New research published today by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) highlights the importance of independent learning in higher education and how it is best supported by universities and colleges. The research shows the need to direct independent learning through integrating it into programmes and ensuring its benefits are clearly communicated to students. These benefits include the development of deep understanding, taking personal responsibility for learning, and the enhancement of skills expected of graduates.
Higher education is characterised by independent learning. The study, which was conducted by Professor Liz Thomas, references recent debates about what determines the quality of the students’ educational experiences, including whether contact hours are a useful measure, and the ways in which students engage in their learning.
The research shows that effective independent learning involves providing a clear structure and ongoing support for students, especially as they make the transition to higher education learning. A collection of good practice from across different disciplines has been created.
Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive, HEA:
“Helping students to learn independently is critical to their future success. We know, for example, that employers greatly value this type of learning, and the skills that come with it. It is also incumbent on us in the sector to help students to become effective lifelong learners, and independent learning is a crucial part of that.
“Providing opportunities for initial and continuing professional development for staff in relation to independent learning is key too, if it is to be successfully integrated into programmes.”
Anthony McClaran, Chief Executive, QAA:
“Independent learning is critical to students achieving at the level demanded by higher education, and developing the skills and mind set employers value. It should be integrated into all aspects of provision, and its benefits should be effectively communicated to students. The findings and recommendations in this report will help improve policy and practice in relation to independent learning across UK higher education.”