We have a separate piece on our blog about independent learning and the obstacles students with disabilities face.
Here, we want to expand on these ideas by discussing another commonly referenced definition of ‘student independence’ in the form of Philip Candy’s ‘Self Direction for Lifelong Learning’.
Using earlier work from Forster (1972), the four core elements of independent learning are as follows:
- “Independent Study”
- “Choice of Direction”
- “Choice of Process”
- “Responsibility on the Student”
If we look at each of these components separately, we can begin to see more clearly how Assistive Technology can help foster independence for students with disabilities.
This is defined as ‘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’.
This itself reads like a sound objective for those in higher education to aspire towards. Like learning to ride a bike, the transition to higher education and beyond is about taking the training wheels off and encouraging students to trust themselves.
Choice of Direction
‘Freedom of choice in determining […] objectives, within the limits of a given project or program and with the aid of a faculty adviser.’
Forging your own trail through a program is what makes the Higher Education experience uniquely rewarding, and choice is a central component of UDL.
Every opportunity should be given to all students to zone in on what interests them within the scope of their course(s). Disabilities like ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia, physical impairments and mental illness can create obstacles, but solutions shouldn’t impede a student’s freedom to pursue their own path.
And, just as importantly, they should draw on the unique strengths and capabilities students with these conditions possess.
Choice of Process
‘Freedom of process to carry out the objectives’
Working out how you work best is something most of us have to go through at some stage, and there’s always room for improvement and change. Being overly prescriptive in how we encourage others to work can limit their independence, and it’s something we unintentionally do when we use one-size-fits-all accommodations for students with disabilities. Maintaining choice of process should therefore involve the use of a variety of supports.
Responsibility on the Student
Unsurprisingly, independence in learning ultimately involves transferring responsibility from the teacher to the student. Returning to the cycling analogy, the skills of ‘inquiry and critical evaluation’ depend on how well-equipped individuals are to ride alone.