Promoting Student Responsibility for Learning

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

This lesson will focus on encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning and become self-directed learners. In addition, it will address typical student excuses and offer suggestions for dealing with these.

Typical Student 'Excuses'

Have you ever heard the following statements from your students?

1. 'I didn't know it was due today.'

2. 'Your directions weren't clear.'

3. 'I didn't understand what I was supposed to do.'

Student confusion

There are dozens more, but if you have ever heard these, then you are not alone. Students often offer myriad reasons why they were either unable (or unwilling) to get their work done. In short, many students just do not take responsibility for their learning. This is not necessarily their fault, however. As teachers, we are often guilty of spoon-feeding our students the information they need to know.

So, how can we encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning?

The Self-Directed Learner

Ideally, we would like for our students to take on the role of a self-directed learner. We would like for them to ask questions sooner rather than later, and we would like for them to dispense with the whining and excuses when they fail to submit work on time, fail a test, or fail to ask for help when they need it.

What is a self-directed learner?

In short, the self-directed learner is a student who realizes that the responsibility for learning is on him or her. He (or she) does not wait for the teacher to micromanage the learning process by disclosing every single thing that needs to be known. The self-directed learner takes notes in class, writes down homework assignments, asks for help when needed, and accepts the blame for his or her shortcomings.

How Can I Get my Students to Do This?

There are several methods for transitioning your students from helpless learners to self-directed learners. Here are some tips:

1. Don't be the 'Sage on the Stage.' Instead, be the 'Guide on the Side.' In other words, adopt a constructivist approach to your teaching. While we do want students to perform in certain ways and learn certain things, ultimately, having them construct their own knowledge from the information you provide will help them to become more independent.

2. Hand out or send a weekly memo to your class. This memo should outline everything that you plan to cover, where the information can be found, and what assignments are due for the week. Then, get out of the way! Some of your students will lose the memo, repeatedly ask questions about it, and maybe even tell you that it is not 'fair' that they have been tasked with keeping up with it. That's okay. Your standard answer for questions that can be answered by reading the memo should be 'this information can be found in the memo.' Again, this will encourage independence and responsibility.

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