Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Becoming an independent learner: first things first

How to become an independent learner: starting off as you mean to carry on

Robert L. Fielding
The Learning Process

Knowing what a bicycle is and how it works is not the same thing as being able to get on it and ride it.   You need to be shown how to do it, and then you need practice doing it before you feel fully confident and able to ride it well.

Most activities are this way, aren’t they.  You watch a famous tennis player serving an ace – it looks easy, doesn’t it?  But when you try it, you find that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.

You may have read what an independent learner is (see this site), and have understood what you have read, but that still doesn’t mean you know what to do to become one, does it?

Like learning how to ride a bike or swim or play tennis, you need to be shown a few techniques first, you need to think, and you need to try things out for yourself.  After all, to be independent is to act alone, to follow your own intuition and to work out what works for you as well as what doesn’t.  Enough said; let’s see what you can do first.

The Independent Learner
Take a self-evaluation test to find out if you are an independent learner or not.  
Click here: http://www.ppcc.edu/Academics/DistanceEducation/SelfTest.cfm

Are you the kind of person who wants to be independent?
If you want to do something with your life, want to really achieve something, enjoy life to the full – if you realize that there will be disappointments in your life, that not everything will go as you expect or hope, then learner independence is for you.

If you have some belief in yourself, can take criticism, or would dearly like to be that way, then again, learner autonomy is for you.

First and foremost, the desire to become independent, think independently and act in the same way, according to the dictates of your own conscience, your own feelings, and your own ambitions, is a state of mind.  Once you think you want to become an independent learner, here are some of the characteristics you will need to develop and acquire.
Typical characteristics of the independent learner
You are unlikely to possess all these characteristics in equal measure or as outlined below.  However, learner autonomy is more of a process – perhaps one without an end, rather than a state.  Don’t mourn the fact that you do not possess these qualities in abundance, but rather work on each of them in order to increase your independence as a learner.  Here are the categories.
  1. diligence
This means working hard and working with care and attention.  It means caring about your work, which in turn means being honest and having pride in what you have achieved.
  1. ability to concentrate
Being able to concentrate on something isn’t always easy – in fact, more often than not, it is difficult; there are so many things to distract you.  You need space and time, and your own willingness to concentrate.  Concentrating on something that is interesting is not that difficult, providing you have time and space, but getting down to thinking about something that is not that interesting, but that has to be learned and understood is.
You need your friends and significant others to give you the space, the peace and quiet and the time to exercise your mental capacities, and you need to have the self-discipline, the tenacity and stamina to work things through until you know what they mean.
  1. motivation
Motivation; wanting to do the thing you are doing or have to do is everything.  Being motivated can and will make all the difference to how independent you become, and how successful you are for make no mistake, achieving learner autonomy will require a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the end.
  1. conscientiousness
This is something like honesty, being honest enough to avoid shortcuts or easy ways out of something.  Cutting corners, ignoring things that take a little longer to understand, are all things you should work at avoiding.  If you cheat, or you are dishonest, it will quickly become evident.  The first person to discover this will be yourself, but others will find out soon enough too.
  1. an ability to reflect critically on what you do
Looking back at what you have just done is very valuable, and goes hand in hand with honesty and motivation.  Stepping back from a task you are in the middle of and asking yourself certain questions is also of great value, particularly if you answer your own questions truthfully.
  • Where is what I am doing right now leading me?

  • Am I on the right path doing this?

  • Why did I do it this way and not the other way?

  • Can I improve my methods?

  • What have I learned?

  • How will I know if and when I have been successful?
Questions like these should be uppermost in your mind as you work on solving a problem.  
  1. an ability to correct oneself
If you are honest, motivated and can reflect on what you are doing, you should have no trouble correcting yourself.  The act of stopping what you are doing, realizing it is wrong, starting again and this time doing it better is one of the most rewarding things you can do.  It doesn’t feel rewarding to begin with, but once you work out the best way for you, the rewards will soon appear.  Conversely, if you go blindly on even though a little voice in your head tells you that what you are doing is not the best way, you will also be rewarded, but this time with the disappointment of failure.
  1. an ability to choose tasks based on one’s language ability
Knowing your own level can be to your advantage, but not trying to raise your abilities because of your fear of failing can never benefit you.
  1. an awareness that different tasks demand a different type of knowledge  
Ask yourself what it means to know a word.  It means knowing a lot of things about it – some are obvious, but some are not.
  • Spelling

  • Meaning

  • Part of speech

  • Pronunciation

  • Which words it normally accompanies

  • How often it is used

  • The register in which it is most commonly used
Can you think of any more?  Now apply this feature of knowledge to other areas of your studies.  Be aware – know the questions to ask, even if you don’t know the answers – yet!  
  1. an awareness of how you learn and how to progress: the learning process
The learning process isn’t merely finding the answers to questions, although it includes that.  It is about discovering how to arrive at the answer, the solution to your problem by different means and in ways that stimulate your curiosity to go on discovering – once you start, you won’t want to stop – what you are really discovering is how your mind works.

Manage your time
  • Actively identify or decide what is most important and most urgent
Prioritizing accurately will help you achieve deadlines – it doesn’t matter how much work you have put in or how brilliant your work is, if you hand it in late you will suffer – your work might not be accepted
  • Balance your studies and your own time
Don’t work yourself to a standstill – eat when you are hungry and rest when you are tired, getting too hungry or too tired will adversely affect everything you do.

Make sure you do not neglect friends and family members – though they will have to get used to seeing a little less of you when you are busy – explain this to them and they will support you – that’s what friends and family members do.

  • Use your time effectively – know where you need to be to get what you need
Don’t run around in a blind panic – start the day knowing where you have to go and the optimum order to reach each destination and complete the task.

Here are some links for more information on how to manage your time.


At 7:13 PM , Blogger hind said...

Thank you very much for posting this article on the web . Such an illuminating piece of writing.

At 9:37 PM , Blogger Avaykumar Mondal said...

Thank you for sharing your great experience as article. Thanks a lot.


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