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What do Parents — Even You — REALLY Want?

Applying the feedback from 500+ parent conversations

Dr. Scott and I have begun sharing our findings (video) from our parent conversations. Here are three examples:

Brenda is a remote-working mother with two elementary school children. Kelly is a grandparent who is now serving her second “tour of duty,” teaching her elementary and middle school grandchildren. And Adolfo is a single father of three who has asked his oldest child to supervise learning while he is at work. What is one desire for their children that they all share? 

They want their kids/grandkids to become self-directed learners. 

Not super sexy, I know. But in the two minutes it takes you to read this blog, I hope to convince you that you want the same. 

“In its broadest meaning, Self-Directed Learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

Malcolm Knowles

Self-Directed Learning

In our conversations with parents, we have shared the below educational continuum and asked two questions. First, we wanted to know where they thought their child was on the continuum. Then we asked where they wanted their child to be. 

Regardless of parental income level, education level, race, or gender, every parent has said that they wanted their children to move to the right on this continuum. They want their children to be much more self-directed — in some cases, radically more. 

Conflict Between Schools and Self-Direction

The desire for self-directed kids is universal and is already considered essential in some industries. Jobs are more fluid and flexible than at any point in recent memory and Microsoft is the latest company to allow remote work for their employees — permanently. Like many of the most thoughtful companies, Microsoft knows that they want self-directed employees more than anything else. Workers who can work independently without daily oversight. Workers who can Define, Plan, Execute, and Evaluate their own learning for a lifetime.

Yet schools, driven by antiquated state legislator demands and board of education rules, require your child to sit in front of a computer… for hours. This “synchronized instruction” prevents students from learning the very skills expected of them after high school. Self-directed learners have not skipped a beat during COVID. They have learned how to learn on their own. And as Dr. Scott shared in last week’s blog post, this moment in history requires that students become something different from students of the past. He also pointed out how stuck schools are on the left side of the above graphic. Given this, parents will have to build this on their own… and we’d like to help.

Pro-Tip: What Should Parents Do

Ok. I’ve set the table. Let’s now learn from Brenda, Kelly, and Adolfo. 

Brenda has begun using different evaluation tools to move her kids towards self-directed learning. Each morning, for example, she asks her kids four questions: 1) “What do you need to learn today?” 2) “How do you plan to learn it?”, and 3) “When (what time) will you learn it?”, and 4) “How will you know you’ve learned it?” 

These questions follow the pattern required to develop the skills of self-directed learning. 

  1. What do you want to learn? 
  2. What’s your plan to learn it? 
  3. How will you learn it?
  4. How will you evaluate what you’ve learned?

Kelly has initiated similar conversations with her daughter. However, she realized that her grandchildren’s time in school-related zoom calls interfered with their learning. She has approached their teachers about building more flexibility into the curriculum to make more room for self-directed learning. (So far, she has been frustrated by their response. )

Adolfo has opened a detailed conversation with his kids about what they want to learn (Hint: They didn’t mention Algebra). He is now working with each child to Define, Plan, Execute and Evaluate learning that is of interest to them. Adolfo is also recruiting his science-nerd sister to help facilitate learning with his older and younger children, both of whom indicated an interest in science. Adolfo checks in with the kids each evening over dinner, asking for feedback on their learning.


These are a few examples of how COVID has forced families to grapple with what they really want for their child’s education… and it’s not more “school.” They want kids who are self-directed learners. 

For those of you who are frustrated watching your kids operate on the left side of the educational continuum, then consider joining our movement. Dr. Scott and I are preparing a new playbook for families… one that prepares children for the reality of work and life in the 21st century. 

If you want to learn more…consider two upcoming Podcasts

In next week’s podcast, I interview a 16-year-old girl who is living the self-directed learning experience. She happens to be my daughter, Olivia Barnes. 

Olivia Barnes: After “quitting school”

The following week, we’ll share an interview with a former admissions officer from Pomona College in California. We learn that she, and many admissions officers, look for a very different type of student. They are looking for — say it with me — self-directed learners. 

Pomona College

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Keep up the great work, parents. Your kids will thank you for it… eventually! I promise!

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Quick Start Guide

If you made it this far then don’t stop now. The Quick Start Guide delivers a week’s worth of curated and highly practical resources to grow your learning leadership for the next 5 days. This is only the beginning! 

What’s included:

  • Key podcasts
  • Questions to ask your child
  • Blog posts
  • Interviews & videos