Self-directed Learning: The Key to Workplace Innovation | Webster University Thailand

Self-directed Learning: The Key to Workplace Innovation

Rector, Dr. Ryan Guffey discusses self-directed learning in the Bangkok Post. Read online here. 

As Thailand moves forward in developing 21st century industries, it aims to strengthen vocational training and become a cluster for innovation and start-ups. Similarly, around the globe, the rapid pace of technology and communication has led to greater maturity in business execution, streamlining operational complexity. The accelerated efficiency enables individuals and companies to succeed by making tasks, processes, and problems faced by modern enterprises less challenging, while posing new and often perplexing queries.

Workplace development creates tangible incentives for employees and propels current national capacity building measures in Thailand. As managers, the goal is to translate innovation into value, the exploration of high performance, and delivery of better outcomes. To successfully meet the goals of Thailand 4.0, it is important to invest in humanising the way we interact, enabling the transactions with consumers, patrons, and employees to yield heightened experiences. This approach can be iterative and transform an organisation. 


Thailand aims to undergo a transformative shift, from traditional services and labourers, to high value services and highly skilled workers, placing priority on innovation. The goals of Thailand 4.0 are economic prosperity, social well-being, raising human values, and environmental protection. Advancing adult education is a critical strategy to meet these goals. The question sought by many is not the "why", but the "how". To move an organization to the forefront of innovation, employees must be standing on the cutting-edge. Often, companies resist the temptation to invest heavily on high-end formal training programs for their employees, citing the cost of technical or executive degree programs. For example many executive MBA programs in the United States cost well over US$125,000.

Options for Innovation

Formal education is no longer exclusively the path to considerably advance an employee's ability to impact an organisation. Today, the technologies that make business so current are the same mechanisms that bring modalities of self-directed and certificate learning. Following the tenets of self-directed learning, employers only need to afford time to learn and create a supportive environment to explore and experiment.

Since the 1960's, economists have investigated the merit of human capital formation, the knowledge and characteristics that make workers more productive. Part of Corporate Social Responsibility lies with developing your workforce and building capacity. Workers acquire "capital" by being invested-in, via mediums such as attending school, getting on-the-job training, or independently exploring their own area. Human capital is generally likened to tangible capital in that it is a durable asset that yields outputs over time. That said, unlike a form of tangible capital, it cannot be separated from the person in whom it resides in the same way that a medical apparatus can be removed from a hospital. As a result, the greater the investment in or by that individual, the greater the value.

In terms of optimising performance, in recent years, educators have come to emphasise the importance of hands-on participation and individual-led inquiry. Examples of great alternative learning outcomes are Webster University Thailand's certificate programs (Tourism, Cyber-security, Management, and English) and Google's certificate programs (Digital Marketing, AdWords, and Advertising). Webster University Thailand offers flexible on-campus adult learning in Bangkok, and can tailor certificate programs specifically to a company's needs. Google offers its certificates online. Often employees have a preference for whatever type of learning suits them best.

The underlying rationale is that individuals are better able to learn when they can control the flow of their experience. They also need to understand the benefits. Some researchers have highlighted the motivational component of self-directed learning, arguing that this kind of learning is effective because it makes individuals more willing and more motivated to learn. Despite that, individuals in a vacuum are not always optimal self-directed learners. Cognitive biases shape the way individuals make decisions and can also influence what information is prioritised and ultimately learned. Therefore, quality organisations help set the educational agendas and provide the employees with the opportunity to explore the most optimal ways to obtain wanted information, while elucidating the value of the experience.

Sometimes Masters programs may be the best option for employees. Modern universities tend to embrace self-directed learning and encourage students to experience formal work with local companies in their field. At Webster University Thailand, Business students play simulations in strategy, operations, and finance classes. International Relations students visit United Nations agencies and NGOs regularly to see the challenges facing these organisations. Evening classes are offered for working professionals. Ultimately, organisations can provide their workforce with a multitude of education options to advance innovation and propel national capacity building.

Keys to Employee Development

Using the foundations of self-directed learning, the following is a list of characteristics that companies should consider emphasizing when developing workforce innovative capacities:

1. Initiative: The individual is eager and therefore open to exploring subject matter with or without supervisory direction.

2. Independence: Successful self-directed learners learn efficacy in self-reliance.

3. Persistence: Learning takes time and repetition. Self-directed learners do not give up on research or learning.

4. Ownership: Self-directed learning requires taking responsibility for one's learning and having the self-discipline to see it through. This requires a high degree of organisation.

5. Curiosity: Successful self-directed learners have a high propensity for answering the "why" question.

6. Self-Confidence: Successful self-directed learners have a sense of ability to see initiatives through and overcome obstacles.

7. Goal Orientation: Self-directed learners tend to have an end in mind when they start down the learning path.

Self-directed and non-traditional learning can incubate high-skilled workers and develop networks of innovation-driven enterprise. A company that follows and supports these foundations will yield the most benefit. It is important to keep in mind that setting the standard for employee self-directed learning begins at the top. Criticism for a failed attempt will likely discourage an employee's improvement and stymie further exploration. Likewise, companies that value curiosity, or a spirit of inquisitiveness, will encourage employees to find new and novel ways to solve problems. Consider encouraging employees to assist in setting work performance goals to encourage them to take ownership of their work and increase employee "buy in". Check out Google's certificate programs, Webster Thailand's programs, or other university and corporate offerings to build capacity with your workforce. Ultimately, Thailand's next step into innovation lies in employee value.