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The concept of “independent learning” is not easy to define. It is also misunderstood because some favour simplistic or palatable explanations.

One result of this is poor implementations of “independent learning” by schools and institutes of higher learning. These interventions range from highly-structured lessons students attempt at home to total abandonment of the student.

The reason why “independent learning” is poorly understood and implemented is that it is multifaceted. Instead of identifying as many facets and embracing them, some focus only on what it convenient.

For example, teachers under pandemic pressure might superficially convert a series of lessons into worksheets and YouTube videos, and then call that an “independent learning package”. It is none of those things.

There is no need to reinvent independent learning. We might first borrow from Gibbon’s spectrum of self-directed learning or SDL (2002), that is: 

  • incidental self-directed learning
  • teaching students to think independently
  • self-managed learning
  • self-planned learning
  • self-directed learning

Related note: Knowles (1975) also has a guide for SDL, but this might be pitched more towards adult learners and learning.

If I was at a roundtable discussion, I would argue that independent learning is what happens at the self-directed end of the spectrum. Such learning could be driven by curiosity, a meaningful problem, or a passion or interest.

Such learning is typified by powers of observation, the ability to tinker iteratively, and endurance in the face of FAILure (FAIL: First Attempts In Learning). Truly independent learning is sustained by record-keeping, critical reflection, and strategic thinking.

Independent learning is complex and multifaceted concept. Ignoring what others have already written about it and trying to reinvent it for branding is an ego trip. This does a disservice to education and does not help learners be truly independent.


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