Fostering Independent Learning in Online High School Students

Posted on October 18 2013

As one wise woman (my mother) always says, “You learn something new every day!” When you realize this truth, you are always alert and on the lookout for that “something new” that you will learn today. It may be a new word you need to look up, that article that gives tips on how to stay healthy or how to deal with difficult customers, that new method to improve your garden or add flavor to your family’s favorite dish. The important thing is to grab that opportunity to enrich one’s self – whether it is in the realm of academics, one’s personal life or career.

That is why it is very important to foster a love for learning and the ability to learn and discover independently in our high school students. This ability to take initiative and grab opportunities for learning is one of the marks of a successful online high school student and more likely, one of the things that will separate successful students, career persons and entrepreneurs from those who are not.

How then, can parents and learning coaches help build independent learners? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Encourage your child to ask. When your child comes to you to ask, “What does this word mean?” or “What happened to cause World War I?” or “Why is so-and-so popular during his time?”, avoid answering the questions for them. Rather say, “That is an interesting question. Why don’t you look it up?” Your home can actually be your child’s learning lab as your child formulates their own Why’s and How’s. They can also have fun getting to the answers. Initially, though, you will have to be there to guide and point them to the right direction.
  • Encourage your child to understand the process of learning. Once it clicks in the child’s mind that there is a process by which most answers are achieved or problems solved and that he can also explore other avenues by which to learn and discover, he can now be on his way to becoming an independent learner. So, when the child comes to you for help with a problem, ask questions such as, “How would you solve that problem? Were you able to solve the problem/get the answers using that way? If not, why did it not work? Are there alternatives you can use?”
  • Provide easy access to learning resources they can use at their disposal. Even as you encourage your child to find the answers on their own, provide them with the resources to do so. This does not have to cover formal lessons, but also unstructured times of exploration. You can have reference materials such as books, DVDs and of course, the biggest information resource, the internet.
  • Combine structure with free exploration. The beauty of an online high school education is that you have plenty of leeway by which to structure the schedule for the day. Of course, you need to ensure that your child spends enough time with his online Math or other academic lessons. However, you can also creatively insert “fun” learning in your schedule. Allow them to learn about something that captures their interest by providing free, unstructured time that your child can use to develop a particular interest. The focus of structure combined with free exploration is to help your child understand the process that goes into learning something new.
  • Encourage activities that build on the interest of your child. Once your child has discovered a particular interest, you can add structure to that interest by providing hands-on application or additional information. For instance, your child is fascinated about history. Take him to trips to museums where historical artifacts are displayed. Visit war memorials and delve into the reasons why each one was built. Watch historical films together. Better yet, have him plan these activities. You can provide your support by giving guidance and pointing him to the right track in case he gets off course. Another way to support these activities is to ask for updates and provide him with the chance to share what new thing he has discovered.
  • Instill work and study habits that help them deal with new challenges. When your child learns how to deal with increasingly difficult lessons or a new lesson altogether, he can be more confident in exercising his independence as a learner. Here are some methods he can learn to help him deal with his work load:
    • Set monthly, weekly and daily goals.
    • List down tasks and assign them to the child’s schedule. Teach them how to break down a major project into smaller, bite-sized activities.
    • Reading and translating the lesson material in their own words to promote understanding.
    • Creating their own reviewer to prepare for tests.
    • Working with online classmates to solve a particular problem
    • Communicating with the online teacher
  • Gradually tone down reminders, but supervise work performance. As your child learns to become an independent learner, this should reflect in how he finishes his weekly tasks and assignments even with minimal prompting from you. As your child is able to demonstrate that he can work independently, the reward will be your easing up on the time you are directly involved in their schedule. The plus factor is that it also gives you a break and more time to do other non-virtual high school related tasks.

As your child’s learning coach, you are not there to be his go-to person whenever he meets obstacles and problems in his learning, looking to you to solve his problems for him. Rather, you are there to help him develop the skills he needs to be an independent learner.