Chapter Eight: Self-Directed Professional Learning

Experience and evidence-based research affirms the importance of involvement in continuous professional learning throughout the instructional librarian’s career. Instructional librarians recognize that cultural, economic, political, and technological changes in society result in the need to approach their continuous professional learning as independent learners by addressing new knowledge and skills applicable in their immediate and wider environment. A model useful to educators, including instructional librarians, in writing self-directed professional goals for individual growth in library and information literacy instruction is recommended and explained with example goal statements organized in five areas known as the “Five R’s”: relationships, relevance, responsive culture, rigor, and results.

A woman in a wheelchair waves to her computer screen
Image Source: Pexels
Throughout this book, a basic premise has been that instructional librarians enable library users to make better use of information than many library users can typically do on their own. This premise is central to the acknowledgement that librarians assume multiple roles including advocate, coordinator, instructional designer, leader, lifelong learner, teacher, and teaching partner. To maintain and expand knowledge, practices, and skills relevant and useful in an ever-changing society where information continues to increase and new, advanced computer technologies continuously become available, instructional librarians must accept the responsibilities as life-long learners and be prepared with up-to-date knowledge and abilities if they are to remain relevant and useful.

To be perfectly clear about the importance of life-long learning in librarianship regardless of the position a library professional holds, it is not enough to earn an academic degree, such as the Master of Library Science or the Master of Library and Information Science, and then end participation in specialized educational opportunities. Through professional development education featuring evidence-based strategies and skills to assist library users in utilizing library resources and services effectively and efficiently and in development of information literacy skills, library professionals can stay current to serve library users with diverse information needs.

There is no time like the present to focus, anticipate, plan, or continue planning, as the case may be, your own professional development journey using the unique features of self-directed professional learning. The purpose of this chapter is to encourage pre- and in-service instructional librarians to take action and responsibilities for continuous learning that involves connections to high performing learning environments that is relevant to people in today's society, respectful and responsive to all stakeholders, and rigorous enough to facilitate your professional growth and learning in a rapidly changing world. You will be introduced to a model for self-directed professional development that has the capacity to result in all this and more. First, we share some important reasons why independent learning is necessary in professional development that results in high impact library instruction.

To get started, here are four essential questions (Wiggins & McTighe, 2013) we ask you to consider while reading this chapter:

Essential Questions

EQ1. What are driving forces that lead to the need for continuous self-directed professional development?

EQ2. Why are independent learning strategies important for instructional librarian’s continuous professional growth?

EQ3. How do the Five Rs (relationships, relevance, responsive culture, rigor, and results) inform an active, independent cycle of improvement?

EQ4. Using the Five Rs Framework, what professional goals are now your priority as a life-long learner?

8.1 Learning Beyond Degree Completion

As adult learners with specializations in library and information science, self-directed professional development projects beyond those experienced in degree seeking programs must be highly deliberate and self-planned efforts. Long and Associates (2000) described deliberate, self-planned efforts as occurring from “a consequence of a complex interaction of personal variables and circumstances” (p. 14) such as social influences, financial constraints, information access, and prior knowledge. As Louws et al. (2017) point out, self-directed learning occurs as educators direct their learning informed by challenges and opportunities they experience in practice, organization climates, recent experiences, and national and local policies. Instructional librarians must be open-minded to learning new things and willing to try new skills sometimes right along with the library users.

8.1.1 Importance of Independent Learning

In today’s digital world, library professionals must be willing to quickly adapt to the use of new computer technologies and tools. Professional development participation is key to necessary adaptation of new computer technologies and skills. Toward instructional success in digital environments, Lehrman (2023) recommends that educators abandon traditional methods of professional development that tend to promote dependent learning in lieu of independent learning strategies that are “nonlinear learning, leveraging community, and prioritizing practicality” (p. 130). Lehrman asserts that effective adult learning should be within a “culture of experimentation where educators build and navigate their own learning path” (p. 133).

