Group of students studying. September 6

Getting Students to Take Responsibility for Learning

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I’ve been writing for years that we need to teach in ways that encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning. Recently, it became clear that my thinking on this needed more detail and depth. I’ve been saying that it means students should be doing the learning tasks that make them stronger learners. They should be figuring out what’s important in the reading, rather than having the teacher to tell them. They should be taking notes rather than expecting to get the teacher’s slides and notes.


self-regulated learners September 6

Ways to Promote Student Responsibility for Learning

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As noted in the Teaching Professor Blog post, student responsibility for learning can happen in three different arenas. First and foremost, students are responsible for their learning. Teachers can encourage and support learning endeavors in a variety of ways, but students must do the learning.

Second, students should have responsibility for all those tasks that improve learning and develop learning skills—the kind of tasks teachers do so regularly that students have come to believe that they are teacher responsibilities. It’s the teachers’ job to tell them what’s important, review what they need to know and provide every assignment detail. However, doing for students what they should be doing on their own creates dependent learners. They’re unable to make decisions or don’t make very good ones, and they resist assuming responsibility for the very parts of the learning process that enable them to learn.

Finally, there are responsibilities that students could share with teachers. Students could be given some say in how the class is run, how they will learn the content, and how that learning is assessed. Students can be involved in providing feedback and evaluating the work of their peers. Sharing responsibilities with students empowers them as learners.

Teachers frequently talk with students about their responsibilities as learners, but telling students doesn’t usually garner the desired results. However, a number of faculty are using strategies, approaches, activities, and assignments designed in a way that they can’t be completed without students assuming some responsibility for learning. Here’s a collection of ideas with references for those that have been published.

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students high fiving December 3, 2015

Self-Directed Learning: Antecedents and Outcomes

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Most faculty now recognize the importance of students being able to direct their own learning. It’s what positions them for a lifetime of learning. And most faculty also recognize that many of our students are more dependent than self-directed. They want the teacher to make most, if not all, of the learning decisions for them. “What do you want in this assignment?” “How long should it be?” “Do I need to have references?” “What do I need to know for the test?” “How many homework problems should I do?” All these are questions self-directed learners ask and answer for themselves.


students in class September 28, 2015

Why Policies Fail to Promote Better Learning Decisions

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Policies are necessary. They serve as a warning to students: this is what will happen if you are absent, miss an exam, turn work in late, text or surf the Web during class, and the like. Most institutions recommend teachers spell out consequences in their syllabi. Some schools employ institution-wide policies for certain behaviors like academic dishonesty. If policies are supposed to prevent these unproductive behaviors, why do students still engage in them? Are there reasons why policies don’t work?


Professor helping student June 8, 2015

How to Avoid Being a Helicopter Professor

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For years there has been talk about shifting a professor’s role from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” But as some teachers leave the center stage, they may not move to the side as guides. Instead, they may find themselves hovering above students as helicopter parents hover over their children. While a complete lack of guidance is not a good idea, excessive guiding could turn constructivist scaffolds into new forms of crutches.


October 26, 2010

Developing Students’ Self-Directed Learning Skills

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Self-directed learning skills involve the ability to manage learning tasks without having them directed by others. They are skills necessary for effective lifelong learning and are one of many learning skills students are expected to develop in college. The expectation is that students will become self-directed learners as they mature and gain content knowledge. Here’s a study showing how students can become self-directed with explicit instruction.