The scope of initiative

Navya Iyer Kannan

What is learning? Is it merely what happens in a school, in the classroom? Does it stop when one graduates? Is it something that only teachers can inspire in us? These are just few of the many unasked questions about learning and consequently, education itself.

Learning is a complex process, involving an inherent thirst for knowledge. Much of what we learn is absorbed unconsciously as we do not start off seeking to learn. We learn simply through observing people around us and imitating them. Some of the greatest lessons of our lives were conducted this way, long before we went to school, or even – for that matter – before we knew what a school was.

Learning is also an ongoing process, which can be facilitated by teachers only part of the time. The rest of the time, ideally, the student should be the one taking the initiative to further this process and find new learning opportunities.

To take initiative of one’s learning doesn’t only mean deciding what to study or drawing up a study timetable. Taking charge of one’s learning includes setting goals and building a daily routine for oneself. In a typical educational setting, there is a pre-existing timetable that a student follows, and classes that he or she attends where the teacher teaches and the student listens. Or in many cases, doesn’t listen.

When in a setting where students are given the opportunity to take charge of their own learning, and are given the space to plan their entire day and study schedule, they are given the freedom of setting their own goals and routines. This not only allows them to take ownership of their own education but also teaches them the responsibility that comes with this freedom.

I was fortunate enough to have had this opportunity, and I can say with conviction that this process of self-study and autonomous learning taught me independence and self-reliance, and helped me build a sense of confidence and persistence that I have found incredibly useful during and after my years in school.

The concept of self-directed learning (SDL) has come to be a topic of speculation and increasing conversation over the past few decades. However, self-study and autonomous learning – where a student takes initiative of his or her own learning – are slightly different. While self directed learning also shares the same goals or ideas of initiative and responsibility, the concept suggests that students from all age groups, either with or without guidance diagnose their learning needs, set their goals and then implement and finally evaluate the outcomes of specific learning methods.*

On the other hand, autonomous learning is only for students of classes 11 and 12, aged 16 to 18. Self-study is a precursor to autonomous learning, where the student spends only a small amount of time in the classroom working entirely individually. The rest of the time, he or she participates in group discussions and regular classes. This occurs from classes 5 to 10, where the focus is also encouraging inquiry and helping the student function in a group rather than only facilitating independent study.

Initially, being entrusted with the responsibility of one’s own learning holds many charms such as being able to take breaks at any point in time and to choose which subject to study when. However, there are some challenges that the student will certainly come across a few days into the process of autonomous learning:

Time management
When starting the day, plan in hand; it does not seem too hard to complete the list of tasks. At the end of the day, however, you will find that your first attempt at setting your goals was too ambitious and that you have either managed to finish only one task or have several incomplete tasks left.

Dealing with distraction
When left to your own devices, so to speak, anything can be a distraction. Especially when you are called upon to monitor your own education, keeping yourself focused can be challenging. This is mainly because the teacher has always performed that task for you – telling you to pay attention and not to switch off. Keeping track of how many breaks you are taking and taking initiative to bring your own attention back to the task at hand will be very challenging for the first several days.

After a few days of autonomous learning, you will have learned enough about yourself and your work habits to be able to make a realistic and detailed plan for the day as opposed to the rather vague ones that you had, during the initial days. Making the plan flexible and giving enough time for breaks and doubt clearing time with the teacher are also necessary.

The philosopher, J Krishnamurti, said that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand, and being able to take onus of one’s own learning enlightens one about both the scope of and responsibility involved in having that freedom. Finding it difficult to stick to the process and feeling the urge to give up (probably several times a day) are also some regular challenges.

Taking onus of one’s own learning helps one understand oneself, and one’s strengths and limitations. Working with oneself, navigating through difficulties, academic or other, with the guidance of the teacher allows ample opportunity for self-reflection.

There is lesser dependence on the teacher to provide stimuli in case the student wants to learn, instead the student develops autonomy and independence, and takes ownership of his or her learning, thereby develops an interest in the subjects as opposed to tolerance or mere cooperation, as is sometimes the case.

The results of this learning transcend the classroom space, wherein the learner is encouraged to seek newer learning opportunities in academic and other fields on his or her own. This could be due to the fact that instead of, being simply passive and receptive, as would be the case in a regular classroom, the student is more than just participative. He or she is actually in control and is engaging actively in the structuring of his or her own study schedule and work, urging them to make other such opportunities for themselves in the future.

Certain things to keep in mind are that successfully navigating through the process of autonomous learning cannot be managed single-handedly by the student, nor is the teacher expected to be absent throughout that period. Contact sessions where the teacher introduces a new topic or revises older chapters should continue to take place, and students should continue to go the teacher to clarify doubts.

As mentioned earlier, another important feature of the autonomous learning process is the reflection period. At the end of each day, there should be a review session between the student and the teacher, where they discuss the day and any new learnings that have taken place, academic or otherwise. This is also the time allotted for the student to share any difficulties he or she may have experienced during self-study, and for the teacher to help the student plan more efficiently, if so required. The student can be encouraged to maintain a journal as a record of progress, challenges, and learnings that he or she has come across during the journey of autonomous learning.

The author is a student of Psychology, Literature and Journalism from Mount Carmel College and did her high schooling from Pathashaala PCFL-KFI. She is very interested in education and literature, and hopes to pursue both in the future. She can be reached at

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