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How We Learn

Self-regulated learning and independent learning, Labour government commissioned reviews

Government commissioned literature reviews concluded that there were numerous positive outcomes for children of self-regulated and independent learning

The idea that children and young people should do self-regulated and independent learning – a central tenet for many home educators – is not an outlandish idea from the fringes of society. It is a well-researched educational approach with a substantial body of evidence to support it. It is currently very much out of favour with the present government but during the Labour government the Department of Children, Schools and Families (since replaced by the Department of Education) funded research into how both self-regulated and independent learning could work in a school context. There were a whole host of programmes, as detailed in the reviews, which implemented aspects of these concepts or used them as tools in schools to increase attainment.

‘Self-regulated learning: a literature review’ and ‘Independent learning: a literature review and a new project’ were both very positive. They both (and in particular the literature review on self-regulated learning) found that overall there were important benefits in terms of academic attainment.

However, one thing that is notable is that the literature on these approaches was evaluating their use as a stand-alone ‘intervention’ or ‘technique’ for use within the current school system.

Thus, in the paper on independent learning they highlighted the problem covered in studies of implementation within current conditions. One author quoted, Williams (2003), pointing out the problem of trying to increase independent learning while simultaneously increasing the level of prescription via the National Curriculum. The current regime she noted was one based on an input/output model that didn’t allow room for independent thought or action.

They noted that ‘independent learning’ worked better in a ‘whole school approach’.

Both reports suggested that children needed input to learn HOW to learn. “To overcome this barrier, it is necessary for independent learning to be appropriately planned and structured,” suggested one paper.


Proponents of self-directed learning would argue that this tinkering around the edges approach to self-regulated and independent learning – using them as tools to improve the current system as opposed to embracing it as an overall approach – is missing the point. There might be positive outcomes for children, as the literature shows, but by not implementing them fully the full extent of the benefits cannot be realised.

Read more

Self-regulated learning: a literature review (Kathryn Duckworth, Rodie Akerman, Alice MacGregor, Emma Salter and John Vorhaus, 2009, Institute of Learning, University of London)

Independent learning: a literature review and a new project (W R Meyer, Evaluation and Research Department, 2010, Leeds University)

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