What does it mean to be an independent learner?

Studying at university involves a lot more independent (self) study than in secondary school. Dr Marc Fabri, project lead for Autism&Uni, shares his expectations of students working as independent learners at university.

Photograph of Marc Fabri

Studying at university involves a lot more independent (self) study than in secondary school. While subjects involving a lot of practical sessions can lead to very busy timetables, for many courses there is relatively little contact (teaching) time and a lot of reading and note-taking to do outside of lectures.

The amount of learning material is much larger, it has to be mastered in a shorter period of time and it is not repeated as frequently as it was in school or college. Outside of tests, assignments and exams, nobody will be checking whether or not you understand what you are learning. That’s both interesting and challenging – sometimes school can feel like you’re just doing what you’re told and ticking boxes of doing all the work only doing as much work as you need to so you can pass exams. At university, you’re in control of what work you do, how much and when.

You have to learn how to quickly and effectively extract the most important elements from what you read and hear and to make a distinction between types of source (librarians can help you with this, and often run sessions on how to work more effectively become information literate). While your course will have a reading list, you’ll also need to a) work out which are the most important items on the list and b) read beyond that. A lot.

On top of that, you have to manage your time – when you get up, when you eat, leave for teaching sessions, do all the other work, go to any appointments you have booked, have a life outside study, go to bed…

“Modules are moving too fast, and I do not have time to learn all the things I would like to. I am slow at reading and hearing and my memory is bad. The speed of completing assignments and note-taking is also slow, as I tend to be a very neat and precise writer. There is no time to properly read books on the subject .” (current student)

About Marc Fabri

Marc Fabri is a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University.