The importance of independent learning through self-directed professional learning was also affirmed in a recent study by Irgatoğlui (2021) who investigated the relationship between professional development attitudes, activities, and self-directed learning readiness of English language instructors. Irgatoğlui asserted, based on study participant scores on the Fisher et al. (2001) Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale, that “high self-directed readiness levels are very valuable as they have the potential to contribute significantly to both individual and organizational learning” (p. 131). According to Irgatoğlui, self-directed learning readiness skills refers to the learner’s abilities to set targets for learning and their abilities to independently “start, prepare, execute, and track their learning at various stages” (p. 134) of learning.

Maestas (2023) recently investigated the self-directed learning of school librarians through the lens of the person, process, context model by Hiemstra and Brockett (2012). Maestas, too, affirmed the importance of independent rather than dependent learning through self-directed professional learning. Findings indicated that participants in the study frequently set goals for meeting their immediate needs, based on perceptions of future needs, or to further their skills as a librarian. They also set goals to increase their knowledge of particular instructional purposes such as increasing their research skills, gaining knowledge of formal writing styles, increasing knowledge of primary sources, preparing for book challenges, and technology repairs. Maestas concluded that school librarians’ self-directed learning goals focused on the immediate needs of students and building staff, and school librarians remained relevant, and in many cases indispensable, through their continuous self-directed professional learning as opposed to school district-provided professional development.

8.2 The Five Rs Model for Writing Self-Directed Goals

When professional growth involves self-directed learning, the learner sets professional learning goals for themselves, as opposed to accepting goals determined by another person or entity in one’s professional life. Too often, for example, when educators are required to attend group professional development, sessions are planned and delivered from a one-size-fits-all mindset. There are likely to be other good models for determining and outlining self-directed professional goals. One such model (below) was shared by the Kansas State Department of Education in the Kansas Education Systems Accreditation Fact Sheet (2018) and was designed to create change, is clear, and worthwhile in its capacity to move thinking about goals in several important intellectual areas. While this model was initially intended for use by K-12 educators including librarians, it is a model that will likely well serve all library professionals, especially instructional librarians in all library types.

4 R's Framework: Relationships, Relevance, Responsive culture, rigor, and results

Image Source: Kansas Education Systems Accreditation

(Revised: 6-22-2018)


It is a safe assumption, as pointed out already in this book, that nearly all work by library professionals involves some form of instruction. Therefore, professional growth in instruction, especially for instructional librarians, will be important throughout your career as a formally educated librarian. In the following sections, each of the five goal areas has been adapted for instructional librarianship with examples of how each goal area can be adapted for instructional librarianship.

8.2.1 Relationship Goal

A state of interconnectedness exists among people, information literacy curriculum, library programs, projects, and library communities. Relationships with people are critical in establishing connections that result in high performing learning environments. Think of relationships with co-workers, personnel within departments or other libraries, professionals in other agencies, consumers of library services (particularly college students), etc.

A. Example Relationship Goal: During fall, spring, and summer sessions, I will meet, talk with, and build professional relationships with three different experienced instructional librarians as we discuss current instructional issues and opportunities.

B. Example Relationship Goal: Each semester, I will email content faculty reminding them of my availability to teach information literacy skills to students enrolled in their courses.

8.2.2 Relevance Goal

There is the power and significance when specific sources and services meet information needs of their user. Relevance through power and significance of source and services is necessary to strengthen college student’s motivation and allow learning to become more engaging, empowering, connected, applicable to everyday life skills, and socially significant. Think of a relevance goals as goals that pertains to curriculum development, implementation of instruction, student engagement, and computer technology use.

A. Example Relevance Goal – Each academic year, I will conduct an information needs assessment of new college students.

B. Example Relevance Goal – Each semester I will review and revise lesson plans as needed based on feedback from students.

8.2.3 Responsiveness Goal

As an instructional librarian, if you are responsive, you are one who readily reacts to suggestions, influences, appeals, effects, or opportunities. Being responsive empowers librarians to become respectful of, responsible for, and involved in learning, the learning process, and the learning community.

A. Example Responsiveness Goal – I will act on items in my current performance evaluation report.

B. Example Responsiveness Goal – I will attend community of practice meetings to learn instructional suggestions by other librarians.

