Independent learning more beneficial than contact hours, report finds

The HEA 2016 Engagement Survey was based on the responses of 23,198 students at 29 institutions

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Source: Wikmedia Commons

A recent report by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) has found that independent learning is more effective than taught sessions in the development of key skills.

The HEA 2016 Engagement Survey was based on the responses of 23,198 students at 29 institutions, but the University of Oxford was not involved in the research.

Notable findings in the report included how there was a four-percentage point positive difference in perceived development of academic skills such as writing and critical thinking among students with eleven or more hours of teaching each week, compared to those who receive ten hours of teaching a week.

As well as this, 94 percent of those surveyed felt that their course encouraged them to develop their own independent learning, despite the fact that students feel they are not engaging with fellow students or academics

Students also said that studying more time out of class could be twice as beneficial in developing active learning skills, like innovation and creativity, compared with even more teaching sessions (six percentage points to three percentage points). For civic skills, such as developing values and ethics, or perhaps being informed and an ‘active citizen’, the difference was five percentage points to three.

Reacting to the report, Camille Kandiko Howson, senior lecturer in higher education at King’s College London, explained how its findings showed the drastic need to expand learning outside of the classroom, saying: “Students still think contact hours are what they need, but this gives us evidence that students’ skill development is greater when they spend more time in independent study.”

According to Times Higher Education, the results could have consequences for England’s teaching excellence framework, which could use contact hours “as a proxy for standards”.

Dr Kandiko Howson added that policymakers should move beyond this “very narrow” view of learning, especially considering that the report found that extracurricular activities were found to be beneficial to skill development.

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The report also found that students who took part in sports or societies, for example, had academic skill development seven percentage points higher than those who did not participate, in addition to how volunteering gave a six-percentage point advantage.

The report also found that undergraduates at pre-92 and post-92 universities had significantly different experiences of their education

For example, students at older institutions usually worked harder, with 63 per cent of respondents saying they had eleven or more contact hours a week, compared with 50 per cent of post-92 respondents. When it came to spending 11 or more hours studying independently each week, the gap was 57 per cent to 49 per cent.

However, those students at post-92s suggested they were more engaged in their learning, with higher levels of skill development in every area except academic skills.