In partnership with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), we have today published Effective practice in the design of directed independent learning opportunities by Professor Liz Thomas, Dr Robert Jones and Dr James Ottaway. This research set out to discover what stakeholders (including academic staff and students) have found to be the most effective practices in the inception, design, quality assurance and enhancement of directed independent learning (DIL), and how best to communicate and promote DIL to different stakeholders in the higher education sector.
In the study, directed independent learning has been broadly understood as learning which takes place outside the classroom and in which students are guided by curriculum content, pedagogy and assessment, and supported by staff and the learning environment. Students play an active role in their learning experience - either on their own, or in collaboration with peers.
Liz Thomas talks through the research:
How does directed independent learning fit into the overall learning experience for students?
Students expect learning in higher education to be different from learning at school or college, but many don’t have a clear understanding of how it will be different or the extent to which they will need to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Independent learning is at the heart of this difference, but it is not talked about as much or as clearly as it should be. This can make the transition into higher education difficult for students, and hinder them from being successful. Directed independent learning enables students to develop the necessary skills and understandings, with many benefits for their student experience and their life after higher education.
What does the research show are the key benefits for students of directed independent learning?
Lecturers identified a large range of benefits from students from DIL but these benefits are not always clearly articulated to students – especially at the start of HE. Key benefits include developing students’ skills as academics in their discipline of study and as professionals in their vocational area; providing interesting, engaging and relevant learning experiences and applying learning to real-world situations; developing a deeper subject knowledge and capacity to progress in the subject area; contributing to graduate capabilities; and providing students with opportunities to engage and belong in their academic community, by making friends, studying together and supporting each other.
How do other stakeholders, such as employers, benefit from effective directed independent learning?
Directed independent learning plays a transformative role, helping students to move from being largely dependent learners in the school system, to having a range of graduate attributes, such as critical thinking, communication skills, team working, problem solving and using knowledge in applied contexts. These are the skills that employers are looking for and these are the skills developed by directed independent learning. They are also the skill students need to progress to postgraduate study, to become active citizens and to make more informed choices about all aspects of their lives.
What do you think the future holds for directed independent learning?
I think that independent learning is – and always has been – integral to learning in higher education. But, in order to enhance the student learning experience – and student outcomes – we need to reflect on what we mean by independent learning, and how we enable all students to make the transition to being effective independent learners. This requires us to think about how we guide and support students on this journey through directed independent learning, and how we communicate with students, parents and other stakeholders – pre-and post-entry. There needs to wider understanding of high quality directed independent learning by lecturers as a pedagogic process, by students as a transformative learning experience, and by other stakeholders looking at the value of graduates in particular and higher education in general. I think independent learning will be talked about and interrogated as a concept, a policy and a pedagogical practice much more than previously.