A prospective student’s guide to independent learning – OurWarwick

A prospective student’s guide to independent learning

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Kiera Evans | Postgraduate History (Modern) Contact Kiera

Before I came to university, I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of the academic change from A Levels. I knew studying would be much more independent than it had been in sixth form, but it was still a bit of a surprise. I went from having a very structured day in sixth form to only having nine timetabled hours per week at uni.

I haven’t experienced guided online lessons in the way that I imagine A Level lessons have been this term, but I have been through the change from non-pandemic university life to blended and fully online learning this year.

I can imagine that the prospect of independent learning is a bit off-putting if you’ve been doing sixth form fully online for months. I think it would be worrying me if I were in Year 13 at the moment. But I promise, it is manageable at university, and I definitely prefer it to the lesson structure I had at school.

Working at university is a different sort of independence to the kind that online learning forces onto you. For me, it’s independence in the sense that I get to pick topics I’m interested in for assignments, choose when I start and stop work each day, and (in pre-pandemic times) decide where I work.

To be honest, I think if you’re a current Year 13 student, the shift to independent learning at university will be comparatively easy for you. You’ve already been pushed right to the extreme of independent learning, and university learning is not at all designed to be like that.

Aside from the obvious pandemic-related issues with independent learning, I thought I’d share some more general thoughts on the differences between A Level and university-level learning too:

  • Even though it’s called “independent learning” at uni, you can always go to a seminar tutor during their office hours to talk over ideas for assignments, and your personal tutor is always there if you have any concerns. Independent learning at university-level, at least on a course like mine, is flexible but supported by staff if you need it.
  • The difference between my A Level and university timetable is huge. In sixth form, I had single hours of independent study between lessons. While that does still happen at uni, I now also have entire days with no contact hours. The responsibility is definitely on me to organise my time and find out what works best.
  • Even though everyone has a different timetable, you never have to be alone when you’re working independently at uni. In first year, I sat with my friends in the library as we worked on our essays, talking about our assignments and recommending potential things to look into if we happened to know a bit about someone else’s subject. Now my friend and I text each other our essay word counts at the end of a day of writing to make the process feel less lonely.
  • Although all of my assignments this year have been individual, independent essays, I’ve never found it isolating. I’d put this down to sharing accommodation with friends. Being around other people who are also studying for a degree, even if it’s not the same as yours, helps to keep focus and reassure you that everyone is doing a similar thing to you.
  • I found the huge amount of freedom I have with my assignments daunting to begin with. However, once I’d written a couple of essays I gained confidence as I had an idea of the sort of timescales that I work best at, the topic areas that I like, and whether a question needs changing slightly to make it work better for me.

I hope this helps to reassure you if you’ve been worried about what learning looks like at university. It would certainly have been a worry for me if I’d been in sixth form this year. Just remember that this year is not representative of the university learning experience, and that even when you’re working by yourself at uni, you’re never alone.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Kiera Evans | Postgraduate History (Modern) Contact Kiera

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