Portrait of an independent learner

A Portrait of an Independent Learner


Meet Jodie – a fictional student we’ve created to highlight some of the qualities of the independent learner. Do you recognise her?

We’ve previously discussed the common barriers to student independence. So we want to sketch out what an independent student looks like in terms of their behaviour, their attitudes towards learning, and the ways in which institutions have enabled their development as a lifelong learner.

We’ll do so through a portrait of a fictional student, embodying the characteristics of a lifelong learner. However, it’s important to bear in mind that there are many factors that affect student independence, and that this portrait may not match up with everyone’s experience.


Meet Jodie

We’ll call our independent student Jodie. She’s a History major at Van Zandt University in her final year of study, with a particular interest in 19th Century Latin America and the life of Simón Bolívar.

When she started her program of study, she had no idea what she wanted to focus on. The options seemed limitless and she didn’t know where to start. But after an introductory lecture on the subject, an interest in the political history of 19th Century Latin America was born. There were, however, elements of her course that she didn’t enjoy as much.


Overcoming challenges

She has ADHD, and so found college a challenge to begin with. Her classroom experience was negatively affected at times by her condition. Concentration proved an issue, leaving her feeling a lack of engagement in her studies. This was especially true of a class she was taking on the US Progressive Era. Finding focus and getting the most from those lectures was a real struggle.

But by self-advocating in the early stages of her program, she got the support she needed through Disability Services.

Seeking help itself was a new experience. While at high school, she could rely on her parents to step in on her behalf. Knowing that she had to look out for herself, she was proactive in reaching out to Disability Services.

She tried a few tools, but it was when she was given note taking technology that she started to absorb lecture content much better.

In fact, it was while revisiting a lecture recording on Bolívar that she found her inspiration. The subject gripped her, and she started finding her own connections between different lectures. It appealed to her imagination, and so she began a path of research and inquiry that’s led her to where she is now – completing a thesis on the Second Republic of Venezuela. Her supervisor has been encouraged by the original thought and analysis her work is already demonstrating.


What lies ahead

Jodie’s been encouraged by how much her hard work is paying off. When she first started, her GPA was the wrong side of 2.5. Now? It’s at 3.5.

A lot of this improvement is down to confidence. By having the tools she needs, Jodie is self-reliant where she had previously been dependent on others for support, and having this freedom has had a dramatic impact on how she views the college experience.

And in the process she’s picked up advanced research and study skills that will translate well into the world of work. Her ability to organize herself, find relevant information, pursue lines of inquiry and to do it all with creativity and flair stands her in good stead for what lies ahead.

She’s starting to think more and more about teaching. Being able to transmit the passion she now feels for her subject to students from a similar background is the dream. So she’s looking into taking an education course to make this a reality.


How she’s changed

For Jodie, her experience at Van Zandt has been transformative. She’s making connections between how and what she’s learned in higher ed with the wider world and gets real enjoyment from following her natural curiosity in a way she didn’t before.

Transitioning from high school to college is a struggle for all students, but especially those with a disability like Jodie’s. The support she sought for herself, however, was instrumental in helping her make higher ed what it has the potential to be for all students.


Five years later?

If we catch up with her in five years, maybe we’ll see Jodie at the head of a classroom. Or perhaps we’ll see her doing something else. But we’ll know that whatever she achieves from this point, she’ll have done it thanks to the spirit of independence she’s developed and demonstrated during her time at college.


Creating Jodies

To get where she is now, Jodie’s had to hurdle several obstacles to learning. And despite the great efforts she herself has made, this task is made easier by institutions recognising the difficulties students face and implementing solutions to help them achieve their potential.

We’ve produced a printable poster to help illustrate some of these issues. You can access it by following the link below:

Not all barriers to independence are easy to spot, download our printable poster to learn more and educate you peers.


Any thoughts on what you just read?