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Independent learning–what we do when you’re not there

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Independent learning is one of the cornerstones of UK higher education yet it is poorly understood by students and is seen by politicians as a poor substitute for face to face teaching. This paper explores students’ understandings, approaches and experiences of independent learning and how they may become more effective independent learners. This large scale qualitative study, funded by the HEA, included students-as-researchers, independent learning diaries, and student-led interviews. Findings suggest that students initially use low level reinforcing and organising skills and in later stages of their courses develop higher level extending and applying skills. Clearer guidance, clearer tasks and in-course support are amongst the students’ recommendations for enhancing independent learning. However the most powerful influence on their independent learning was the support, collaboration and advice of other (more experienced) students in non-assessed scenarios. These findings have implications for staff involved in induction, student support, curriculum design and for staff and officers in Students’ Unions.




Hockings, C., Thomas, L., Ottaway, J., & Jones, R. (2018). Independent learning–what we do when you’re not there. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(2), 145–161.

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