In today’s fast-paced world, where information is readily available at our fingertips, the ability to learn independently is more important than ever. In this post, we will look at why independent learning, also known as self-directed learning, is important and how it may help learners of all ages reach their full potential.
What is Independent Learning?
Defining the term “Independent Learning” in one single definition seems quite impossible. There are many definitions of Independent Learning, but one simple yet broad definition of Independent Learning or Autonomous Learning is “The ability to take charge of one’s learning.” (Holec, 1981:3)
Independent Learning can also be explained as the shifting of the onus from the teacher to the student so that the child can regulate and evaluate their learning instead of solely relying on the assessment information being transmitted by the educator to the student. This does not mean the role of the teacher is not required anymore.
A big part of autonomous, independent, or student-led learning is structuring the learning environment to motivate students to learn on their own and support the independent process. In another way, it means developing a solid group work structure or a process for completing tasks independently.
From a teacher’s view, ‘Independent Learning‘ is often linked with other approaches to learning, such as ‘Personalization,’ ‘Student-Centred Learning,’ and ‘Ownership of learning.’ Basically, Independent Learning is when learners set goals, monitor and evaluate their academic development to manage their motivation towards learning.
Empowering or monitoring learners can be a daunting task. However, it is a fundamental skill that can help cultivate lifelong learners. It is also a way to address the different needs of students, allowing them to learn and solve problems independently.
According to Dr. Russ Gadzhiev, Independent Learning is the process in which a person acquires knowledge independently without guidance. They take responsibility for their learning without relying on external help. They find and collect information, decide what they will study, when they will complete homework, and achieve their set learning goals on time.
Independent Learning- What is it? Why is it important?
Elements of Independent Learning
The elements of Independent Learning are:
- Finding and collecting information
- Making decisions about what to study and when
- Carrying out investigations or projects
- Learners learn at their own pace using ICT or VLEs
- Completing homework, extension work, or coursework assignments
Characteristics of Independent Learners
Curious: Independent learners are eager and curious to explore. They study from various perspectives and formats, not just traditional teaching. They are always active and find ways to access additional course supplements independently.
Self-Motivated: Independent learners are motivated by establishing internal goals to reach. Their success is their motivator.
Self-Review: Independent learners assess themselves well. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They work to achieve measurable progress and often report on achievements and failures.
Accountability: Independent learners take ownership of their learning and stick to themselves. By taking responsibility, they know what to do, and they do it without being directed.
Critical Thinking: Independent learners think critically about a situation. They explore all the possibilities and often propose multiple solutions.
Understanding with little or no instruction: Independent learners can read, visualize, or teach themselves kinaesthetically. They can develop ways to understand the material, usually through trial and error.
Perseverance: Independent learners rarely give up. They try to understand the concept as much as they can before seeking help. Also, they exercise self-discipline by not finding a simple solution to a problem. They learn for themselves and generally only ask questions once they have failed to find a solution.
Benefits of Independent Learning
There are several added benefits of Independent Learning. Let us look at some:
Learning the “How” of Learning
When it comes to the learning process, there is a difference between regurgitating material for an examination and understanding the concept. Independent Learning encourages students to gain an understanding of the subject matter instead of just mugging it up. Students with independent learning opportunities often acquire WHAT-HOW-WHY components of the principles of what they are learning.
When students are allowed to be independent learners, even if they answer incorrectly, they go through the process, decode the problem and figure out the solution, thereby getting a deeper learning experience.
Focus on Learning Process, not Just on the Objective
Focusing solely on objectives in the classroom can disrupt the thrilling adventure of independent learning. Independent learning provides the opportunity to explore and dig deeper for better understanding; it also allows learners to learn from the experiences of successful entrepreneurs and inventors who have transformed their failures into remarkable achievements. This learning approach encourages learners to focus on what they are learning rather than solely relying on the subject matter taught by teachers, promoting a deeper engagement with the material and fostering critical thinking skills.
Flexibility for Multiple Levels of Intelligence
Each learner has a different learning ability and is comfortable learning at their own pace; self-directed learning allows them to do so. A teacher or class leader can supervise the environment so students can work independently.
Assists in Learning Time Management and Other Life Skills
Traditional classroom environments can impair a child’s ability to function in the real world, where timelines, distractions, and other obstacles are along the way.
