The purpose of this post is to support teachers,advisers to design and facilitate activities to encourage students to become independent learners.

Aim: To foster learners to take responsibility for their own learning.

This resource will support teachers to be able to:

  • Understand the terminology, concepts and principles of independent learning.
  • Design and facilitate student learning activities to encourage independence.
  • Value independence as a key factor in life long learning.
  • Access resources and ongoing support for independent learning.
  • Work with colleagues and students to create active learning experiences.
  • Integrate independent learning into a course or programme of study.


Self directed learning
Independent Learning Plans
Learning plans


Self Directed Learning:

A process in which students take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies, and evaluate learning outcomes. The role of the instructor shifts from being the "sage on the stage' to the "guide on the side" in a self directed learning environment.

Learner Centredness

A learning environment in which students are given a great deal of responsibility for and input into their own learning. The role of the teacher becomes to facilitate or guide learning rather than direct it. Related terms/concepts include: andragogy, facilitated learning, learner-centredness. Adult Learning: Theory to Practice

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is part of the teaching and learning culture, and a key attribute for a graduate. Critical thinking is "reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do". (Ennis, R. (1981) Rational Thinking in education practice. Philosophy in education. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education).

Problem Solving

Problem solving means different things in different disciplines. In some disciplines there are defined models to follow when problem solving. This is true in sciences and law. The key to problem solving is analysis. Good analysis will reveal a range of options to the problem solver, who then needs to identify the most appropriate course of action.

Students need lots of problem solving opportunities. They need to engage with problems in groups and as individuals. New knowledge is acquired, skills are practice and attitudes developed by working with problem

See Gerald Grow:


Design and facilitate student learning activities to encourage independence.

Exercise One: Find out what you think about your students (adapted from TRACETIPS)

Self aware teachers are more likely to engage their learners. Writing your response to each section can clarify you thoughts.

1. Your students as learners.

Do you see them as naturally curious, intelligent and creative? How do you draw these student attributes out in your course? Do you trust your students to learn without you? How will they do this? Do you allow students to be responsible for their own learning? How do you design this into your course?

2. Your perception of your teaching situation

Do you feel free to be a creative and imaginative teacher? If not, why not? What are the three major advantages to your style of teaching? Disadvantages? How is your teaching changing? How are you changing with it?

3. Your goals as a teacher

What do you want students to gain from your teaching? What are your three most important goals as a teachers? How do you design your course to achieve these goals?

4. Your assumptions about student motivation.

What are five observable behaviors of a motivated student. How is your course designed to encourage these behaviors?

5. Your perception of yourself as a motivating teacher.

If you were one of your students could you complete this sentence: "My teacher helps me to be an independent learner because he or she......"

Some examples from teachers:

Here is a video from Steve as he explains his course.

Here is one from Suzanne as she talks about her experiences with independent learning plans.

Application Part 2:

Gerald Grow is a respected educator. His website is full of information and ideas on designing and facilitating independent learning.

As you are designing your course and lessons for independent learners, remember your students will need to acquire key skills including:

To present arguments to persuade or influence others.
To identify a thesis (argument) and premise (supporting argument).
To debate, negotiate positions, resolve conflict and manage difference and opposition.
To reflect.
To question your own actions and thinking.
To be communicative.
To share our ideas.
To make decisions and act on what you think and believe.
To have an open attitude.
Be willing to consider new ways of thinking.

Value independence as a key factor in life long learning.

Jackie Lublin, Dublin created a Good Practice guide in 2003. This is a good summary of the reasons why independence is so important to learners. See Attached for a copy of the guide.lifeLongLearning.pdf

If you have time watch this very engaging video from the European Union on the reasons why we need to foster independent learning.

Access resources and ongoing support for independent learning.

The University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, has created some online resources to support independent learners.

Barbara Gross Davies, from the University of California, Berkeley has created some resources.

Marcia Devlin from Deakin University in Australia has written a paper on students taking responsibility for their own learning. You will need to subscribe to have access to this paper.

Phil Brown in Australia has also written about independent learning and the net generation.

If you find resources in your study of this topic please feel free to add them as a comment to this post.

Work with colleagues and students to create active learning experiences.

As you design and facilitate fostering independent learning you will need to work closely with your colleagues and peers. You may like to create a community of practice in your department in which to foster your own learning on the topic. You could store your new learning on a wiki, in a blog, or create a Ning or SocialGo site. The key to your successful integration of independent learning into your courses and classes is the mutual support from your colleagues. It may be time to take a leadership role and get a small group together and work on redesigning your courses to create independent learning environments.

Please feel free to share links to you communities. We would be very interested to know how this learning develops for you and your colleagues.

Integrate independent learning into a course or programme of study.

Once you have know more about independent learning and have made changes to course and classes, pause and reflect on the success of your changes. You may like to contribute your experiences in a comment to this blog.

We wish you the best with your interest in independent learning and congratulate you on reaching the end of this blog post.

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Comment by Diana Ayling on March 15, 2010 at 12:29
As you consider independence of learners, you may like to consider intrinsic motivation for learning. In this YouTube video Dan Pink, looks at independence, mastery and purpose. The very things your students will need for success.
Comment by Diana Ayling on January 19, 2010 at 14:33
Angela Maiers, has a great website. I recommend this article.

Welcome! Feel free to read and add to our events and blog posts, invite new members, and use the material found in our Resources tab above.



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