Learning independently can be challenging, even for the brightest and most motivated students. As a means of better understanding the processes involved in this mode of study, this Teaching Tip outlines key components of four key stages to independent learning, known as self-directed learning: being ready to learn, setting learning goals, engaging in the learning process, and evaluating learning.
Step 1: Assess readiness to learn
Students need various skills and attitudes towards learning for successful independent study. This step involves students conducting a self-evaluation of their current situation, study habits, family situation, and support network both at school and at home and also involves evaluating past experiences with independent learning. For a detailed Learning Skills Assessment Tool, read our Readiness to Learn Teaching Tip. Signs of readiness for self-directed learning include being autonomous, organised, self-disciplined, able to communicate effectively, and able to accept constructive feedback and engage in self-evaluation and self-reflection.
Step 2: Set learning goals
Communication of learning goals between a student and the advising instructor is critical. We've developed a set of questions for students to consider as they map out their learning goals: our Unit Planning Decision Guide). Also critical in developing a clear understanding of learning goals between students and instructors are learning contracts. Learning contracts generally include:
- Goals for the unit of study
- Structure and sequence of activities
- Timeline for completion of activities
- Details about resource materials for each goal
- Details about grading procedures
- Feedback and evaluation as each goal is completed
- Meeting plan with the advising instructor
- Agreement of unit policies, such as a policy on late assignments
Once created, contracts should be assessed by the advising faculty member and questions about feasibility should be raised (e.g., What could go wrong? Is there too much or too little work? Is the timeline and evaluation reasonable?).
Step 3: Engage in the learning process
Students need to understand themselves as learners in order to understand their needs as self-directed learning students — referring students to our resource on learning preferences may be helpful. Students should also consider answering the following questions:
- What are my needs re: instructional methods?
- Who was my favourite teacher? Why?
- What did they do that was different from other teachers? Students should reflect on these questions throughout their program and substitute “teacher” with “advising instructor”
Students also need to understand their approach to studying:
- A deep approach to studying involves transformation and is ideal for self-directed learning. This approach is about understanding ideas for yourself, applying knowledge to new situations and using novel examples to explain a concept, and learning more than is required for unit completion.
- A surface approach involves reproduction: coping with unit requirements, learning only what is required to complete a unit in good standing, and tending to regurgitate examples and explanations used in readings.
- A strategic approach involves organization: achieving the highest possible grades, learning what is required to pass exams, memorizing facts, and spending time practicing from past exams.
Earlier academic work may have encouraged a surface or strategic approach to studying. These approaches will not be sufficient (or even appropriate) for successful independent study. Independent study requires a deep approach to studying, in which students must understand ideas and be able to apply knowledge to new situations. Students need to generate their own connections and be their own motivators.
Step 4: Evaluate learning
For students to be successful in self-directed learning, they must be able to engage in self-reflection and self-evaluation of their learning goals and progress in a unit of study. To support this self-evaluation process, they should:
- regularly consult with the advising instructor,
- seek feedback, and
- engage in reflection of their achievements, which involves asking:
- How do I know I’ve learned?
- Am I flexible in adapting and applying knowledge?
- Do I have confidence in explaining material?
- When do I know I’ve learned enough?
- When is it time for self-reflection and when is it time for consultation with the advising faculty member?
Responsibilities in the four-step process
Successful independent study requires certain responsibilities or roles of both students and advising faculty members. The following is a brief list of the more important roles. It is useful for both students and advising faculty members to periodically review this list and communicate as to whether each feels the other is fulfilling their share of the responsibility.
- Self-assess your readiness to learn
- Define your learning goals and develop a learning contract
- Monitor your learning process
- Take initiative for all stages of the learning process — be self-motivated
- Re-evaluate and alter goals as required during your unit of study
- Consult with your advising instructor as required
Advising instructors’ roles
- Build a co-operative learning environment
- Help to motivate and direct the students’ learning experience
- Facilitate students’ initiatives for learning
- Be available for consultations as appropriate during the learning process
- Serve as an advisor rather than a formal instructor
CTE teaching tips
- Graves, N. (Ed.) (1993). Learner managed learning: Practice, theory, and policy. Leeds: AW Angus & Co. Limited.
