Master Learners: Can We Make More?

Written by Carolyn B. Thompson on April 16, 2019

If you ask someone “What is a master learner?” chances are they’ll reply, “A person who is a master at learning.” It’s fairly self-explanatory.

Master learners serve as drivers of their own learning. They are people who:

  • self-assess regularly and look for the gaps in what they know
  • have high self-efficacy so they will determine what they are trying to achieve and then set and work towards their own learning goals
  • believe they have the time and skills to curate and navigate the resources needed
  • have quality communication skills and they use them to help a teacher understand what he/she needs to do to help them learn
  • self-monitor while learning and adjust the resources if their progress isn’t ideal
  • reward themselves and iterate!


Aren’t these the people you would love to have in your workplace? Aren’t these the qualities you would love to foster and develop in your association’s members? The answer is “Yes, of course!”. And who better to drive that vision than the association community. Let’s get started creating more Master Learners!

Most adults aren’t very good learners. Years of schooling in a system where the operative learning methods are teacher driven lecture and testing has rendered most adults lackadaisical about pursuing learning. Even in the workplace the HR department is far more likely to talk about and create training opportunities than employees are to seek them out themselves. We’re so used to this that we don’t even notice we’re not being the “self-directed learners” that the consultants told us will rule the world in the future.

Who wouldn’t want to rule the world – so why haven’t a larger number of adults become self-directed learners? Two reasons:

Number 1 (and it’s the same number 1 as virtually every other thing that is a true benefit to people’s lives) - Many people are uneasy with change. They’re used to having training shoved at them, and directing the need for it, the choice of it and the reward for completion is new (which is as unpalatable a word as change for many people). (HINT - be prepared, initially, for avoidance and complaining when you encourage and give opportunities for self-directed learning. Keep promoting, keep encouraging, use a few role-model plants – if you build it they will come.)

Number 2 – They don’t know how to be self-directed learners. They don’t really even know, step-by-step, what this means.

Helping People Become Master Learners

A full day session at your conference, a synchronous course, an asynchronous course, phone coaching, a blended approach, ongoing articles in your magazine/newsletter/blog, a section of your website – all can work depending on the needs of your members (BONUS – not only do you get Master Learners out of the deal but it’s a great member benefit)

Whatever way you create the learning the skills and knowledge of self-directed learning are:

  • What self-directed learning is - what it looks like, how it feels, what self-directed learners do
  • How to assess their technical and interpersonal skills, knowledge and aptitudes as well as assessing their self-directed learning skills
  • WARNING - a significant drawback for both Master Learners and people who are learning to be Master Learners is the inaccuracy of how we perceive ourselves. Most people, when self-analyzing, will either rate their knowledge, skills and aptitudes too high or too low. This causes inaccuracies in the knowledge gap which then leads to inaccurate learning goals. Be sure to help them learn how to mitigate this affect.
  • How to discover the level of the skill, knowledge, aptitude needed and how to measure the gap between where they are now and where they need to be
  • How to set specific, measurable, actionable, time structured learning goals; motivate themselves to achieve, monitor progress and adjust goals when needed
  • How to curate and navigate resources to meet those goals
  • How to recognize their best way of learning and communicate it to teachers/trainers/educators
  • What self-efficacy is, recognize how strong theirs is and how to maintain and strengthen it.

Everyone can achieve mastery of their ability to learn. So, after decades of promoting the idea of self-directed learning and lifelong learning, it’s now or never – we need to actually help people learn for whom it doesn’t come naturally. If your organization, association or other, wants its staff and members to continue to be able to do their job, this is the time to help them learn to be a Master Learner.

Associations need to not only be developing Master Learners but be looking out for the Master Learners they already have - keep watch for Part Two of the series – Attracting and Keeping Your Master Learners Coming Back!