Autonomous learning is a phrase that continues to crop up in many areas of education, from language learning, increasing motivation, and above all, to ensuring that students take ownership of their work.
Put simply, this learning style puts the power in the students’ hands, whether this is deciding the format of their work, or how much detail is required. The overwhelming result is that students can learn how to think critically, increase engagement and persist in learning.
The spoon-feeding scenario
Despite teachers’ best attempts to foster autonomy, it seems that all too many students have become accustomed to being told exactly what to do, and how to do it. This expectation has driven conscientious teachers into creating detailed handouts, powerpoints and other resources, to take the pressure off students.
As thoughtful as this may be, the students’ levels of effort and motivation may diminish from their lack of responsibility. This process can therefore be detrimental to both teachers’ and students’ workloads, but you can take the power back in your classroom.
By giving students ownership of their work, you allow them to explore how they work best, to work out problems on their own, and to use their initiative. By focusing on the areas they enjoy the most, it has also been reported that teachers more readily gain the respect of their students(1).
Whilst covering the lifespan of a historical event, a teacher could encourage students to research from their preferred resources, and to present it how they best see fit. The results, to name a few, could include:
Focusing on one specific event vs. the entire period
Compiling research from internet, books, films, newspapers clippings or memorabilia
Creation of a storyboard, quiz, timeline, web page, newspaper article, diary entry or script
By putting trust into your students, gaining their respect and building their confidence, they can really see a point to their work, and this is an eays way to implement autonomy in the classroom. Taking ownership then increases motivation, and champions students to persist in learning and grow into decisive and analytical adults, undoubtedly lifelong skills.
Strike while the iron’s hot
The problem that we face, is that autonomous learning isn’t something that is necessarily taught, but a process that students can be exposed to. This may be why many students find the leap between GCSE and A-Level (and more so, University) to be no mean feat, and begs the question, what can be done to ease students into ‘the real world’ from an early age?
Nurturing young minds in this way can have a real impact on creating individuals that question rather than accept information, that can tackle a problem from multiple angles rather than the one way they are told, and reflect upon their own learning styles and the ups and downs they’ll face to aim higher and achieve more. So why not hand over the reins and see what your students are capable of?