By its prefix “self,” the term self-training refers to study “by oneself” in opposition to training “by others.” In many respects, this mode of learning is well adapted to our contemporary needs for lifelong learning. However, it is poorly known. It is often confused with other approaches when it is not mistaken for a lonely initiative that suits only a handful of gifted autodidacts. Let’s try to take a closer look at it!

First, what it is not!

To educate oneself alone in one’s free time is not necessarily self-training, nor is it to engage in a search for information on the Web… Moreover, self-training is not an all-encompassing concept which tries to designate any form of innovative learning other than the traditional one.

Finally, self-training differs from individualization in education, learning by experience (or experiential) and distance learning, which are the three approaches with which it is most often confused.

Let’s summarize what these three approaches are and how they relate to self-training.

 In pedagogy, individualization is a way of adapting or “personalizing” to the learner the content and objectives common to a group of students. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), this approach has today its high-tech version in online training: adaptive learning.

→ Its relation to self-training: Individualization can take various forms, and the degree of autonomy of the learner concerning his/her learning can vary, but it does not necessarily require the individual self-learning approach. Individualization can offer, however, conditions conducive to self-training.

 Experiential learning is based on the idea that the individual can learn by acting, and can acquire new skills and knowledge by putting them to the test. This mode of learning involves on the part of the individual a deep reflection of his/her experience, upstream and downstream of it, in order to extract meaning and reinvest the newly acquired knowledge. This approach helps the learner to link theory to practice in a variety of contexts.

→ Its relation to self-study: Learning by experience and self-learning are indeed related approaches. Experience can be at the heart of a self-training process, especially when the latter aims at acquiring professional skills. The constant reflection of the individuals on the actions they take is also central to self-training since this is the mechanism that allows them to manage their learning process.

 Distance learning is a mode of learning that gives the learner flexibility over the places and timeframes the training is conducted, dissimilar to the face-to-face approach. In return, it may require the learner to have greater autonomy. Nowadays, distance learning most often refers to online learning, which can easily be customized (see Intelligent Adaptive Learning: Everyone’s Training!).

→ Its relation to self-learning: Distance learning can be conducive to both self-training and instructor-led training. Having good self-learning skills can help you feel comfortable with the technologies used in online training.

Three definitions of self-study

Like many notions that have stimulated the enthusiasm of many thinkers with various influences, self-training has suffered from both conceptual and terminological inaccuracies. Even today, it remains an evolving notion. Researchers agree, however, that this is an approach that “brings greater control for the learner over the learning and a variety of stages and components of his/her learning.” It is therefore evident that there are many definitions of self-training. I, on the other hand, propose you three of them.

1) The first is by Nicole Anne Tremblay who, in her book Self-training: for learning differently, engages in a thorough analysis of the concept and its influences. While the explanations of self-training that have taken the frontlines – even within the sciences of education – were first those given by psychology and sociology, Tremblay’s definition tries to put the concept back within the sciences of education, to which it should belong in the first place, according to her. The author specifies: “[…] the following definition takes the clear position of situating self-training in what seems to me to be a specific, priority and exclusive domain of the sciences of education and implies a kind of advocacy in favor of pedagogy and andragogy as matrices carrying the phenomenon.”

Definition of self-training from the perspective of the sciences of education:

“Educational situation (pedagogical or andragogical), curricular or extracurricular, conducive to the realization of a project during which the greatest motivation of a person is to acquire information (knowledge) and skills (know-how) or make a lasting change in oneself (life skills). To do this, this person assumes a preponderant control over one or more dimensions of his/her project: content, objectives, resources, process, and evaluation.”

2) The second definition derives from a research report written by Francine d’Ortun on the workers’ skills acquired through self-training. It is a shorter and agreed definition, particularly adapted to the workforce. This is important because continuing education is part of the reality of more and more workers and professional circles are gaining ground to become preferred places for self-training.

Definition of self-training from the workplace perspective:

“A model of training in which the learner takes the initiative and autonomously chooses learning goals and methods and acquires knowledge using his own resources and those of his/her community.”

3) Finally, the third definition comes from Denis Cristol‘s Dictionary of Training: Learning in the Digital Age (2018). It is an up-to-date and commonly accepted version of the concept that takes into account changes made by information and communication technologies in education.

Updated and global definition of self-training:

“The learning is marked by the irruption of the “self” in all its forms making the individual not only an agent, or an actor, but also an author of his/her learning. The individual intervenes or is called to intervene at all stages of his/her learning. From the construction of his/her own project to piloting the realization of it. We then talk about self-training as self-directed learning […], without an instructor, in an autonomous manner. Self-training is different from solo training; it is not training alone. Autonomy presumes openness to others; it is as repugnant to solitude as to fusion. Self-taught sociabilities are observable (Cyrot, 2009). […] The possession of personal and work computers and smartphones, online resources and ease of access to the content of people and networks reinforce the possibility of self-directed learning or online self-training. They make it possible to overcome the physical (travel time) or financial (lower cost of access to information) limits. Technological conditions are an opportunity to respond to autodidactic needs. For example, self-documentation, self-diagnosis, self-monitoring are supported by browsers, search engines, software, and tutorials.”

In order to give you an idea of the many and varied influences that have nourished the concept of self-training, we will present you in an article to come some pivotal moments of its evolution.

Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.