What is independent learning in university?

Many of us enter university looking forward to having more independence in choosing our classes, schedules and how we learn.

In high school, independent learning might have looked like personal initiative in managing your assignments. In university, this is only a fraction of the kind of independent learning you will have to do.

Learning independently in university means that you are in charge of your learning, however that might look like. Independent learning doesn’t always mean that you have to figure things out on your own — it also means recognizing when you need support, even if you don’t know what kind. This is a huge part of independent learning!

You are the person in charge of your learning and academic success. Support in independent learning refers to the stage where you might not yet have the skills or know specific strategies for accomplishing your goals, or you might be stuck and need help.

You might think that asking for help is counter-intuitive to what independence means. This is not the case at all! Receiving support in university is what can help you to work better and smarter independently. So, what does independent learning look like in university?

1. Setting and following personal goals

In university, you have a lot of say in what you are working towards. You define your goals and determine the steps needed to achieve them. Setting clear and specific goals about what you want to accomplish and following them are all part of independent learning. No one else can set goals for you or truly know what your goals are, but you can talk to someone about how to identify goals that are meaningful and important to you.

Need some help with this? Book an appointment with your faculty advisor or a Peer Success Coach.

2. Motivation

Learning independently in university means you must motivate yourself during good and bad experiences in your studies. Taking the time to self-reflect is a great way to stay motivated, especially when you experience setbacks.

If you need help figuring out where to start, book an appointment with a Peer Success Coach.

3. Time management

Managing your time is a huge part of your learning experience in university and can be challenging when you’re trying to juggle multiple responsibilities that are a combination of academic and non-academic activities (don’t forget to do your laundry!). This can be even trickier when you have new experiences that you don’t quite know how to plan for, such as labs, co-op, building relationships, etc. No one else knows what your time looks like as well as you do, but you can ask for help on how to plan your time effectively.

Check out the Time Management micro-course for help.

4. Accountability

In university, you must be the one to hold yourself accountable for setting goals, managing your time, motivating yourself, monitoring your progress and learning new skills. Depending on others to hold you accountable can be helpful for motivation, but you will always be accountable to yourself. Think about accountability according to these terms: if you get a bad grade, you are the one who is impacted by it. You play an active role in how you achieve your goals in university, even in times when it feels like you don’t.

If you want help with accountability strategies, book an appointment with a Peer Success Coach.

5. Self-Advocacy

In university, you have to be the one to advocate for what you need so that you receive support to achieve your goals. Advocating for yourself involves being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, knowing who to speak to, being motivated to get help and communicating what you need from others. No one knows what you need better than you, but it might be tricky articulating this and figuring out your next steps.

If you need help with self-advocacy, try the Self-Advocacy micro-course or book a meeting with a Peer Success Coach.

Independent learning is not always straightforward. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. There are many people and resources on campus that can help you throughout your studies.