Classroom Learning and Self-Studying in Academia: Finding the Most Effective Approach

Today we have a guest post coming from Alexis Bonari from CollegeScholarships Alexis is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She spends much of her days blogging about Education and CollegeScholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. (yay to that)

For students who are still in school, it can be tough to distinguish between learning and studying simply because these two activities are so prevalent in daily life that they’re almost autopilot functions. But once the academic experience is in the past, it’s easier to see the distinctions between the two actions. Many language students, as well as researchers studying adult learners, observe that learning tends to happen in the classroom, but also occurs with studying, while studying implies solitary, individual academic work. In a report of research conducted at Portland State University as part of its Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning, both learning and studying are analyzed as adult learner behaviors. What’s especially interesting is the comparison of learning to studying and the quantifiable results that show which seems to be the better method.

Learning or Studying?

Self-study is defined in the research report as “working on one’s own to improve reading, writing, or math skills,” with the researchers’ observation that it’s now a “widespread mode of basic skills development.” This was contrasted with classroom learning, which involves a student regularly attending a course in a physical setting with the presence of a teacher.

The research described in the report observed 940 high school non-completers from ages 18 to 44 who were using four different methods to prepare for their GED tests: self study only, adult education (in the classroom) only, both, and neither. The majority of adults used a combination of self-study and classroom learning (45%), with 20% using only the self-study method, 19% taking no action, and 16% using only classroom learning. Based solely on the evidence that nearly half of the adults chose to combine studying and learning strategies, it’s obvious that many adults understand that learning and studying are different teaching methods and can have a stronger effect when combined. The 45% who engaged in both types of teaching noted that, because self-study required a more organized and self-motivated approach, it was easier to self-study when taking a class. The self-study also functioned as a motivator to attend class, as the GED applicants wanted to see that their individual work paid off in the classroom.

The results of those who tested successfully and earned their GEDs from each group of study methods are both predictable and interesting. As expected, the self-study and classroom learning group had the strongest rate of success (27%). However, there was a strong contrast in success rates between the group that participated in self-study only and the group that only attended classes. The self-study group had a success rate of 24%, while the classroom learning group’s rate was only 17%. This is a greater contrast at 7% than the difference between the combined learning strategies and self-study only (just 3%), implying that the main component of success in the combined strategies was self-study. For these adults and their GED test preparation, self-study was a more effective course of action than classroom learning.

The Future of Learning and Studying

Self-study is likely to dominate education in the future as distance learning and e-learning grow in popularity. The idea of a classroom is quickly becoming outdated, and there are many courses of study that can be used individually online, such as those available from open universities. Online degree programs are also becoming more prevalent, making self-study the main component of future educational development.

Reference: Reder, Stephen and Clare Strawn. “Self-Study: Broadening the Concepts of Participation and Program Support.” NCSALL World Education Focus on Basics 8C (2006): 6-10.

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