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Cover Story Jul-Sep-2018

Self-learning: More Agency to Learners

In many ways, self-learning seems to be the most organic and obvious way of learning; how else do individuals learn if there is no self-initiative, self-discovery and self-evaluation?

Education has an ennobling and lofty purpose to serve in shaping human minds. Thus, it is not just about completion of a certain number of years in a formal or informal schooling to acquire a degree good enough to get a job. Rather, the true purpose of education is to acquaint students with their passions and aspirations; help them hone their strengths and overcome their shortcomings; and also to engage their sense of purpose in citizenship so that they can make the world a better place to live in, with their contributions.

Unfortunately, the way education is being imparted in most Indian schools, it fails to fulfil its true purpose. However, with the advent of technology in the K–12 sector, there is a glimmer of hope on multiple fronts. With the proliferation of electronic gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, computers and proper internet connectivity, e-learning content and strategies have started making their place in the teaching–learning gamut; personalisation of learning has almost become a buzzword, and self-learning has become a possibility.

In many ways, self-learning seems to be the most organic and obvious way of learning; how else do individuals learn if there is no self-initiative, self-discovery and self-evaluation?

Let’s look at a more detailed definition of self-learning.


Self-learning or self-directed learning, as we call it, has different definitions and is used variously in an educational environment. It is often referred to as an educational goal on one hand and as a teaching methodology on the other. It could also be referred to as a way of learning to attain knowledge.

Self-learning is a rewarding experience for students

Teacher-assisted self-learning

Teacher assigns tasks to students which the latter complete on their own. The teacher defines the content, defines the various tools that a student can resort to at the various stages of learning, and also keeps a tab on the learning progress. However, the student brings in personal relevance to the learning goals and devises strategies to attain them.

Self-learning of this kind facilitates blended learning and flipped learning. In a flipped classroom, the teacher shares the content material beforehand and students go through the same before attending the lecture, thus having a basic understanding of the topic already. The classroom facilitates discussion on and elaboration of the topic.

Next Education has designed its own Learning Management System with integrated content called NextLearningPlatform, which facilitates teacher- assisted self-learning. Self-learning without teacher guidance can become too overwhelming for a beginner. This is a good solution to train students to exercise control over their learning process.

Teacher-independent self-learning

This could be described as a goal-oriented dynamic process by which students construct their knowledge based on reflection and motivation, independent of direct intervention of the teacher.

Students retain full control over their learning, they are aware of the timelines, they select their own goals and have the autonomy to choose from a variety of resources and tools. Whenever the need arises, they collaborate with their peers or reach out to facilitators and subject matter experts. Many self-learning platforms, including Next Education’s LearnNext, are examples of this kind of a self-learning solution.

Students are able to keep themselves motivated in this kind of learning as they have the agency to regulate challenges. Failure is not seen as a shameful experience but a means to push oneself harder to attain success.

This is a rewarding experience for students. They take pride in the success that they have achieved, as it is a reflection of the strategies they have adopted and the efforts they have undertaken.


As already mentioned, the true purpose of education is to help students become independent individuals who are able to contribute towards the betterment of the society. Thus, it is imperative that students today develop 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. Self-learning helps instill 21st-century skills in students and prepares them for the challenges of the future.

It helps students with the following:

Investment and motivation to gain knowledge

Self-learning programmes emphasise the process of learning as the focus is on ‘how to learn’ and not ‘what to learn’. This helps students become lifelong learners, invested in seeking knowledge and solutions to problem in all aspects of life, be it professional or personal. Also, as students take the path of discovering new information, indulge in critical thinking and design their own learning path, they take full ownership of their learning.

Personalisation of learning

No two individuals learn the same way. However, the education system in India has not been able to move away from the one-size-fitsall approach. Personalised learning gives students the opportunity to learn at their own pace and space. The important tenets of personalised learning include pursuing aspirations, investigating problems and designing solutions to solve those, thereby producing measurable learning outcomes. Self-learning programmes are personalised in their approach and help students work within this framework.

In-depth learning

More often than not, human beings forget the information they consume if they do not revisit it at regular intervals. This is why learners are required to practise every topic after they learn it to ensure that they retain the information completely. Practice forms an integral part of any self-learning programme. In fact, many of the self-learning portals have gamified the learning experience where practice tests and assessments are presented to students in the form of quizzes or games to keep them engaged and motivated.


Besides developing critical-thinking skills, self-learning can also help learners gain knowledge about themselves, become aware of their interests, learn to judge the credibility of content available on the Internet, be more open to new perspectives, and learn to divulge information, feelings and experiences together. Self-learning, be it independent of or dependent on the teacher, aims to bring forth a vast change in the attitudes of students towards their learning and life. Besides being motivated to reach their goals, they are also independent in their actions. The role of a teacher is changed to that of a facilitator who helps students whenever the latter needs guidance.


It is often erroneously assumed that teachers do not have an important role to play in the self-learning process. In self-learning programmes, teachers are not the arbiters of truth, information and knowledge; they are like a coach whose team’s success depends on his/her administrative and networking abilities. They have the crucial responsibility of helping learners with the following:

a. Help students set their learning goals as per their individual interests and capabilities

b. Set methods to measure learning outcomes effectively and communicate the same to the students

c. Organise online discussion forums, inviting interested participants, moderating the groups and summarising the conclusions

d. Motivate students to collaborate and communicate with each other to diversify their knowledge creation process

e. Supervise the learning progress

Research has proven that motivation is directly related to whether or not students have opportunities to make important academic choices. Having choices allows students to feel that they have ownership, and this, in turn, helps them develop a sense of responsibility towards their own learning.

Self-learning, as a way of learning or as an academic goal, puts students at the centre of their learning experience, empowering them with experiences, insights and strategies to learn in the modern era.


Rituparna has completed her Masters in English from the University of Hyderabad. Education technology in K–12 sector, gender representation in media and postmodern literature are some of her interest areas. Working at the NextWorld Magazine gives her the opportunity to explore the current education trends in India.


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