Brief description

This project investigated: what constitutes independent study in English in the perceptions of the academic and student subject community; how to support independence through online resources and activities; and how best to develop independence in a planned and coherent way throughout a programme of study in English.


There is a traditional understanding that the goal of higher education is to develop students as autonomous learners. English has traditionally placed emphasis on the value of independent work, not only in specific modules such as dissertations, but as an underpinning activity for all learning in English studies. In this context, this project investigated questions about independent learning which have not so far been asked specifically within the discipline:

  • What, in staff and student perceptions, constitutes independent learning?
  • What kinds of activities might best develop independent learners in English?
  • How independence be developed in a planned and coherent way from Level 1 through to Level 3?

Project design

Teaching staff were released to evaluate relevant units at Levels 1, 2 and 3 via student surveys and to develop some independent learning resources. An event was held in October 2004 to disseminate the work of the project

Key findings

A decisive majority of students responding to questionnaires felt that they had become or were becoming increasingly independent learners in the course of their degrees. However, some obstacles to independent study were identified which might be broadly classified as: lack of confidence, pressures on study time and lack of knowledge of how to find appropriate resources in the library or on the web. The extent and nature of use of the specially developed independent learning resources was identified. Overall the project concluded that students need support in becoming independent learners.


Project Leader/s

Professor Chris Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University


Completed October 2004