However, independent learning requires students to develop other secondary skills, such as planning and establishing priority lists and timelines for reaching their goals. Students also learn how to tackle with distractions effectively.
Helps Achieve Internal Satisfaction
It’s crucial for learners to be self-reliant and resilient, as not every day is going to be favourable. When faced with challenges, students who practice independent learning may take any tool or scaffolding method – a different way of looking at the handbook for information, a new way of looking at the problem – and use it to solve the problem at hand. This approach not only helps them gain confidence but also enables them to experience a sense of inner fulfilment and satisfaction.
More Aware of Their Strengths and Weaknesses
Known to all, weakness is only as hazardous as the level of knowledge a person has about it. Over the course of their education, independent learning compels students to confront their strengths and flaws, which helps them grow and become more confident and emotionally and mentally stronger.
Teachers and colleagues make little room for failure in a traditional classroom, as learning assessment is based on grades and exams. However, when it comes to independent learning, assessment is a part of the process, which also makes failures a part of the learning and growth process. This helps learners outgrow the fear of failure and makes self-critique much easier.
Learning is like a messy walk in the woods with many detours and blockades. Independent learners are equipped with the mental preparedness and skills to navigate through this learning process. They can better adapt to challenges and are more efficient at finding their way through, while students fed with teacher information will be disheartened when they venture out on their own.
Emphasize Literacy as a Foundation of Learning
Independent learning help students see reading and writing not as disparate ‘skills’ but as the foundation of almost all academic learning. It improves these two areas and can significantly impact nearly every other class.
Reflects on Learning
Motivating students can help them become independent learners. By encouraging them to reflect on their performance and assess whether they have achieved their learning goals or not is a good strategy to involve students in the process. This, in turn, can make students more conscious about their strengths and weaknesses and help them become more self-sufficient learners.
Moreover, acknowledging progress can boost students’ motivation and confidence levels as they will see their journey and growth.
Becomes Better at Strategy-Making
Since independent learners are more accountable for their learning than others and know how to learn a concept, they become better at monitoring their work, effectively planning their time, and learning to plan. These are all life skills that independent students use. They love to feel grown-up, so remind them that these skills will assist them in becoming successful adults.
Develop Deeper Understanding
One of the primary benefits of independent learning is that it allows students to get an in-depth understanding of the learning process, allowing them to approach new challenges and concerns with greater confidence and skill. This self-directed learning process also allows students to work at their own pace, which can be very beneficial for those with various learning styles or who require more time to master a particular idea.
Students can also benefit from independent learning in terms of developing life skills such as time management, self-motivation, and the capacity to reflect on their own performance and growth. These abilities are required for success in a wide range of sectors and can be especially beneficial for pupils as they enter adulthood.
Teachers’ Role in Independent Learning
This is one of those questions that needs a clear and accurate answer. Independent Learning is not about leaving your students to themselves and waiting for them to come up with solutions. Inevitably, they will be blocked, and you should intervene and let them get back on track.
What matters most is the message and the strategy that surrounds it. You might not want to give them the answer but offer them a helpful explanation of processes that give them the means to find the right solution.
Teachers may help in the following ways:
- Be an inspiration for your students. Encourage students to act as you do. Be something or someone they can look up to, imitate and learn from.
- Conduct self-monitoring sessions.
- Use questions to help steer students toward independent learning. Ask open-ended questions, develop classroom discourse, and ask for a higher order. This will encourage them to reflect, resolve problems independently, and develop a deeper understanding of the material being studied.
- Develop learning-oriented communication.
- Provide feedback on classroom work/assignments.
- Encourage collaboration and have students work in groups. Encourage them to learn from peers, which can also benefit their independent learning. This will also help them use the problem-solving steps to get the answers instead of relying on the teacher.
- Provide your students with options and allow them to set their objectives. Provide students with an opportunity to think about what they have learned and would like to learn. It will give them a sense of empowerment and accountability that will help them become independent learners.
- Engage students in lesson planning. Asking students to comment on the lesson gives them the impression that they have a say in what they are taught. This will encourage greater participation in the learning process.
Watch this short yet informative guide on Promoting Independent Learning in Students: