The persistent problem of the human condition is that very few of us actually follow through on our goals and live our dreams, particularly when faced with constant obstacles and difficulties. Studies show that 95% of people never set clear goals for achieving their dreams by committing to them and writing them down.

A big reason that so many people fail in online learning is because they don’t set clear goals for learning and they don’t have a self-directed learning plan. Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of those who in the words of legendary self-directed learner Benjamin Franklin “fail to plan and plan to fail”.

The reality is that learning a new skill is difficult and it requires a lot of focus and determination to succeed, particularly when you’re doing it on your own. Without defining exactly what you want to accomplish, the process or plan you will follow to achieve it and the deeper purpose for why you want it, your changes of failure will be very high.

In this instructional guide, I’m going to take you through the process of creating your own self-directed learning plan:

1. Start with why you really want to learn a new skill.

This is a really important first step that is overlooked by most people. When you’re a self-directed learner, you don’t have an authority figure that has created a system of rewards and punishments to motivate and grade you.

This means you have to be intrinsically motivated, which means you are self-motivated by your own internal sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  When you define your purpose for learning and how achieving your goal matters will make you feel emotionally, it becomes much easier to stay motivated for a long period of time.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to uncover your why:

Do you want to do more meaningful work? To feel more fulfilled and happy.
Do you want to get a higher paying job? To feel more respected and influential.
Do you want to build a change you want to see in the world? To feel you’re making a difference.

To stay on course when I’m feeling tired and distraction, I practice visualizing the outcome I want to achieve with an extra focus on how it makes me feel knowing I will inevitably achieve it.

 

2. Set clear goals about what you’re planning to learn.

I like to use the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting framework to set really clear, actionable goals. Here’s how it works:

Specific: The first step is to get really specific about what you want to achieve. Write down a single sentence that identifies exactly what you are committing yourself to learn.

Measurable: You need to make sure you can easily measure your goal. A good place to start is committing some time each week to pursue your goal without interruption or distraction.

Achievable: You need to be realistic. If you’ve struggled in the past with online learning, you need to set the bar low to build the initial habit and then work your way up to more time and effort as your confidence improves.

Relevant: You need to make it relevant to your life, this is where “your why” comes in. You want to commit to this goal because you have thought deeply how it will impact and improve your life and well-being.

Timely: You need to set a time window so you have a milestone to celebrate when you’ve achieve your goal. I recommend initially setting short-term goals for learning that can achieved in less than 30 days.

 

3. Structure your time and schedule your learning sessions.

This is crucial step is you want to be a successful self-directed learner. Going to school forces you to structure your time because you have to show up for class. When you’re learning online, you need to create a similar structure by committing yourself to a weekly schedule.

I recommend using a tool like Google CalendarMyStudyLife, or even a more advanced project management tool like Asana or Trello. You should set aside blocks of time where you can spend time learning without any interruptions. Ideally, set aside 2-3 hours at a time and take short breaks every half hour or hour. You should also set reminders to review your notes and memorize key information you will need later.

To stay focused when you’re learning, I recommend using a Pomodoro Timer like Be Focused Pro for iPhone and Mac OS X, or Productivity Challenge Timer for Android.

It also helps to set up a time at the end of each week so you can review your progress and make sure you’re on track to achieving your goal. If you’re not on track then you may have to adjust your self-directed learning plan to be more realistic.

 

4. Find a learning accountability partner or start an online study group.

The key to building a self-directed learning habit is to make yourself accountable. For most of us, being accountable to ourselves simply isn’t enough to be successful. So that’s why I recommend committing to learning a new skill with a close friend, colleague or family member.

If you don’t have someone to learn with, join a popular online course or membership-based learning community with other students who are committed to learning. You can also start your own Facebook Group or weekly Google Hangout so you can talk about what you’re learning, ask questions and help each other succeed together.

 

5. Apply what you learn by building your own digital portfolio.

If you want to learn a new skill, you need to apply what you learn by building something with it. We live in an age where a resume or degree doesn’t matter nearly as much as a digital portfolio that shows exactly what you have done. Ideally, your digital portfolio should have detailed case studies to show off the value you offer and the business results you have achieved for others.

This means you need to build a personal brand to differentiate yourself and your own professional-looking website with a digital portfolio section that shows off what you can do.

A good place to start is with your own self-hosted WordPress website that allows you to customize the look and feel with a professional-looking WordPress theme from a marketplace like Themeforest. If you’re not technical, you can have your own WordPress website up and running in 20 minutes using a plug-and-play service like Bluehost.

 

Now Take Action and Go For It!

The future belongs to the brave and curious so if you’re serious about learning something new, follow these steps and you’ll be on the path to achieving your dreams by making your goals a top priority in your life.

The path to doing what you love and mastering valuable digital skills starts with spending more time learning, creating your own online projects and sharing them with your social networks.

If you follow these steps to create your own self-directed learning plan, you’ll have a strong foundation to learn and master new skills throughout your life.

Good luck!