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Independent Learning

A definition of independent learning

One definition of independent learning or ‘autonomy’ in learning is:

“…the ability to take charge of one’s learning” H. Holec, 1981

Independent learning is usually developed throughout a learner’s time at school or college to give learners more responsibility for work or learning. It helps learners to make informed choices and to take responsibility for deciding what they need to do in order to learn. To do this and to have the motivation to learn independently, learners need to:

· feel confident about taking and acting upon decisions

· appreciate the value of reflecting on learning

· decide whether learning has been effective or whether they need to try another approach.

A focus on learning and not teaching

Independent learning means that learners make decisions about their learning rather than relying on their teachers to do it for them. At first, many learners find this challenging. When they are more familiar with it, they realise that it allows them to focus on their own individual needs and to take account of the way they prefer to learn.

Does independent learning mean working on your own?

Independent learning is not only about ‘isolated’ or ‘unaided’ learning, or operating without the help of teachers. It is as much about sharing ideas and problems and working together to resolve those problems. Talking things through and explaining ideas to each other can help learners to clarify issues and understand concepts more fully. The characteristics of independent learning can just as easily be demonstrated by a group working together as by an individual.

What are independent learning skills?

Independent learning, also referred to elsewhere as self-directed learning, is about learners:

  • setting their own goals and deadlines

  • organising themselves and their work

  • evaluating their use of time

  • evaluating your work as a teacher.

Tips for creating independent learning



Linking key skills, independent learning and the expert learner

A process that underpins the acquisition of all key skills is the cycle of Plan – Do – Reflect – Review.


These skills underpin both independent learning and the concept of the expert learner. They encourage learners of any age and stage of development to:

  • think about their intentions and purposes

  • plan a course of action

  • implement the plan

  • reflect on their progress towards the plan

  • review the plan to suit changing circumstances or to overcome problems

  • devise a new plan when the original one has been fulfilled.

In particular, the wider key skill of improving own learning and performance encompasses a range of process skills, interpersonal skills and personal qualities that align closely with the skills and attributes of the expert learner.


It would therefore be possible to accredit aspects of development of the expert learner using the Improving Own Learning Performance (IOLP) key skills framework at whatever level was appropriate.

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