Learning IndependenceWe’ve now covered four of the five elements along the learning continuum. The last element, indeed, the ultimate goal is to create independent learners. Independent learners take responsibility for their motivation and growth, and are led by curiosity and the drive to build their knowledge and skills. Independent learners treat their learning as a prized possession that they must take care of, maintain, and cultivate. Independent learners understand when they need to learn more and are able to seek out the best methods and resources to accomplish this goal.

It makes sense that the end goal for education is a person who is proactive and able to anticipate their learning needs to understand a challenge or complete a task. As a nation and society, we need citizens and workers who are able to problem-solve, take initiative, be flexible and continue to learn. As long as learners are dependent on others to tell them when, what, and how to learn, they will never completely take charge of their learning fate and future. Unfortunately, our current education system places a heavy emphasis on dependence and compliance that too often works against the development of learning independence.

To change this situation and build learner independence, all of the previously discussed strategies must be leveraged to contribute and build towards independence. We can also give learners increasing opportunities to work with their peers; gradually shift the attention and the focus of where knowledge comes from away from adults and educators. We can also create space and opportunity for learners to participate in goal setting, reflect on and evaluate where their learning is, and participate in planning what they will learn. A gradual release strategy where learners are given progressively more voice in and control of their learning has proven successful in places like Finland.

Regardless of the specific strategy, we need to give learners opportunities to learn independently, first with our coaching and guidance and later without our immediate presence and support. When learners understand how to channel their interest and curiosity, they gain the ability to motivate themselves. When learners act on their interests and motivation, they begin to understand the power they possess and how they can use resources to meet learning challenges; they gain the power to control what they learn. And when learners begin to own their learning, they gain a prized possession to protect, build, and maintain for a lifetime.

These characteristics are essential to nurture to prepare our learners for a world that is rapidly changing and largely unpredictable.