Effective Practice in Independent Learning, Higher Education Academy and Quality Assurance Agency

April – August 2014

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) have commissioned Liz Thomas Associates to undertake research about Effective practice in independent learning. Broadly, independent learning is undertaken outside contact hours, but contributes to course-specific learning outcomes. The aim is to identify practice that creates, supports and promotes independent learning, which can then be shared with others in the HE sector.

We are pleased to be working with Dr Jane Andrews, Aston University and Dr James Ottaway, Quiddity Research.

Background and context to the project

There is an increased demand from institutions, departments and academic staff to better understand effective independent learning. Questions of how, where, when and to what extent independent course-related learning takes place, and how student engagement can be enhanced are being asked more frequently. Independent learning is undertaken by students, either on their own or with others, without direct input from teaching staff. It contributes to course-specific learning outcomes.

Aims, objectives and methodology

The research will help to identify effective practice in the design, delivery and enhancement of activities facilitating independent learning.

A literature review will be undertaken to produce a working definition of what is meant by 'effective independent learning.' The researchers will then collect, collate and analyse examples of relevant activity from across the UK HE sector in order to compile a compendium of practice. As the research progresses the working definition of effective independent learning will become more nuanced, and acquire greater conceptual utility. Eight case study institutions will then be selected, enabling a more in-depth look at how independent learning takes place. These studies will be representative of different institutional types and discipline areas. The broad aim here is to showcase good practice from a range of academic settings, so colleagues can see how independent learning occurs in contexts beyond their own. The research here will also be sensitive to the broad agenda of inclusion and will thus gather information on the ways in which different groups study independently – e.g. international students, disabled students, non-traditional entrants, those with employment and family commitments, etc.

It should be noted that this research is exploratory and descriptive in nature, rather than evaluative. To support this intention the case studies will draw on the spirit of appreciative inquiry and emphasise the co-production of knowledge and understanding, rather than the extraction of information.

Examples of effective practice

As part of this study we are interested in examples of effective practice in all discipline areas, from any institution delivering higher education. To express an interest in sharing your effective practice please email rob@lizthomasassociates.co.uk  with the following information:

• Your name and contact details
• Brief description of your example of effective practice (including subject area)
• A comment about why you feel this is effective

Selected examples will be followed up to be included in the Compendium of effective practice in independent learning in higher education (to be published by the HEA and QAA). In addition a limited number of examples will be included as in-depth case study in the final report and associated dissemination.

Intended outputs

Outputs will be fivefold: a model of effective practice; a compendium of effective activity currently taking place in the context of independent learning; a research report; a tool kit; and further dissemination in 2014-15.

Model of effective practice - By drawing on the findings of the literature review, practical examples from within the HE sector, and evidence gathered from the case studies the project will generate a conceptual model of effective practice. This will allow institutions to better understand independent study, and will provide a means of reviewing and benchmarking resources and provision.

Compendium of effective practice - This will consist of examples of current good practice in the context of independent learning and as such will stand as a freely accessible resource. It is anticipated that the compendium will include activities from a cross-section of institutions, and a variety of disciplines and learning / teaching modes.

Research report – A thematically analysed research report will be produced which will include models of effective practice and identify implications for policy at the national, institutional, departmental and individual levels.

Tool kit – This output will draw together the project's key findings, illustrating the issues with 'real-world' examples. The tool kit will be designed for accessibility, practicality and usability by HEIs, course teams and individual staff.

Further outputs and dissemination – These may include tailored dissemination, including briefings for specific stakeholder groups, conference presentation and other similar activities.

For further details please contact research@lizthomasassociates.co.uk