Educators today must learn to embrace independent learning because as technology continues to change the classroom environment, more and more students can readily identify as independent learners. A study of independent learning has now become required for most education majors. Research papers on independent learning are common in order to introduce future teachers to the nuances of the independent learner. What once was restricted to the student that purposefully isolated themselves in the classroom or social environment can now come to encompass students that seek out their education from the privacy of their own home. An independent learner no longer has to just be an isolated, perhaps antisocial learner and can instead be a student that is engaged with their academics through the virtual world and in American education, often in a cyber-school, home schools, or through distance education at the collegiate level. Independent learners are becoming much more common as our modern-day classroom changes, altering the responsibilities of student and instructor alike.
Benefits of Fostering Independent Learners
Learning is holistic and should not be considered the memorization of sets of isolated facts, but the understanding of the interrelated concepts that govern our world. For teachers to effectively facilitate learning, they must offer a variety of activities that employ all of the intelligences, and most important they must offer flexibility. Personalities of each individual are different and no two children will always choose, or be able to, learn information in the same way. Therefore, offering activities of different learning styles is not just enough, teachers need to offer choice. Children need to learn in a process that is a natural for them as possible, for learning is a natural process. Just a few of the benefits for fostering independent learning are listed here:
- Independent learners have the ability to move at their own pace throughout the content being presented.
- Those students that require additional help can obtain it without slowing down their classmates; those students that can move through the material more quickly are also free to do so, eliminating many behavioral or conduct-related problems that are often a symptom of boredom.
- Independent learning also allows adult learners to achieve their educational goals despite whatever personal schedules they might have to maintain.
- Balancing the responsibilities of school, family, and work can be made much more easier when students have the freedom to learn independently, seeking out the instructor's help only when needed most.
Independent Learner and Cognitive Theory
The stimulus that a teacher provides in the learning environment should be offered as a means to actively engage the child in exploration, which will result in learning. Children actively will try to make sense out of their environment. They will seek to solve problems and in the process internalize the facts and relevance of the information. Much as the T-Rex in Jurassic Park didn't want to be fed, preferring to hunt, children do not want to be supplied with information, but given the opportunity to learn for themselves. Cognitive theory recognizes the need for the child to be in control of their inquiry and to realize results for himself.
The idea of learning through developing and changing schemata was perfected by one of the most prominent cognitive psychologists, Piaget. Whether or not you believe that children enter the world as such, they certainly do not enter the classroom as blank slates; their prior knowledge and experience have an immense effect on their learning. These experiences are stored, in the form of schema, and will be used to interpret related situations. This previously learned information helps individuals to adapt new information into their understanding either by assimilating the new knowledge or by accommodating their understanding. Because learning is so fundamentally tied to previous knowledge, a teacher who does not take into account the diverse backgrounds of his students and provide for the variety of needs, will not be successful in facilitating learning in all students. Through cognitive theory we know that learning must follow a natural progression and build upon previous knowledge, for each child.
The individual is the center from which learning progresses. The personality of the individual sets the tone for the process. By nature extroverted children and introverted children do not process information in the same way. While each can enhance the learning of the other, they must have an arsenal of experiences at their disposal in order to learn equally. The personality that is innate will dictate to some extent the learning style that the child prefers and the modalities through which he learns best. Understanding the importance of the child in the learning process seems elementary, but so many educators envision first the value of the teacher in the process, and then they cannot understand why their efforts fail.