Self-directed Learning Vs Structured Learning

From most children’s perspectives, learning at school is just sitting in one place for 7-8 hours and taking stressful exams. The monotony of a structured routine obviously takes the true joy of learning away, and things start feeling like a burden. Right? 

Meanwhile, it won’t be wrong to say that most youngsters have a large appetite for learning because of their natural instincts and curiosity. So, why not give them some authority over their learning process and let their curiosities run wild? 

Giving a choice to the learner about what they want to learn is not something new is called self-directed learning. 

Let’s find out what it is and how it’s different from structured learning. 

Self-directed Learning

Very different from a traditional classroom setting where the teacher usually plans and executes every lesson and activity, self-directed learning is more of a learner-centric method. The learner takes responsibility for their learning process. They decide what they want to learn based on their interests and then set learning goals that they would like to achieve. They also get to track their progress to make sure they are indeed learning what they wanted to. 


When learning is self-directed, the learner understands the importance of the process. They are more enthusiastic and mindful since they have set the goals on their own. Such arrangements support the natural curiosity that school students have. They get to experience the feeling of achievement after learning a lesson which encourages them further to keep learning. 

Allowing learners to plan their learning also brings a certain amount of autonomy into the picture. This autonomy makes the learner more confident about themselves and eradicates the usual self-doubts. 


In the current education system that has strictly planned lessons and assessments that the learners need to excel at, self-directed learning might look a little inconvenient and chaotic. For younger students, it may not even be a very sustainable practice for conventional education. 

Rarely enough, sometimes the learners also find it difficult to maintain their motivation to learn, and thus self-directed learning may seem like it is failing momentarily. 

Structured Learning

The current education system focuses on learning things under strict deadlines and tracking the progress of the learners through assessments. Structured learning practices can support this arrangement well since the teacher takes the lead and the learners are instructed well and clearly about what they are supposed to learn. 

Structured learning brings more stability to the learning process. Since everything is already planned and managed by the teacher, the process becomes more routine and predictable. This also makes the learning more measurable and productive. 


The predictability and the consistent stability that structured learning offers are great tools for learners who are either really young or have special learning needs. The consistent commands, routine practices, and well-planned management of the class can be beneficial for both the teacher and the students. 

Structured learning is also a good way to excel in the current education system since the strict and structured deadlines for learning keeps the students ready for assessments. 


Structured learning can be limiting when it comes to the vast amount of curiosity that young learners usually have. Since everything is tightly time-bound, there is no time for actually getting into every detail that the learners want to know.

This method also mandates learning a certain number of subjects and topics. But, since all learners might not be interested in those subjects, learning might start feeling like a burden. 

In specific situations, like when the Pandemic hit the world a few years ago, the education system had to be shifted to virtual means. This is where many parents and educators realized that structured learning alone wasn’t enough for a fulfilling learning experience. Tracking progress through the usual assessments didn’t work as well. 

For the learning process to be more seamlessly streamlined, the learners must be enthusiastic about learning rather than seeing it as a burden. The enthusiasm is achievable through self-directed learning practices since the learners are participating in the process because they are actually interested. 

It is a common practice in higher education and adult learning. But incorporating self-directed learning practices into the current K-12 curriculum can be more effective and feasible at the moment. 

At Great Principals, we hope to bring about a necessary change in the ways of Indian Education. Each new generation is far more capable than the last, and we owe it to evolution. But as humans evolve, we are required to transcend from our old ways and look at things from a different perspective, one that shapes the untapped minds of the children for the ever-growing world.

We are here to capture the journeys of marvelous School Leaders and Principals through an interactive talk show. We hope to inspire the parents who are the true changemakers in a child’s growing life. Our goal is to bring about a much-needed change in the way we educate our kids. Feel free to check out our episodes on YouTube


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