Directed independent learning

Independent learning is a key part of being a student in higher education. It forms part of students’ development as autonomous learners, something that they will take with them after graduation.

Like other universities, Anglia Ruskin expects students to engage with a significant amount of study outside timetabled taught sessions.  Each Module Definition Form (MDF) describes the hours of learning in terms of contact time (in class) and self-directed learning (i.e. independent learning). Typically self-directed or independent learning accounts for two-thirds to three-quarters of the total time spent on a module.


Research shows that students are aware that they are responsible for much of their learning throughout their course. However, they may not understand what form this takes, nor may they have all of the skills that they need in order to become effective independent learners. This is especially the case for students who are new to higher education. School leavers will be used to much more structured learning and are likely to view their independent learning at university as equivalent to ‘homework’. Students who have been away from education for some time may be very uncertain about what is expected of them.

Supporting independent learning

Providing support for independent learning involves:

  • providing structure – guidance on tasks that will be effective use of time, rather than simply ‘doing more’
  • linking independent learning to class sessions – ensure that independent learning tasks relate to work undertaken in taught sessions
  • ensuring that students have the requisite skills – academic skills and time management are key elements

This guidance is based on the conclusions of a consultant-led project at Anglia Ruskin in 2017.  This establishes a staged model for the development of undergraduate independent learning.

Support Autonomy

Further resources

  • Independent learning webinar

The diagram on this page shows three different levels of independent learning, from the time a student starts university to the point at which they graduate, and the degree of autonomy associated with each level.

Level 4: directed

  • mostly set activities
  • clear articulation with taught curriculum
  • support for academic skills

Level 5: guided

  • explicit part of the curriculum
  • wider variety and freedom
  • support for new study skills

Level 6: facilitated

  • student-led
  • personal to student
  • research-relevant
  • support for professional skills