- Hammond, M. & Collins, R. (1991). Self-directed learning: Critical practice. London: Kogan Page Limited.
- Hiemstra, R. Self-directed web portal.
- Kim, R., Olfman, L., Ryan, T., & Eryilmaz, E. (2014). Leveraging a personalized system to improve self-directed learning in online educational environments. Computers & Education, 70, 150-160.
- Knowles, M.vS. (1986). Using learning contracts: Practical approaches to individualizing and structuring learning. London: Jossey-Bass Publications.
- Simpson, O. (2000). Supporting students in open and distant learning. London: Kogan Page Limited.
- Tait, J. & Knight, P. (1996). The management of independent learning.London: Kogan Page Limited.
PURPOSE OF ESSAY #4:
Although the first semester of your freshman year is far too early to be feeling stress about your choice of major—much less your career—there are productive things you can be doing now to ensure that when the time does come to make these big decisions you will be more likely to make decisions you will be happy with. It's definitely worthwhile at this stage in your life to spend some time in reflecting about your strengths, interests, and motivations. This is the final essay of the semester, and it's worth more than the previous essays because in it you will ideally draw on what you have learned about various disciplines in L&S 1, and also draw on your own evolving insights about your own educational path.
Before sitting down to write your essay, you are required to take these two preparatory steps:
1) On November 4 your section will meet in the Career Counseling Library, just outside the Tang Center on Bancroft Way, instead of in your usual classroom. During your visit to the Career Counseling Library you will learn about a lot of resources to help you identify your interests, personality, values and skills, and you will participate in a hands-on demo of Eureka. If you have a laptop, please bring it with you.
3) Choose at least one of the resources at the Career Counseling Library that you would like to use to complete the essay. If it is an assessment tool, complete the assessment. Otherwise, explore or interact fully with the resource, as a way of coming to a fuller understanding of yourself, your strengths, your interests, aptitudes, talents and values. These resources are listed at the end of the essay prompt, and on the L&S 1 course website.
In addition, you may supplement the resources we have provided by taking this optional preparatory step:
3) Bring in your own methods of self-exploration, such as examining your own preconceptions, parental and peer pressures, and the like.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR COMPLETING ESSAY #4
Once you have completed the preparatory steps above, do the following:
1) Reflect on what you have learned about yourself (your interests, aptitudes, talents, values, etc.) in the process of using these resources, and consider how these things you have learned about yourself differ from or affirm your preconceptions.
2) Based on the results of your self-assessment activities, please select three potential majors to look at for the purposes of this exercise only. Make sure you choose majors actually offered at U.C. Berkeley. The majors don't all have to be in the College of Letters and Science, but they do have to be offered somewhere at Cal. (If you are really drawn to a major not offered at Berkeley, focus on the qualities that are important to you, and see if there is a major at Berkeley that also fits those qualities. If you try hard but still can't find a major at Berkeley that matches your interests, you are required to meet with your section leader about this issue before finalizing and turning in your essay.)
Choose three majors from three different divisions (Arts and Humanities, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, or the Interdisciplinary majors in the Undergraduate Division) in the College of Letters & Science. In other words, even if you think the Arts and Humanities will be the best fit for you, be sure to choose at least two majors from other categories besides the Arts and Humanities. You can look up the divisions at http://ls-advise.berkeley.edu/major/majorlist.html. As with other assignments this semester, we are pushing you a little out of your comfort zone, in this case because it might help you discover something unexpected about yourself. You may want to consider writing about at least one major you never considered before.
3) In the preparation phase of this assignment you chose and used a self-assessment tool or tools from those offered at the Career Counseling Library and/or the L&S 1 website. Now, draw on the tools available to you to explore how good a match these three majors would be for you, based on what you know about yourself so far, and also based on your own research into each of the three majors.
