August 12th, 2008

Independent Learning Wisdom Rings True After 30-Plus Years


I had an interesting accident of technology yesterday. I was trying to read the most recent issue of Innovative Higher Education. I entered the year correctly but then listed the volume number as 1 when that was the issue I wanted. I didn’t note the error and began reviewing the table of contents as it downloaded. An article on independent studies. Great, I thought. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an article on that topic. I downloaded the pdf and the article did not disappoint me.

It talked about how this kind of tutoring is very different from what faculty normally do with students. I marked this quote: “The single student, in hot pursuit of a one-to-one confrontation leading to knowledge, enlightenment, even (God help us) the truth, can be a quite threatening prospect. Moreover, the things most faculty do best may very well not work when the relative safety of the classroom is replaced by an existential encounter with a student sitting just a few feet away. Obviously, one cannot lecture across the corner of the desk.” (p.62)

The article proceeded to explain how with independent studies the teacher is less the knowledge source and more the identifier of knowledge sources that the student will benefit from by consulting. “Very little is taught in the independent study; much is learned.” (p. 66) The article also offers advice on helping students identify topics, goals and projects for the independent study.

It concludes with this beautiful description of what can happen for students during independent studies and why they are such a powerful pedagogical tool. “The independent study student thus learns how to learn, which is more fundamental than learning what to learn, and in the process, begins to associate learning with something she or he is in charge of, can develop, can structure, can do alone, instead of something imposed from the outside, taking place in a certain setting … .” (p. 67)

Excellent article, I thought and then I discovered the article appeared in the first ever issue of the journal. The journal even had a different name then. At first I was disappointed but then I realized that through this technology accident I learned again how some pedagogical wisdom is not time bound.

Reference: Lamdin, L., and Worby, D. (1976). Across the desk: Teaching through independent study. Alternative Higher Education, 1 (1), 61-67.