Autonomous Learning

The Road to Autonomous Learning

We live in an exciting age of innovation. Technology plays an enormous role in that virtually every technology sector we can point to today is advancing exponentially. However, change in academic institutions globally is lamentable, with centuries-old, lecture-based approaches to teaching and outmoded classrooms. COVID-19 has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time.


The tectonic shifts in society occur when unexpected events force widespread experimentation around a new idea. During World War II, for instance, when American men went off to war, women proved that they could do “men’s work”- and do it well. Women never looked back after that. Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing global experimentation with remote teaching/learning. There are many indicators that this crisis is going to transform many aspects of life. Education could be one of them only if remote learning/teaching proven to be successful.

However, it is important to realise that you need to "renovate before you innovate"! The lack of readiness of the students to embrace the new way of learning is of utmost concern.   To embrace the remote learning/teaching, children are required to be ready with the new competency: Autonomous Learning Skills.

What do we mean by autonomous learning? Betts and Knapp (1981) define autonomous learning as “one who solves problems or develops new ideas through a combination of divergent and convergent thinking and functions with minimal external guidance in selected areas of endeavour.” Kember (1997) refers to autonomous learning as student-centered learning, shifting the focus of education from teaching to learning. The new technologies have given us the unique abilities to accomplish this task with greater success.


Instructors in any modality- traditional or online- often find that instilling autonomy in students a challenge that some might even find it a fruitless endeavour. However, regardless of the outcome, encouraging student autonomy is a worthy endeavour as it will enable students to think critically and take ownership of their work in all areas of life. Benjamin Bloom theorised that learning occurs in levels. Bloom developed the taxonomy for the cognitive domain of learning- a linear progression through knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, and synthesis to evaluation. When an instructor encourages students to move through the cycle of Bloom's stages, he or she simultaneously encourages student autonomy (Smith & Darvis, 2017). Besides, to create an autonomous learning context, the instructor needs to create a safe learning environment where students feel comfortable interacting with instructors and peers; in this learning environment, students take responsibility for their own learning and they have the full control in the journey of achieving their goal. Learning environments should also emphasize personal relevance by providing concrete, personal-relevant experiences that serve as catalysts for constructing individual meaning (Kwak & Ke, 2013). Learners need regular practice in assessment to become self-monitoring.

References: Smith, V. D., & Darvas, J. W. (2017). Encouraging Student Autonomy Through Higher Order Thinking Skills. Journal of Instructional Research, 6(1), 29-34.

Kwak, D., & Ke, F. (2013). Constructs of student-centered online learning on learning satisfaction of a diverse student body: A structural equstion modelling approach. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 48(1), 97-122.

Garver, M. S., & Roberts, B. A. (2013). Flipping & Clicking your way to higher-order learning. . Marketing Education Review, 23(1), 17-21.

Betts, G. T., & Knapp, J. (1981). Autonomous learning and the gifted: A secondary model.Secondary programs for the gifted and talented.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics' conceptions of teaching.Learning and instruction,7(3), 255-275.

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