A shift towards independent learning

Updated: May 4

A disadvantage- or an opportunity?

These are unprecedented times for educators and learners. Having never experienced a situation like the Covid-19 outbreak, a shift towards independent learning is being forced upon us. We must encourage and inspire our students to take control of their own learning. In other words, they must 'learn to learn'. While we are completely in the dark about how our students will be assessed, we still have a duty to fill gaps in their knowledge and develop a group of life-long learners ready for their future in education or work. The generation of students affected by this will undoubtedly be a unique group of young people. In my eyes, this does not have to be a disadvantage. Looking at the research in independent learning, this may be special opportunity for our students. So in this article, I will discuss the research in this area & how we can prepare our students to make the most of the current situation.

The benefits of independent learning

Research conducted by the EPPI-Centre, (2005) suggested that an intervention on 'thinking skills' or teaching students how to learn had a positive impact on student outcomes. Although it is difficult to conclude that this intervention was the only factor, it could be explained by some of the qualitative outcomes shown by other researchers. Williams (2003), found improvements in motivation and morale and claimed that these were a result of an independent learning approach. Similar ideas have influenced and informed teachers for a while now, but does our own pedagogy sometimes limit independence? Is our system built for optimal independent learning? The Covid-19 outbreak may force a shift that could lead to more independent students who are better prepared to contribute to society than previous generations.

Why might some of our students too dependent on teachers?

We are not grade factories, and we are all aware of the need to develop lifelong learners before sending them out into wider society. Mazenod (2018), suggests that our pedagogy, especially when dealing with low attaining students, may foster over-dependence on teaching staff. It is difficult to get the balance right in such situations, and we all know from experience that students do not suddenly become independent on their own. However, we are now going to be forced to distance ourselves. Blazor & Craft (2016), found that while a traditional teacher led approach to learning can generate the desired results, this does not necessarily mean behaviours and motivation are improved.

Creating an opportunity for independent learners

During such a difficult time in education, our duties have suddenly changed. We should aspire to turn this into a unique opportunity to develop a new generation of independent, self-motivated and highly confident young people that will enhance our society. Below are some tips:

- As suggested earlier, students do not suddenly become completely independent. Try to ensure that regular communication is taking place, perhaps via the internet. Students need to know that they are not alone despite the distancing. Google classroom is a great way to communicate with students and check on their progress. Schools will need to ensure that all students have these opportunities. If this is not possible, communication through parents may be key.

-Allow students to organise their own study timetables, this is a difficult challenge but will prepare students for further education or the working world. Set work deadlines and let the students manage them.

- Give students options on how to study, as the expert you will know the types of activities they should be doing. Giving them options will help them get started, but students will begin to figure out their own favoured methods.

- Encourage students to learn about learning. Videos are available on YouTube. Click the link to find a BBC video 'Study Skills- How to think critically'.


-Be positive, make it clear to students that we still expect them to do well. Trust them to make the right choices, communicate this to them in order to enhance motivation and morale.

Please comment below & let us know your thoughts!


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