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Guidance is not a luxury, but a necessity for independent learning

Although the usual teaching approach in Higher Education has been traditional and lecture-based, promoting dependence of students to their teachers, for the last 30 years there has been an extensive movement to change tertiary level teaching through innovative strategies involving independent learning activities.  How much guidance should be provided to the learners during these activities is a topic still under discussion, but research has shown sufficient support and scaffolding during independent learning can increase learning outcomes, is seen as more satisfying for the learner, and leads to a statistically significant increase in the ability to apply factual knowledge to novel contexts.  Those developing EdTech interventions should bear in mind the usefulness of guidance for a learner undertaking tasks in an independent setting.


Recently, there is a growing interest in independent learning approaches globally. This is, at least in part, due to an increased demand for so-called ‘21st century skills’ and the potential of independent learning to improve student skills to better prepare

them for the future. This paper reports a study that explored the effectiveness of two different independent learning approaches: (i) guided independent learning and (ii) unguided independent learning with independent research, in enabling students in an undergraduate

Macromolecules course to acquire knowledge in one chemistry

context and apply it successfully in another.

The study involved 144 chemistry students commencing their first term of undergraduate study at a northern university in England. Students completed pre- and post-intervention tests containing 10 diagnostic questions, of which 4 measured students’ knowledge acquisition in one context and 6 measured their ability to apply it in another.  Diagnostic questions had been identified using a Delphi approach. Paired t-tests and chi-square tests were used to analyse the significance of any change in students’ responses to the diagnostic questions and the number of responses evidencing misconceptions, respectively.


Whilst guided independent learning settings were found to improve students’ knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge in novel situations, unguided independent learning had no statistically significant effect. Unguided independent learning was also linked to a statistically significant increase in the number of student misconceptions in one of the diagnostic questions.

Guided & Unguided Independent Learning.p


AI in education, perceived credibility, research evidence, the incredible AI effect, guided independent learning, unguided independent learning, 21st century skills

About the Author:

Dr Mutlu Cukurova

Mutlu is an academic faculty member at University College London and has a particular interest in researching the potential of emerging Educational Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Learning Analytics to continuously evaluate and support human development. In addition to this, Mutlu works with UNESCO’s international expert group on ICT in Education. He is Director of Research at EDUCATE and sits in the working group of UCL’s Grand Challenges on Transformative Technologies.

Mutlu's work is interdisciplinary and encompasses research in learning sciences, psychology, computer science, and Human-Computer Interaction. For more, visit his profile here.

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