It is our duty, not only to educate our students, but to instill in them skills that will help them to succeed in a life outside of education. By encouraging our students to become autonomous learners we are preparing them for life in higher education and beyond, be it their career or family life.
1) Stop spoon-feeding
Students have become accustomed to teachers telling them everything they need to do and the way in which they must do it to the extent that they are unable to think for themselves when faced with an out of school situation.
Students must learn to develop independence; there’s always the fear that what they think will be wrong and that there is a right and wrong in regards to everything, but if they are not given the option to think, it will be difficult for them to differentiate between the two.
2) Implement autonomy
Students need to learn to be independent and need to know when to use it and when to seek advice so set your students a task where a part of the assignment is to complete it through the use of their own initiative and see where that takes them. The idea is not to spoon-feed but to guide.
3) Increase responsibility
To feel truly motivated and ambitious, and to succeed and do well, students need to be given responsibility where they feel like they are placed in a position of leadership and guidance to others and doing this can increase autonomy and engagement. The empowerment and confidence triggered by being held responsible for something gives the student the impression that they are trusted and this will increase their motivation.
4) Start early
Autonomous learning cannot be taught but rather, students can be exposed to autonomy; the earlier they are exposed, the better they will do and the faster they will learn to trust their own instincts.
Autonomy is usually presented at GCSE level where students are given coursework and revision to undergo independently, and this is where the struggle begins; because they have not been exposed to it earlier, understanding the development of a revision technique can be difficult, so the earlier the better.
Independent projects should be implemented from the beginning of secondary education, for example, in History, pupils are given the task of conducting and presenting research on any topic of their choice. This enables them to do their own research and present it their own way. By doing this, you as the teacher are able to see their ability and explore how you can help and guide them to do better.
5) Encourage creativity
Set tasks that encourage students to think for themselves and be creative from a young age. It allows them to expand their mind and method of thinking, and as a result they become independent and autonomous. They learn to trust themselves and their own instincts, and this is valuable for them to understand about independent learning later on in their academic life.
If you want to adapt your current teaching techniques to encourage autonomy from your students, explore the flipped learning model as this lends itself to students working independently in order to become autonomous learners.