Article of the month – Issue 2, 2018

Article of the month – Issue 2, 2018

‘Independent learning – what we do when you’re not there’, by Christine Hockings, Liz Thomas, Jim Ottaway and Rob Jones

(Free to view until 30th April 2018)

What is it that enables a learner to study independently? If you are looking to teach to a high standard and have satisifed students, then this is an important question to answer. We all know that teaching is as much about catalysing the engagement of the learner as providing clear explanations, but what is it that enables students to find a way forward for themselves? Face to face teaching might be prioritised by politicians and others, but can independent learning hold its own?

This article has a fascinating answer to our starting question. It explores what students understood to be at stake in independent learning. It was a large-scale qualitative study funded by the Higher Education Academy (soon to become Advance HE). The study was based around a set of interviews that were led by students, as well as diaries focused on independent learning and the student experience of research.

The study found that students often use relatively basic learning strategies in the early stages of their courses – organising the information that they are presented with and finding reinforcing strategies to take in ideas. The counterpart of this is that students then value clear guidance and well-defined tasks. It is not surprising that teaching that offers this then supports them in independent learning – up to a point.

However, the research was also clear that ‘the most powerful influence on their independent learning’ came from mutual support, collaboration and advice from other students (especially those who were more experienced) in settings where they weren’t being formally assessed.

One key issue then, is to ask what you can do to support students in supporting each other more effectively. Strategies that get students to work alongside each other, to conduct projects together and to give each other advice could well be more useful than direct support.

It is fascinating that independent learning doesn’t mean isolated learning – rather it means a shared responsibility for learning.

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