Although it might be obvious as to what independent learning is, there are a number of nuances that actually make up the process. Independent learning is the process of developing one’s own knowledge, but this doesn’t necessarily mean alone; it could be in groups, but without teacher or educator intervention. Independent learning focuses on an individual taking objectives and reaching them through their own process – placing the responsibility on their shoulders.
Independent learning certainly does not mean working on projects without guidance or without a clear path to completion. Goals are a great way to encourage independent learning and having student involvement in setting those objectives can help with confidence and students ability to set their own goals and aspirations in the future.
Independent learning provides students with the skill sets they may require for university and employment – and beyond. It provides them with self-confidence, that they’re in control of their goals and their education. With more confidence and belief in their abilities, students can take tasks head on and not feel as stressed – we all perform better when stress is reduced.
Organisational skills improve, confidence increases, curiosity and passion for subjects can develop and students continue to develop themselves as individuals through independent learning.
For educators, independent learning allows students of different abilities to work on the same tasks, but with more tangible goals. Instead of the teacher being the go-to source of knowledge, students have the ability to lead their own learning, with teachers becoming someone who can guide, advise and mentor.
By providing students with some set criteria to follow whilst completing a task, doesn’t limit them with what they can achieve; it simply helps guide them in the right direction, allowing them to check their work against the criteria, to see which areas they’re excelling in and which areas could do with some improvement. Self-reflection and constantly revisiting goals and objectives throughout tasks and activates enables students to learn independently.
Reflection on work and activities is vital to help students become more self-aware. With a defined set of goals, students can look back at their work, either during the process or once the project is complete, and reflect upon the process and the outcome. Recognition that things might not have gone as well as planned or the results were better than expected, can provide students with the ability to understand what’s needed next time to achieve more. Reflection doesn’t need to come in the form of a survey or in-depth analysis. Simply asking students what they learnt from a group task or how they felt after an exam can equip them with the skills to self-reflect.
Learning from peers is a great way to encourage independent learning. Collaboration of ideas, different thoughts and clashes of personality provides students with an environment to develop new skills, in communication and listening. Students look to each other for answers – and questions – whilst all working towards the same goal.
Whether students are in higher sets or lower sets for subjects, each class will have a different variety of learners – which means they all need different goals to fit their needs. This isn’t to say you only set goals that you know the learner can achieve; it’s more about playing to their strengths and weaknesses and creating a path that can enable them to achieve what’s necessary, without failing throughout the process. Goals can be easily set and measured through an online learning journal.
In education, it can be easy to be hung up on the end goal, whether that’s an exam or submission of coursework. But encouraging students to think about the journey towards a goal, rather than the completion of that goal, is an effective way of boosting independent learning. Once independent learners start thinking about progress, rather than outcomes, their skills develop more robustly.
Independent learning requires regular feedback from both students, peers, and teachers. Although self-reflection is important, students look to educators for advice and guidance and feedback should come in the form of that. Teachers should ask the right types of questions to enable students to reflect and query their own decisions. Open-ended questions encourage students to think more about their answers. Peer feedback can also be helpful, both giving and receiving it. Evaluating other students work and asking questions can help students think about their own work too.
Independent learning allows students to gain control over their own education. To enable them to do so, they need to be allowed to make decisions within in the learning process. Although some students will feel confident in making these decisions, others need encouragement to do so. This can be done through asking questions, which don’t necessarily provide them with the solution, but get them thinking about what the possibilities could be. Involving students in decision making gives them a sense of responsibility, which is important to build confidence and carry through to adulthood.