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Independent learning: an opportunity to thrive

If you ask any student about studying at university, they should mention the fact that you will be expected to work independently. But what does this actually mean, and how does it differ from studying at school or college?

The term independent learning is thrown around a lot in the run-up to entering university, but it is sometimes difficult to know what this truly means. In truth, it means that in order to be successful you must motivate yourself to achieve; unlike in school, nobody will do that for you.

If you have questions, it is up to you to ask your lecturers to clarify what they mean. If you want those extra marks, it is up to you to take on further reading. If you ask me, it’s the perfect opportunity; you are able to reap the rewards of the effort you put in. At university it truly is those who are able to push themselves to learn that will succeed.

You are not completely left alone – all of the resources you need are at your disposal – but you’ll need to learn to find and use them when the time comes. So, the question remains, how do you effectively develop the kind of mindset needed to be successful in this environment?

If you’re entering higher education, you must have spent some time at sixth form or college. I have always thought of these environments as kind of halfway points; somewhere in the middle of the spoon feeding that often takes place at school and the independence of university. Since beginning my studies at university this notion has not changed: colleges provide a stepping stone into learning to take control of your own education. So, if you’ve been successful enough at college to win yourself a university place, you’re already on your way to knowing how to work independently.

Everything that was expected of you within the setting of sixth form/college, managing your time well, sticking to deadlines, motivating yourself to complete work and attend every class, continues to be expected of you at university. Nobody will force you to hit your deadlines – of course, there is no such thing as a detention for unfinished work in higher education – your grades will simply reflect the fact work has not been handed in.

Of course, it is important not to expect university to simply be exactly the same as sixth form – there are clear and important differences. Most notably, you will need to check for work given to you on blackboard more regularly than perhaps you might; reminders from lecturers will be few and far between.

This is the effect of the expectation that as you go through different stages of education, the control you must take over your own learning will be greater. This can seem like a worrying part of life at university, but it may also grant you an opportunity to achieve that you’ve never had before.

For more advice and guidance on independent study skills, visit Learning at Lincoln, where this article is also featured.

Please note: This content was created prior to Coronavirus, and some things might be different due to current laws and restrictions. Please refer to the University of Lincoln for the latest information.

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