Independent learning the viable approach


WE need student to take charge of their lives. We need students to stop over relying on lecturers. We need them to be self-motivated and become knowledgeable with no spoonfeeding from their lecturers.In my first article I talked about the culture of not speaking up in class as phenomenon that is cultivated among many of the Asian students. The aftermath is spoon-feeding as a form of education, since the lecturer is the only one doing the speaking.

But I don’t blame anyone for this conundrum. Different societies have modelled their education structure in ways that address their cultural values. The Asian culture which emphasizes ‘mian’ (concept of face saving in Chinese culture) would function well under the education structure that directs students to think and act in a certain manner in order to not conflict the society.

I am sure the study of anthropology will be able to show the association between culture and the education system of Malaysia. It’s imperative that the education system compliments the cultural needs of the society for the sake of ‘inhwa’ (Chinese for harmony).

But times are changing. Cultures are becoming highly integrated and Asian education is replaced by the western education approach, emphasising the need for students to collaborate in class and speak their minds. It’s about time we teach our kids to become independent learners.

For example, the world today needs youths with the ability to make decisions in tough situations. Conventional ‘open your mouth let me feed’ doesn’t have the guts to prepare youths to be ready to make tough decisions when confronted with dire situations. But in order for student to be independent learners there are few issues we need to put in perspective. When it comes to independent learning three things are to be spotlighted; the student, the learning environment and the lecturer.

Students need to be motivated to learn independently. One of the ways is by relating what they study to their own experiences and perspectives. I think most of the time the challenge arises when one is learning something he/she is not interested in; doesn’t see any value of it or cannot relate to the theories. When you converse with students, one of the issues they face concerns the lack of focus due inability to process and relate some of the theories they learn in class. This has an adverse effect in eroding one’s motivation to learn.

But independent learning differs among students depending on age, maturity, background and skills one has in a certain subject. From my experience for example, subjects that are psychological and social in nature brings out the best in me as far as independent learning is concerned.

Creating a learning environment that will enable students to learn and become responsible citizens is important. One writer suggested that a more flexible, sensitive and responsive learning environment will instil self-confidence and curiosity among the students thus cultivating independent learning.

There are questions to be asked. Are the facilities among the tertiary institutions modeled to help independent learning? The university needs to have a well-stocked library that will enable students to learn on their own through an array of available materials.

Personally, internet — though highly misused most of the time — has helped me to learn independently. Within a split of a second I am able to access a certain concept from sources around the world. I know what has been written about it, the key issues and the ongoing research.

Things that I would’ve ended up asking the lecturer I consult Google, EBSCOhost or any other database. I am cross-referencing different materials from different sources to get what I want. I can cross-reference business and psychology to get what I want.

The lecturer is the shifu. He guides and the steers the wheel of independent learning. One writer mentioned the teacher-student relationship and the teaching and modelling skills as the major role of the teacher in assisting independent learning.

Independent learning renders lecturers in the seat of facilitators. They help students to acquire a solid base knowledge and experience. After this, they motivate the students to discover the personal meaning of this knowledge on their own. Instructional teaching is better at accommodating this approach.

Instructional or as I term them, independent learning questions are good for learning. In reality these are probing, inquisitive and mindboggling questions posed to the students for them to ponder on. The lecturer doesn’t answer them but left them for student dance with them.

Lecturers posing these questions have indirectly motivated me to find answers to them without being spoonfed. I term this process as hunting for knowledge. During the course of searching for this knowledge I end up bumping into other information that I need to know.

For example, one lecturer motivated me to learn about the current economic crisis. As I was reading on, I was able to not only know about the crisis but also about China’s financing the US debt and the vested interest China has in the stability of the US dollar.

Positive self-concept and self-esteem are important by-products of independent learning. As I have been able to understand things on my own, my self-esteem is boosted and I am able to share the knowledge with the lecturer and other students proudly.

I have encountered lecturers who have stretched me to think critically by asking me to evaluate a certain issue from different perspectives. How are subsidies good for farmers? What if you were the government? What if you were the consumer? Not only does this enrich my knowledge but also make a well-rounded person.

An interesting fact is this, the lecturers who implements independent learning have had a closer relationship with me compared to those who throw bones of knowledge at me all the time. The consultation that takes place when I learn something new strives to keep me and the lecturer together.

We need to create students who are independent learners. Students who enrich their intellectual development and cognition by taking the first step towards self-learning. Students who abhor spoon-feeding and find solace in hunting for knowledge.