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Ann Acad Med Singapore. 2008 Jul;37(7):580-90.

Self-directed learning in health professions education.

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Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.



Self-directed learning has been recommended as a promising methodology for lifelong learning in medicine. However, the concept of self-directed learning continues to be elusive, with students and educators finding difficulty in defining it and agreeing on its worth.


In this paper we review the literature of self-directed learning in health professions education and present a framework based on Malcolm Knowles' key components of self-directed learning.


The key components of self-directed learning are: the educator as a facilitator, identification of learning needs, development of learning objectives, identification of appropriate resources, implementation of the process, commitment to a learning contract and evaluation of learning. Several but not all of these components are often described in the published literature.


Although the presented framework provides some consistency for educators interested in applying SDL methods, future studies are needed to standardise self-directed learning curricula and to determine the effectiveness of these components on educational outcomes.

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