To me, self-directed learning is two-fold: it is a process of instruction as well as a characteristic of the adult learner.
From my experience, self-directed learning from an instructor point-of-view can be either very exciting or challenging. An instructors job shifts from the “deliverer of information” to the “provider of opportunities and exploration”. Depending on the maturity of the adults being taught, self-directed learning in mature adults can be very successful and rewarding, or, in less-mature adults, can be frustrating and fruitless. My experience in clinical teaching to first year nursing students proved to me that self-directed learners must initially be guided. The students wanted to know what was going to be tested, and where to find the answers. They were not interested in self-exploration, bridging past or new knowledge, or searching out resources in their environment. I also feel that some adult learners are simply not motivated to enhance their own learning, or perhaps they lack the confidence to do so. As their instructor, I needed to achieve the learning outcomes, but strived to provide opportunities whereby the students came to their own personal achievement of the outcomes. It’s difficult to lead students to self-direction without actually handing them all the information. Helpful learning activities for this were group discussion, case studies, and the use of mind maps (or concept maps). By simply adding guiding questions to these activities, I found that I was able to spur on the learning in a way that encouraged students to go and seek out additional information.
I found a neat mind map that summarizes Self-Directed Learning. Check it out with this link: http://www.teachthought.com/trending/what-you-need-to-know-about-self-directed-learning/