What are key attributes to being an independent learner and how to develop those within a classroom?

Independent learning can be thought of as the need of self-actualisation (Maslow, 1943) and the need for self-determination (Deci et al., 1991). This means an independent learner is someone who has a sense of purpose with their learning and has taken control over their goals in order to seek personal fulfilment (Holec, 1981). Independent learners are also more likely to be persistent, accountable for their learning, listen attentively, work conscientiously and strive to relate new information to what they already know with little or no instruction. These key attributes are essential to independent learners as it supports their memory, retrieval and critical thinking to transfer knowledge across a wide range of contexts within their learning. Finally, independent learners have strong ‘effective skills’ which refers to the ability to manage feelings – the most important part of which is the ability to delay gratification.

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What makes a good independent learner?

According to self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000), teachers can help pupils become independent learners by raising their intrinsic motivation. This can be seen by challenging pupils with realistic goals, generating curiosity, giving pupils control and choices of their activities and having activities involving make believe stories. It is also the teacher’s job to scaffold their learning, using dialogic teaching and effective questioning to support their pupils. This has to be gradual as students need a history of doing well, so they can look back and see past achievements (Wigfield et al., 2006). Building an inclusive environment that follows a flexible path in all schemes of work will encourage pupils to become more academically motivated (Sage and Kindermann, 1991). This is because pupils will be surrounded by like-minded individuals who can model independent learning (Ryan, 2001). Overall, it is best for pupils to believe that it is their own behaviour rather than external circumstances that leads to success.

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Self-determination Theory

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