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5 Ways to Promote Autonomous Students

If you’re handling a large amount of students, you can only spread yourself so thin. You have two arms, two ears, one brain, and one mouth. You can’t provide immediate individual assistance to everyone all at once, and there’s no way anyone should be able to expect you to. Your life and the lives of your students will become easier if everyone is afforded with the tools they need to increase their autonomy. They’ll be able to work effectively, and you won’t have to become omnipotent to handle everything that’s thrown at you on a regular basis. A few small tweaks can make your classes run smoother, and everyone benefits.

1. Personalize Their Goals

Since everyone learns at a different pace, personalized goals are easier to digest. Your students will all excel (and lack) in certain areas, and it will vary for all of them. Talk to your students about the areas in which they would benefit from focused study. Create personalized goals designed to strengthen the weaknesses of these students. If everyone knows where they’re going, they’ll be less inclined to ask for directions. This doesn’t necessarily require individual personalization – if you have a group of students that could all afford to spend some time focusing on a specific skill, you can break your class down into smaller parts for focus goals.

2. Provide Them With Meaningful Responsibility

If you make everything your responsibility, there’s nothing left for anyone else. You can’t exactly expect everyone to be autonomous if you’re so in control that there’s nothing for them to do on their own. If you plan to release a series of assignments on a subject, dole them out at the same time. Give everyone a timeframe in which they are required to submit the assignments. They’ll be making their own schedules, and they’ll probably appreciate the flexibility.

3. Understand Their Learning Styles

There are three main types of learners – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. The majority of people are visual learners, so you may be wasting your time with lectures. Give them material that reflects the way in which they learn best. You’ll have less to explain, and they’ll be able to navigate the information on their own. If your course materials are thorough enough, they’ll be able to self-lead their educational exploration.

4. Let Them Tell You What They Need

If you aren’t sure, ask. Check in with your students periodically. Find out what’s working well for them, and what can use some improvement. They may be less autonomous because they find your educational plan difficult to follow. They’ll tell you the kinds of assignments they enjoy, and how they’re most receptive to the information you’re providing them with. They don’t want to waste their time any more than you want to waste yours. If they’re encountering difficulties, they’ll most likely let you know.

5. Have Them Evaluate Themselves

You’ll have to check the really important stuff yourself, but what about the smaller assignments? Go over the answers and how they should have been derived while allowing your students to review their own papers. They’ll be able to see where they went wrong, and they’ll get clarifications about the things they misunderstood. Some teachers use tools like reflection journals – a written method of self-critique that allows students to dissect their own thinking processes – to help apply corrections for the long term.

You’ll always have students that value their autonomy and prefer to approach everything autonomously. You’ll need to make sure their methods are effective, and check in with them once in a while about how things are going. The less autonomous learners are a little harder to reach, but giving them an arsenal of methods for autonomy can send them in the right direction.

Kelly Smith, in cooperation with Online Courses Australia, provides career, self-improvement and learning advice, helping new generations to enter the job market fully prepared.

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Comment by Leona Hinton on March 9, 2016 at 9:22am

Great ideas, Kelly, many thanks for sharing them with us. Some teachers don't want to hear any feedback from students and I think it's their worst mistake. We should listen and hear! 

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