Eureka features information on majors that you might find useful for this aspect of the assignment, as does the handout on "Matching Interests to UC Majors," which you will receive during your visit to the Career Counseling Library and can also find on our course website under "Resources." Departmental websites may also be a good resource.for you as you research the majors. Think not only about the ways these majors match your interests, values and skills, but also about the gaps between what you know about yourself and what you know about the major. Are these gaps bridgeable (and if so, how?) or not, in your estimation?
It is extremely important that you don’t merely lift language about the majors, personality types, etc. from Eureka, departmental homepages, etc. Please digest these sources, and put the insights you gained in your own words. Plagiarism is against the rules and does carry heavy penalties.
4) Did any of the readings or speakers or other assignments for L&S 1 influence your choice of the majors you focused on for this essay? Did anything you learned in L&S 1 up to now give you any insights into these disciplines that you found yourself reflecting upon as you completed this assignment? It's not required, but you can earn up to three bonus points on this essay by incorporating a discussion of anything specific you learned this semester in L&S 1, leading up to this culminating assignment.
OVERALL ESSAY GUIDELINES (4-5 pages):
Now you should be ready to write a short reflective essay. Keep in mind that you can't do justice to everything you discovered about all three majors and your own self in just four to five pages. Instead, we ask that you reflect deeply on yourself (your interests, strengths, personality, etc.) in relation to these three majors, and then focus on the most important, surprising, or interesting insights about yourself that you have gained from doing this exercise, and write about those insights.
Make sure you explicitly mention which tools you used, and when you used them. (Even if you have already done some of these exercises before you came to Cal, we want you to repeat them, or try others: you are growing and evolving, so your results are likely to have changed over time.) Include the score you received or the results you got from the self-assessment tool you used. Also explicitly discuss all three majors, even if your deepest or most surprising insights were mainly connected with only one of the three.
WHAT WE WILL BE LOOKING FOR WHEN SCORING THIS ESSAY:
1) Did you choose three majors actually offered at Cal? Did you demonstrate that you have researched all three majors? (That is, don't merely mention each major, or refer only to the prerequisites or what Eureka says about these majors.)
2) Is each of these three majors in a different division in L&S (or a different college)?
3) Did you use a tool (this semester) to help you figure out how good (or bad) a match these majors are for you? What tool was it, and what were the results?
4) Did you reflect on yourself—your interests, strengths, personality, etc.? Did you discuss each major in relation to your interests, strengths, personality, etc.? How well does your essay convey the reflection you engaged in, and any insights you gained from the exercise?
5) Is your essay well organized, and engagingly and clearly written? Have you avoided wheel spinning and padding, making every word count?
See the syllabus for specific formatting guidelines.
Your essay is due at the beginning of your discussion section on December 2.
A. Online resource that you will sign up for in the Career Counseling Library:
EUREKA - http://www.eureka.org (includes self assessment exercises and does touch on majors)
B. Other resources available in the Career Counseling Library:
Values Card Sort (administered in library)
SkillScan Card Sort (administered in library)
Books on Majors (College Major Handbook, Guide to College Majors, College Majors and Careers, How to Choose a Major, Fishing for a Major, etc.)
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (personality inventory) and the Strong Interest Inventory (identifies general areas of interest, specific work/leisure/school activities of interest, and possible majors and careers student may want to explore): Both tests require at least one extensive meeting with a career counselor, so be sure to make an initial 45-minute appointment in advance by calling the Career Library at 642-2367. Because of the time commitment, The Myers-Brigg and Strong might be better suited for you when you have a little more time at Cal under your belt.
If you are interested in taking an assessment or getting more information about utilizing the available resources and services at the Career Library, please contact the Career Library Manager, Paula Jung, at 642-2367. Paula will be available on a limited basis for walk-ins or individual 30-minute appointments.
D. Resources (courtesy of the Career Counseling Library) that you can download from the L&S 1 site: