Jill West is a Cengage author, and an instructor at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
Although children are born with an inborn curiosity, few children develop sophisticated learning skills without guidance. Instructors can have the greatest impact on students’ success by not only covering all learning styles but also entertaining them. It’s teaching students how to be independent learners.
This is where you come in.
Independent learners are motivated to learn, can manage their learning activities well, and can problem-solve to maximize their learning experience. While some of these skills can only be learned from within, it is important to establish relationships with your students as you help them to become independent. If students know that you care about them, they will be more interested in the material they are learning.
Independent learners thrive on relationships
My first semester at college was a difficult one. It could have been a disaster that would have ruined my academic career. I was in mental-crisis mode when I entered a Psychology class. I didn’t have any books, my bag, or anything else. My professor saw me and he was very impressed with me. He gave me a notebook with a pen and continued lecturing. He provided me with a sense of normalcy, grace, and a sense of security in the midst of chaos. As I dealt with the other issue over the next few days, I wanted nothing more that to continue showing up to his classes and doing well. He made a huge difference in my life.
As I work with my students, I remind myself that even the smallest gesture that acknowledges their struggles or their value can be what they hold onto as they move forward. Your connections and actions are key to building relationships and fostering independent learning.
Communicate, Communicate and Communicate
Communication is the foundation of good relationships. Your students should know that you are there to support them.
Outline Clear Expectations.
If a student doesn’t know what they are aiming for, it’s difficult for them to hit a target. Students can use rubrics, guidelines, or a syllabus to help them gauge their progress. Regular reminders can help students reduce the cognitive load.
Students don’t need to be social butterflies. However, students who are willing to ask questions and ensure they understand the expectations of the course will benefit. Encourage students to join the conversation and be mentally present with them when they reach out. This will help them feel heard and understood.
WebAssign Tip – If you want to help students develop communication skills, assign College Success or Math Mindset modules.
In an online environment, I offer many opportunities for students to communicate one-on-1, whether it’s via email or impromptu videos calls. Although most of my information is repeated to many students I tailor it to each student by asking questions about their specific challenges. This allows me to build a relationship with students and help them identify their challenges.
Establish Progress Checks.
I keep track of each student’s progress and reach out to them if I notice a student falling behind or if I see a low grade on an assignment or test. It’s amazing how productive an email that simply states, “I noticed that you got behind” can be. Is everything okay? What kind of help do you require?
Independent Learners Benefit from Self-Discovery, Reflection and Self-Reflection
A successful independent learner is able to problem-solve to maximize their learning and find resources to answer their queries. These skills can be developed by instructors.
Activities for Information Discovery
Although discussion boards are not something that many instructors like, I love the opportunity to interact with students. I try to include activities that allow students to discover information, share their knowledge, or showcase something they have created. It’s an opportunity for us all to reflect on our learnings and answer any questions.
Possibilities for Self-Reflection
Some students require more support in the beginning of a class. I look for micro-opportunities that allow me to gradually hand over responsibility for their learning. We discuss their questions and the resources they can use to answer them. I highlight patterns in the material and celebrate what we learn from our mistakes. I also celebrate those moments when they solve problems on their own.
Every student in my class must develop an independence with the material. This is the foundational task. They will leave knowing that they are more capable than they were at the beginning.
Independent Learners Value Freedom & Responsi