Introduction: Self-directed learning has been recommended as a promising methodology for lifelong learning in medicine. However, the concept of self-directed learning continues to be elusive, with students and educators finding difficulty in defining it and agreeing on its worth.
Methods: In this paper we review the literature of self-directed learning in health professions education and present a framework based on Malcolm Knowles' key components of self-directed learning.
Results: The key components of self-directed learning are: the educator as a facilitator, identification of learning needs, development of learning objectives, identification of appropriate resources, implementation of the process, commitment to a learning contract and evaluation of learning. Several but not all of these components are often described in the published literature.
Conclusion: Although the presented framework provides some consistency for educators interested in applying SDL methods, future studies are needed to standardise self-directed learning curricula and to determine the effectiveness of these components on educational outcomes.