How to nurture independent learners

Independent learning is studying where students take charge of their learning without depending on the teacher, or, when at home, their parents. They learn to take the initiative in their education; the transition from traditional to independent learning is a bit challenging. However, students can reap its full benefits with the proper guidance.

Encourage a sense of purpose

Students need to be motivated to take up this challenge. To support and promote independence in learning, young people need to understand the purpose of education and why it is crucial. Many young people shy away from challenging concepts, but, if you explain the purpose, they will be more likely to be motivated to learn and remain interested. Sometimes, it is hard to manage academic assignments and deadlines when shifting from traditional to independent learning. This can be a difficult shift for many when they leave school and begin university for instance. These days there are writing agencies can be hired to write you an essay, so you can stay on top of your assignments while adjusting to learning independently. When students don’t gain these skills early on, they can end up relying on services like these.

A sense of purpose can be instilled by relating the concepts to real-life uses. If you teach them why they need to know the properties of an element and how they are beneficial, for instance, they will be more focussed. Using real-life examples and giving students a chance to share their experiences can really help.

Another method to build interest is to support the curiosity they have. This can be done in school by introducing different classroom topics and allowing open conversation. It creates an atmosphere where students can discuss other people’s points of view and open their minds to different perspectives. You can extend these debates at home with family members. These don’t have to be discussions at the dinner table, you can have them any time – I enjoy using the time in the car with my children for example for this purpose.

Encourage reflective thinking

You may ask, “why is independent learning important?”. The simple answer is that it allows young students to think for themselves. It helps improve their critical thinking, and they can learn how to prioritise their tasks which will help later in life. This doesn’t just apply to those who plan to continue into further education, as this is an important life lesson anyway.

Once students are empowered to think for themselves and use their own thoughts to facilitate their learning, they become more aware of how to direct their thoughts constructively. In the classroom, encouraging students to share their different opinions is an excellent way to look at their thinking processes. They may ask themselves, “why did I not see that point” and incorporate that outlook moving forward.

To become an independent learner, a student needs to evaluate themselves. They can do this evaluation in two phases. The first phase would include understanding their interests, dreams, or any career choices they want. The second phase can focus on their strengths and weaknesses.

You can give constant feedback while performing a task to nurture reflective thinking. For example, you can have young people talk about their projects in school and allow their peers to comment on something they loved about it and something they would change and why. Such activity will have two-fold benefits; the first is that talking about a task will help them understand it more thoroughly. The second benefit includes positively receiving and interpreting feedback from people at different levels. It will allow them to better grasp their tactics and reasoning, which is crucial to becoming an independent student.

Encourage goal setting

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Students need to learn to be independent, as it will benefit them in all circles of life. To be independent, knowing what goals to set and how to achieve them is crucial. The goals do not have to be very ambitious or challenging. If a student is overly-ambitious at the start, it may discourage them when they cannot immediately reach these ambitions. Teaching young people how to break down their goals into smaller steps can be beneficial. Progress, however slow it still progress and that should be celebrated.

A good framework for goal setting is the “S.M.A.R.T” method, which may be familiar to you in your work life. This method focuses on every goal having the following five features;

  • Specific;
  • Measurable;
  • Attainable;
  • Relevant;
  • Time-bound.

For example, your goal can be, “I want to become a successful independent learner by the final examination for this course by passing with at least a B+.” The goal is specific to what you want, and you can measure it according to the grade you get in the final. You have made it relevant and time-bound by relating it to your academic examination. This goal is attainable because it falls within the scope of your resources.

Daily study habit

Once a young person understands the purpose of what is being taught and its application, they will be more inclined to give it their time and effort. For this, they need to create a habit of studying daily. It doesn’t mean that they should focus on their academics 24 hours, 7 days a week – but instead, it means that they should revise or reflect on what is taught.

If they have other interests such as sports these can really compliment their studying by creating a positive distraction before returning to their studies.

Learning from mistakes and “failure”

The best way to become an independent learner and evaluate yourself is through trial and error. You cannot hope to achieve greatness in life if everything you do is perfect. Falling is a necessity because if you don’t fall, you will never get a chance to figure out how to get up and do it better the next time.

If you don’t have a positive attitude towards failure, it can discourage you from taking risks and opening your mind to different possibilities. Instead, the mistakes can be incorporated into the learning experience. It will help determine what went wrong, what to avoid, and the successful features. When it comes to mistakes and failures, there are two approaches;

  • It can be viewed as a hassle and a mishap;
  • It can be viewed as an opportunity to learn, grow, and re-learn.

I always try to view it as the latter and encourage my children to do the same. Some children will need extra support with this.

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Coaching, not teaching

Many people mistake coaching and teaching to be the same thing. Although their meanings do overlap in some aspects, they are different concepts. Teaching focuses on imparting new knowledge, whereas coaching focuses on improving performance over time.

A person cannot decide to be an independent learner today and be a great one tomorrow. It is a slow process that requires help and guidance. A good coach will help grow a person’s skills and necessary attributes instead of just stating facts about it.

Nurturing young people to explore their curiosities to excel academically is challenging for many people – but by focusing on the right things, you can help them become responsible learners. It will help them stay accountable and to bring out their true potential. If you feel like you want some extra guidance on how to nurture independent learners, you can always speak to a parenting expert for some advice. 

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