATR approach


Assessing Your Progress (Writing Learning Goals)

Since the quality of assessment depends on the measurability of the goals, some time is spent on how to write learning goals.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is used to structure the desired type of knowledge desired.  Bloom’s Taxonomy describes “depth” of understanding from a “read, repeat” level to a “create, critique” level.