more than an individual skill.

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Scientific interpretation

The workplace is rapidly changing, and it can be difficult to ensure that employees have the skills needed to meet the challenges faced by organizations. That’s why self-directed employee learning, or self-training, has become a competitive advantage for organizations. Until now, this ability to learn on one’s own has mostly been considered a personal skill possessed by certain individuals, but it is actually a skill that can be learned. At least that’s what Lejeune et al. (2018) suggest in an article in which the authors sought to understand the extent to which self-directed learning, as a process that occurs while engaged in a personal development plan, has a positive impact on employees’ performance at work.


Christophe LEJEUNE, PhD student, Université catholique de Louvain


Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Élise LABRECQUE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.



Performance is assessed in two ways: task performance, measured through the completion of performance objectives, and contextual performance, measured in terms of skills development. Performance management allows organizations to ensure, through the implementation of relevant processes, that employee performance is optimized.


Personal development plan

A personal development plan (PDP) is an assessment tool incorporated into a larger development and evaluation maintenance cycle used to gather and document information on the skills an employee worked towards and is planning to develop. It is a tool that:

  • Provides an overview of the skills that an employee has developed and wishes to further develop;
  • Is developed by the employee, using a model provided by the organization;
  • Serves as a basis for discussion between the employee and their manager or coach to provide feedback or stimulate thought;
  • Is helpful in decision-making, whether for planning a training program or giving a promotion.


Self-directed learning

Self-directed learning is a learning process in which employees are responsible for:

  • Developing learning objectives;
    • Diagnose learning needs related to one’s self-assessment of current performance based on the skills that need developing
    • State learning objectives based on an assessment of the learning needs diagnosed
  • Identifying the human and material resources needed to achieve these objectives;
  • Choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies;
  • Assessing learning outcomes.


Complete reference

Lejeune, C., Beausaert, S., and Raemdonck, I. (2018). The impact on employees’ job performance of exercising self-directed learning within personal development plan practice. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-27.




Countries: 16 different countries

Participant recruitment: The participants are from an organization in the financial services sector. They have bachelor’s degrees or higher, and they work in a very knowledge-intensive sector, dealing with complex financial products, complicated regulations and highly automated tasks. They are responsible for tasks requiring extensive verification. All participants used an electronic talent management system that included a PDP in the performance management process. At the beginning of every fiscal year (November-December), performance and skills were assessed by several stakeholders, including the employees themselves and managers.

Number of participants: 3,661

Method used: Longitudinal study carried out in two steps: (1) in July 2015 before the self-directed learning process was implemented and (2) in November 2015, after its implementation. The data was taken from the company’s talent management system, which included a PDP.

Number of women: 1,903

Participant age ratios: 20-29 years old (18.6%); 30-39 years old (33.5%); 40-49 years old (27.6%); 50-55 years old (11%); 55 years old and above (9.4%)

What do the results of the study tell us?

Overall, the study confirms the impact that self-directed learning, when engaged in as part of a PDP, has on skills development and performance.


Self-directed learning as a process in a PDP seems to be an effective strategy for increasing performance.

  • More specifically, employees who engage in a self-directed learning process as part of a PDP demonstrate a higher level of performance if: (1) they define their learning objectives and relate them to the skills needing improvement; and if (2) they choose a learning strategy that’s appropriate for their learning objectives, i.e., one that includes the most learning activities.



The results suggest that the choice of an appropriate learning strategy is essential when engaging in self-directed learning.

  • Increasing the number of learning activities, particularly informal learning activities, will lead to improved performance at work, which suggests that learning in general and informal learning in particular should be encouraged to maximize workplace learning effectiveness.


  • Monitoring the implementation of learning strategies and evaluating learning outcomes seem to have a negative impact on skills development and task performance. However, this conclusion may be related to gaps in the data in this study. These data gaps may be explained by the fact that they are steps that are most often overlooked, given the time required to build and follow a PDP.


What can organizations do?



1. Self-directed learning isn’t just a personal trait; it can also be developed.

  • It is important to recognize the value of self-directed learning and encourage employees to support their performance through talent management practices.
  • It is also important to develop self-directed learning skills by designing a PDP.

2. Endorsing informal learning practices as part of undertaking a PDP is the most efficient way of supporting continued employee development and achieving high-quality performance.

  • Organizations can establish formal and informal learning ecosystems that are open to the outside world in order to allow employees to build their own PDPs and share their learning pathways with other employees.

Comments from our expert

The definition of self-directed learning used in the context of this article includes a motivational dimension that we have not dealt with directly. In an upcoming article currently in development, we take a closer look at the role of motivation and how managers and employees can enhance self-directed learning by stimulating this motivation when engaged in a PDP. Managers have a key role to play in this process, particularly by supporting employee autonomy.


Lejeune, C., Fouquet, E., Labrecque, M.-E. (2019). Self-training: more than an individual skill. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at


Lejeune, C., Beausaert, S., and Raemdonck, I. (2018). The impact on employees’ job performance of exercising self-directed learning within personal development plan practice. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-27.

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton