4 min read

What is Learner Autonomy?

What is Learner Autonomy?

The learning process is multifaceted. It is both joyous and riddled with potential pitfalls, both hampered and helped by human teachers, both cognitive and metacognitive. With so many dualities in play, it’s no wonder organizations struggle with how to approach them.

Incontestably among the best approaches, though, are self-directed learning strategies. Promoting learner autonomy – in other words, giving an individual control over their learning process – usually increases the speed at which they gain competencies and the likelihood they’ll remember it.

Autonomous learning is a concept we all intuitively understand, but companies are only now wrapping into the roots of their operations and principles.

First promoted in 1981 by language learning expert Henri Holec, learner autonomy still follows the same principles he set down then: “To take charge of one’s learning is to have … the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning.”

Giving a learner complete control can sound like a bad idea. How are we to ensure they learn what we need them to learn? In a software-as-a-service (SaaS) context, how can we ensure they acquire the right skills to stick around and keep using the product?

Today, we’ll explore those questions and discuss how to get started prioritizing autonomous learners and learning styles.

Learning Autonomy

What Is Learner Autonomy?

“Learner autonomy is when students take control and responsibility for their learning, both in terms of what they learn and how they learn it,” explains the Oxford University Press “It takes as its starting point the idea that students are capable of self-direction and can develop an independent, proactive approach to their studies.”

Because students have such control, they face additional challenges in the learning process. They must rely on their decision-making regarding how to best approach a particular lesson, when, where, and with what tools.

Although this is challenging, it also maximizes their use of critical thinking skills. That deepens learners’ self-reliance and makes it easier for them to acquire new skills later.

Specifically, learner autonomy requires reliance in the following areas.

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Managing Time

With distance learning and elearning, students of higher education and B2B learners alike need to learn to manage their time. Unlike showing up at class, there’s no set schedule dictating when someone needs to park themselves in a chair.

On the one hand, that’s ideal for busy workers who are educating themselves about a new piece of software while still trying to keep all the other plates in the air. Conversely, many people find themselves easily distracted in such a situation.

Good instructional design can help learners by creating intelligent, intentional content that pulls them through the modules and drops them at checkpoints in short periods. This makes learning functional and fun, even when self-motivation is required.

Managing Place and Device

The learning environment is a challenge for self-directed learning. Even the best learning management system can’t overcome the distractions of a busy office, for example. The best way to meet this challenge with self-directed learning is to make course modules short, entertaining, and rewarding upon completion.

Autonomous Learner

Freedom to Explore

A learner’s ability to absorb content and meet their learning goals is only as good as their understanding of the content. And while the freedom of self-directed learning is great, people can get lost in it.

To keep this so-called benefit a benefit, it’s helpful to provide a questionnaire or self-assessment every so often to ensure that the person makes the best use of the material. If they report dissatisfaction, you can support them early on before they flunk out or – in a business context – churn.

Motivation From Self-Directed Learning

Many autonomous learners are self-regulated and self-directed, happy to work through content independently, and ignore the teacher’s role. However, those that aren’t self-motivated will have a much harder time.

That’s when external motivation can prove helpful. In a B2B SaaS setting, that motivation can come from a user achieving a specific business goal or an employee getting better at their job. Autonomy is critical at SaaS companies today.

Why Is Learner Autonomy Important for B2B SaaS Companies?

Now we come to the crux of the issues for B2B SaaS companies. For decades, the standard corporate approach to training has been one laden with oversight. If you aren’t teaching directly to people and aren’t standing over them to make sure the information gets absorbed, how can you know that learner engagement is occurring?

The trouble is that students have always known how to fake it. Suppose you don’t rely on their abilities to access learning opportunities and learning resources, engage in goal setting and lifelong learning, and self-assess along the way … well. In that case, you can’t rely on them at all.

It’s time for a new approach in which autonomy is the highest good. Here’s how it works in every area of the B2B SaaS model.

Customer Training: Moving Toward Automated Self-Directed Learning

Training customers has long been a headache for any organization, especially those of the B2B SaaS variety. You make big promises to prospects during the sales cycle and know your product can fulfill them. But it’s often up to individual instructors or Customer Support to teach the user such that they can receive those promises.

It’s a lot to ask.

You can circumvent this issue by implementing learner autonomy through a digital academy model – one in which you prioritize self-access over instructor-led training. Now learners can sign on whenever they want to get specific answers to their questions without waiting for a human to tell them how.

Plus, when you offer scaffolded material that intentionally layers new skills on top of preexisting ones, your customers feel a much higher degree of success. That encourages them, making them want to return for more training … which translates to more ways to use your product.

Prospect Training: How Teaching Your Target Industry Creates Better Prospects

However, you don’t have to wait until a prospect starts paying you to train them. In fact, people who come into a SaaS contract already familiar with/using the digital academy are likelier to stick around and do the work. Again, this is better for their chances of success and your bottom line.

Employee Training: Empowering Your Employees to Learn at Their Own Pace

Professional development is nothing new, nor is employee training. Both have traditionally been accomplished via an instructor-led learning experience; however, when a digital academy would have worked just as well – if not better, given the ease and success rates of independent learning.

Learner Autonomy B2B SaaS

How to Implement Learner Autonomy in Your Company

Learner autonomy is more than a buzzword; it’s a principle you must imbibe and implement at your company to remain competitive. Trust that your employees, customers, and prospects will take the material you offer and turn it into something extraordinary, which will mean higher profits for you.

Want to learn about how it works? We invite you to reach out to Raven360 and learn more about how we help companies provide autonomous learning through the digital academy model. Step into the future – and bring your students with you – today.


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The learning process is multifaceted. It is both joyous and riddled with potential pitfalls, both hampered and helped by human teachers, both...

Read More