University education is unique since student-learning process is partly guided by the academic staff, with most of learning responsibilities lying with the student as an independent learner. Independent learning is described as “autonomous learning, independent study, self-directed learning, student initiated learning, project orientation, discovery and inquiry, teaching for thinking, learning to learn, self instruction and life long learning” (Kesten 1987, p9).
Independent learning can also be described as “learning strategy that fosters self-improvement through planned independent study by students under the guidance or supervision of an instructor, can include learning in partnership with another individual or as part of a small group, possible instructional methods used include: reading, viewing, and assigned questions” (Nathenson, 1984).
Many scholars have defined independent learning in various ways, thus, independent learning is a concept that has no universally agreed definition. Independent learning has been receiving tremendous interest from governments, industrialists, and academics in the advancement of higher learning education strategies, since it is capable of producing lifelong learners, skilled, and self-motivated people who are pivotal to the future of any nation.
All definitions or concepts on independent learning are based on the learner taking control of their studies. Since the university students are adults, they are expected to achieve a balance between learning, work and their other attachments. For successful independent learning, the students must organize their learning through time and resources management, and prioritizing their tasks and structure of their schedule to achieve mutual balance between study and other activities.
A departure from dependent learning, independent learning is viewed as a tool that transforms education by enhancing many qualities such as the habits of mind that improve critical, analytical and reflective thinking skills, and also improve and shape students’ personality by enhancing self-reliance, self-confidence, and critical thinking skills (Najoua, et al., n.d).
Academic skills and independent learning
All academic learning processes are supported by more than one academic skill. Academic skills are mainly composed of reading, writing and study skills, thus, any independent learning should encompass these skills. Therefore, it is important for an independent learner to develop these skills in order to achieve a successful independent learning outcome.
Studies have revealed that most students who join tertiary education institution without the requisite practical study skills for academic success often experience learning challenges not because of their lack of aptitude in their academic subject, but rather, because of lack of abilities in project, time, and self-management (Nathenson 1984, p281). Hence, the most suitable academic skills that a student needs to develop for independent learning include self-assessing skills, time management skills, and writing and study skills.
Though there are many study skills resources such as web sites and books, students in need of them mostly do not access them due to lack of self-motivation or the knowledge on how they are accessed.
To combat this challenge, it is important for the students and education facilitators to focus on development and implementation of assessment of independent learning skills. To achieve this, it is important for all stakeholders in independent learning to focus on improving students’ self-management and self-reflective skills that can eventually improve their study skills.
This should be an on-going initiative in all independent learning set-ups with the ultimate goal being equipping independent learners with the much needed study skills for lifelong learning. Studies have revealed that there are several simple techniques that support the development of self-management and self-reflective skills, with such techniques including things like learning journals that contain ongoing reflection which is useful for supporting planning, problem solving and creative thinking activities (Pickford & Brown, 2006).
Time management is another skill that is very critical to any learning process, since, at the end it mostly makes the difference on the whether the student is continuing with the learning process or not. Without appropriate time management, a student may not be able to cover learning materials or to get the learning concepts conveyed in the learning process.
Thus, it is essential for a student to develop a good time program that will enable covering the required learning materials, practicing the concepts learned in order to grasp them and revising to be well prepared for the independent learning outcomes.
Independent learning at university has been a key strategy in enhancing provision of university education to all students, but it has major impact in supporting distance education modules and application information technologies in support learning through internet resources such as online databases, libraries, and websites.
In future, all stakeholders such as governments, academics, industrialists, and students using independent learning will be able to develop critical competencies in accessing, analyzing, and applying information for independent learning to develop the ability to think creatively, to cooperate with one another, and make sound value judgments.
All these will lead to a modern society that encourages creative thinking, social responsibility, and adopting lifelong learning. Additionally, independent learning will increase innovations in education, improve assimilation of university education, and over all, reduce the burden on university infrastructures and resources.
Kesten, C., 1987. Independent learning: a common essential learning, A study completed for the Saskatchewan Department of Education Core Curriculum Investigation Project. Saskatchewan Department of Education, University of Regina.
Najoua, L. et al. N.d. Perception of Independent Learning. Al Akhawayn University, Morocco. (Online). Available from: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:UdPkeRpUDgsJ:www.aui.ma/VPAA/cads/research/cad-research-student-independent-learning.pdf+definition+of+independent+learning&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShEKXHHWHcfc9CDCMwmM8SCSLdc7szLGi6N3z0QcfAQIzCcu0FK_d5HJSkjTmboKKkOy6qYFKUieTUAX1ajBL_Erjnxs4kBcEpcfqGa-mf2GTK1A-DSlmIog1ixrpipsNC8fyPa&sig=AHIEtbSHc1k2obeiQNdFIs23oVSubtQryA (Accessed August 26, 2011).
Nathenson, M. B., 1984. Independent learning in higher education. New Jersey: Educational Technology, Englewood Cliffs.
Pickford, R. & Brown, S., 2006. Assessing skills and practice. NY: Taylor & Francis, Abingdon.