How independent learning eases students' transition to university

How independent learning eases students

Research has shown that guiding students to become independent learners can result in improved academic outcomes, increased confidence and a greater ability to problem-solve, as opposed to relying on direction from others.

However, studies have also shown that independent learning is crucial for students’ transition to university, which is often an anxiety-inducing time for many young people.

In a recent article posted by the Media Centre for Education Research Australia – an independent non-profit organisation based at Flinders University in South Australia – Professor Stella Vosniadou explains how, with the turn to online education during COVID-19, she identified self-regulated learning as a valuable tool that could help students profit from online instruction and ease this critical transition.

“Learning can be improved, and it is more effective when students can control their motivational states, use effective strategies to manage their thinking, and reflect upon their learning processes and outcomes,” Professor Vosniadou said.

“Self-regulated learners have the knowledge and skills required to reflect on their own learning, especially on the areas they need to improve”.

According to Professor Vosnadiou, independent learning skills can help students benefit from online instruction, which has become common in many schools following the switch to remote and flexible learning.

Students lack strategies to manage self-regulated learning

Professor Vosniadou said that while a lack of self-regulated learning has become recognised as a barrier in the school-to-university transition, many students do not know much about their own learning process and do not have strategies to manage it.

“One problem is that schools do not have sufficient time or resources to devote to teaching learning skills,” she explained.

“Rather, they are pressured to cover course content”.

Professor Vosniadou pointed to research showing that while nearly all (98.8%) of Australian teachers said that self-regulated learning skills are important, only 32% included them in lesson planning.

However, she also pointed out that the teaching of content is deeply connected with the teaching of strategies about how to critically process this content and that the two should go hand in hand.

Another concern, says Professor Vosniadou, is the inadequate testing of students’ skills to regulate their learning.

“Although students usually do difficult tests on their background knowledge in different subjects, they are very rarely assessed on whether they possess the skills necessary to manage their learning in an effective way,” she said.

“Universities can address this by testing such skills at university entrance. This could prompt secondary schools to focus on these skills”.

Professor Vosniadou said that rather than focusing on just learning content for each subject, promoting self-regulated learning requires that teachers design constructive and interactive tasks that students can use to process content information critically.

“It also requires teaching students the strategies needed for the successful completion of such tasks,” she added.

The author highlights the Australian Science and Mathematics Schoolas an example of an institution that implements self-regulated learning skills into its curriculum through its Learning Studies Program.

A joint project between Flinders University and ASMS, supported by a discovery grant from the Australian Research Council, is currently investigating ways to help teachers from schools in the larger Adelaide area to learn how to promote independent and self-regulated learning in their classrooms.

“The students discuss the subjects they are doing, the difficulties they are facing, and articulate and revise their goals,” she said.

“The teacher provides information relevant to knowledge about learning and learning strategies, such as time management, goal setting, and positive mindset”.

Professor Vosniadou said there is evidence that such programmes can help teachers create learning environments conducive to self-regulated learning.

“These programmes require that educators give less emphasis to providing only subject content and more emphasis on helping students acquire the skills and strategies needed to understand content critically, to create independent learners.”

The original version of this story appeared in an article published by the Media Centre for Education Research Australia (MCERA).