New HEA/QAA research: Beyond contact hours, towards independent learning

Friday, 4 April, 2014

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) have announced plans for a joint project to explore how directed independent learning is promoted in UK universities and colleges. The work will look at how courses are designed and delivered to do this most effectively.

Professor Philippa Levy, Deputy Chief Executive (Academic) at the HEA, said: “This important project will help the sector to understand what is needed to help students study independently and how those working in higher education institutions can support them.

“Crucially, it will gather information on ways in which different groups – including international students, disabled students, and those with employment and family commitments – study independently, thus providing a detailed picture from across the sector. The showcasing of good practice that the project will provide will be of great benefit to all of us working to improve the student learning experience.”

The project is a response to public debate about what makes a high quality academic experience for students. Dr Melinda Drowley, Director of Research, Development and Partnerships at QAA, said the project will focus on directed independent learning, as that marks a key distinction in what’s expected of students at a higher level.

“Contact hours are an important factor, but there is so much more to ensuring students get the best possible experience from their university or college. One thing we know is critical is how students learn to study independently”, she said.

“This doesn’t mean sitting alone in a room, library or lab – it’s about making sure students develop independent study skills through interaction with teachers, support staff and their peers. We hope this project will highlight some of the effective practice already found in universities and colleges, and help spread this across the country.”

The project will use focus groups drawn from different stakeholders, including staff and students from different kinds of providers and from a variety of disciplines. The final report will be available in September 2014, and will include a number of case studies highlighting effective practice.

More information about the project can be found here.