Setting students up for success through independent learning

What is the Independent Learning Charter?

In keeping with Navitas’ emphasis on the development of independent learning skills and the QAA’s UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Navitas EU developed the Independent Learning Charter.

The Charter is a statement which outlines the expectations for teachers and students in creating a meaningful learning and teaching culture where independent learning can be nurtured.

The Charter details ways in which students will be supported with opportunities to develop independent learning skills, and the expectations for students to engage with these opportunities. It highlights the students’ responsibility for their learning; aided, guided and facilitated by teaching and support staff.

Our current Independent Learning Charter can be found below. Click on the buttons at the bottom of the image to zoom in or out, download, or open a full-screen version to explore in more detail:

Evidence 9 -Independent Learning Charter NAVUK151029-1033 Learning Charter Poster_A4P_WEB)

How is the Independent Learning Charter being used across the UK?

Colleges in University Partnerships Europe (UPE) have used the Charter with teaching staff through, among other things, continuing professional development, looking at how learning is experienced in different ways by different cultures and educational backgrounds, and exploring ways to achieve successful outcomes for diverse student cohorts. The Charter has also been used at the Student Council and in College Enhancement Teams to raise an understanding of the concept of independent learning and encourage discussion so that it meaningfully reflects the student perspective. Many of the Charter’s aims have also been integrated into the key learning outcomes of a study skills module taken by all students across our colleges.

The Charter is particularly valuable at college level, as this is a critical stage for developing the fundamental skills for success at subsequent university levels.

What exactly is independent learning and why is it important?

Independent learning is critical for success in higher education. University study requires students to take responsibility for their own learning and to make decisions about what they want to focus on. This transition from previous study (quite often ‘compulsory education’) is not always easy, especially for students who may be used to more teacher support, have had negative learning experiences or come from a culture that understands the principles of independent learning differently from their new context.

As early as 1972, Forster (cited in Candy, 1991) defined independent learning as:

  1. “Independent study is a process, a method and a philosophy of education: in which a student acquires knowledge by his or her own efforts and develops the ability for inquiry and critical evaluation;
  2. it includes freedom of choice in determining those objectives, within the limits of a given project or program and with the aid of a faculty adviser;
  3. it requires freedom of process to carry out the objectives;
  4. it places increased educational responsibility on the student for the achieving of objectives and for the value of the goals.”

Although clearly defined, the term ‘independent learning’ can mean different things to different people, across different cultures and disciplines. Therefore, it is important to clearly and consistently communicate this concept to students so they understand what is required of them in their new context and discipline.

The challenge of encouraging independent learning

The Higher Education Academy (Advance HE) article ‘Independent learning’ explores the challenges of independent learning and provides possible solutions for action, including speaking to students about their previous learning and teaching experiences, and providing formative assessment opportunities for students to test their knowledge of independent learning.

Do you have experiences with directing and supporting independent learning at your college? Do you have ideas to bring this topic to life? Continue the conversation with Paul Lockhart-Thomas, or share your thoughts and ideas via Yammer, Twitter or LinkedIn.


  • Candy, P. (1991). Self-direction for lifelong learning: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • The Higher Education Academy (2014). Independent learning. England: The Higher Education Academy.
  • QAA (2012) UK Quality Code for Higher Education Chapter B3: Learning and Teaching. London: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.