8.2.4 Rigor Goal

When instructional librarians act with thoroughness, consistency, and accuracy, they are engaged in a relentless pursuit of rigor that challenges and provides opportunities to demonstrate growth and learning. Rigor is essential in addressing the needs of a rapidly expanding society and world. In education, including libraries, something is rigorous if it is thought of as high quality and if it appropriately challenges the learning audience.

A. Example Rigor Goal – I will apply best practices identified in five recent library and information publications (e.g., journal articles, webinars, blog articles, professional development workshop materials, etc.).

B. Example Rigor Goal – I will prepare and schedule virtual and non-virtual sessions for students on the topic of APA writing rules and mechanics.

8.2.5 Results Goal

Where there are results, there is observable evidence of growth and learning in students. Results are realized when instruction is delivered in a timely fashion based on the needs and desires of individual college students. Results are discovered through various forms of assessment and provide the data and information necessary to fuel instruction and empower learning.

A. Example Results Goal – I will use assessment data to modify my lesson plans.

B. Example Results Goal – I will explain assignment competencies responding to students questions in advance of lessons.

8.3 Featured Exercises in Instructional Librarianship

Featured items are opportunities for pre- and in-service instructional librarians to engage in intellectual exercises extending chapter content that may challenge your thinking and encourage additional practices in instructional librarianship.

8.3.1 Featured Exercise: Self-reflection

Educators, including instructional librarians, are often asked to be reflective practitioners who think about their actions for the benefit of continuous learning. Self-reflection can be helpful, and may even be necessary, in the process of self-directed professional learning.

This exercise is an opportunity for you to do some everyday reflection that can be about positive or negative experiences. This reflection can occur any time, any place, and for any reason. It can be formal or written - either form can add value to your learning.

Keep in mind that reflective writing does not occur naturally for everyone. For some, reflective writing takes practice.

In anticipation of writing self-directed professional goals, please make time for self-reflection. Please start by reading the Study Skills guide provided by the University of Cambridge. Then, follow the instructions in the Reflective Writing Exercise. Try out the provided formula to write a short reflective piece using the three what’s and a two, three, four sentence structure.

How did you do? As you can, please discuss being a reflective practitioner with co-workers and/or classmates. How will you be intentional about engaging in reflective thinking and/or writing?

8.3.2 Featured Exercise: Write Self-directed Learning Goals

After reading this chapter, return to section 8.2 The Five Rs Model for Writing Self-directed Goals and read it again. Then, using the chart below, please write 3 goals for yourself in each of the five areas. Make a commitment through your employment evaluation process and/or your own personal accountability process to regularly review this written chart of goals and determine where you are in the process. Once a goal is successfully achieved, replace it with a new goal.

How is self-directed learning going for you? As you can, please discuss self-directed learning with co-workers and/or classmates. How will you be intentional about engaging in self-directed professional learning?


KESA Five Rs Framework

My Goals from _________ to _______.

1. Relationship Goal




2. Relevance Goal




3. Responsiveness Goal




4. Rigor Goal




5. Results Goal




8.4 References

Fisher, M., King, J., Tague, G. (2001). Development of a self-directed learning readiness scale for nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 21(7), 516-525.

Irgatoğlu, A. (2021). Exploring the relationship between professional development attitudes, activities and self-directed learning readiness of EFL instructors. International Journal of Progressive Education, 17(4), 122-134.

Kansas State Department of Education. (2018). Kansas Education Systems Accreditation, Framework: The Five Rs.

Kansas State Department of Education. (2018). Kansas Education Systems Accreditation (KESA) Factsheet.

Lehrman, J. (2023). Unlocking the Power of Technology: A Professional Development (Pd) Approach for Adult Educators in the Digital Age. COABE Journal: The Resource for Adult Education, 12(2), 130–133.

Long, H. B., & Associates. (2000). Practice and theory in self-directed learning. Motorola University Press.

Louws, M. L., Meirink, J. A., van Veen, K., & van Driel, J. H. (2017). Teachers’ self-directed learning and teaching experience: What, how, and why teachers want to learn. Teaching and Teacher Education, 66, p. 171-183.

Maestas, M. (2023). Self-Directed Professional Learning of School Librarians (Order No. 30566354). Emporia State University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Cambridge University Libraries. (n.d.). Study Skills. University of Cambridge.

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at