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The UnCollege Blog

What is Independent Learning All About?

Doesn't it feel good when you master a new skill? Isn't it especially nice when you plotted the course and planned exactlly how you would go about learning it? This is the sensation independent learners experience on a regular basis. They captain their own learning ship and don't constrain their efforts to the classroom walls.

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Independent learners are the core of our community. They have the advantage of being flexible and critical thinkers. But what does that really mean? What do we mean when we describe independent learners? And as a friend or parent, how do you support independent learning?

Independent learning is education taken on outside of the classroom, and directed by the learner’s curiosity. It can be a great way to engage a bright young adult who struggles in traditional academic environments, or an enterprising A+ student who wants to stand out from his or her peers. Independent learning can look unfamiliar; goals replace assignments, projects replace classwork, and the internet amongst other tools replaces traditional textbooks. Examples of independent learning projects are:

Why do we support independent learners?

Independent learning focuses on the process as well as the goal. Learners are not given a road map similar to those found in schools, but instead they will have to rely on themselves to be resourceful and find their way forward. Along the way, they will pick up real life skills like organization, time-management, and budgeting. Students in self-regulated independent learning environments are shown to have improved academic performance, increased motivation and confidence, and greater awareness of their limitations and their ability to manage them.

How do you support independent learning?

There are many ways to support independent learners. From emotional support to being there to physically take them to a class or library, the possibilities are limitless. Here are some of our favorites:

Take all of their questions seriously and encourage curiosity.

This is a must to demonstrate that you are supportive of their independent learning. Do your best to answer every question – no matter how ludicrous it might sound. Just saying you are "tired," or "don't really care," will take the wind out of their sails. If you have no idea how to answer, try to send them in a direction where they light uncover the answer or just offer to listen as they think the problem out.

Invite them to events.

If you are older than the learner you are supporting, consider taking them with you to events such as professional development meetups, films and more. This might help you discover new topics your teen is interested in pursuing.

Point things out, but don’t hand them over.

When you discover something – a book, an article, a workshop – that they might enjoy, point it out. That said, do not force it upon them. They might have a full schedule and don't have the bandwidth to take on a new resource.

Recognize that every situation presents a learning opportunity.

Similar to working from home as a professional, it's important to leave time to relax. Make sure they have space to do so, but recognize that every experience can be a lead to a discovery. Even watching television at home in your living can be a learning experience if you ask the right questions.

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