Independent Learning In The Digital Age – Analysis


Autonomous Learning

Skill development

The new teaching methodology known as the approach through skills is centred on the student, considered as the active element or actor of his own knowledge, and not the teacher who tends to monopolize knowledge in old methodologies. This is considered, in the short story approach, as a guide to the student educational success in his alternative pedagogical venture in knowledge acquisition. “ In the educational applications, it is a question of transition move from “transmission” teaching to learning driven by the learner,” according to B. Charlier and Henri, F. (1) 

In Morocco, for around fifteen years, a new mode of educational training has emerged overturning the traditional mode, including in the field of foreign languages. Indeed, to develop his skills the learner is required to train himself, the teacher only advises and guides him in his new role of facilitator or coach. As a result, the approach by skills, which has been adopted whole-heartedly in the university, secondary and fundamental educational tracks, is an open door to self-learning.

It Is the socio-economic world which has given rise to the notion of competence, because young people that establishment teachers trained were not sufficiently capable of integrating into the professional world. (2) The competency-based approach responds to a concern for teaching efficiency, greater correspondence between institutional learning to everyday and professional situations, through the appropriation of knowledge by the learner.

Competence is defined, in its broadest common sense, such as knowledge or ability recognized in a particular field, depending on whether it insists on knowledge, know-how, or even knowing how to be. For Hymes (1972), (3) the communicative competence targeted currently through language learning does not allow only to decide on the grammaticality of a statement (on the basis of the grammatical competence it contains); but it adds appreciation of grammatical correction and the acceptability of statements by criteria of adequacy to the context and effectiveness of utterances as speech acts.

In fact, communicative competence includes three fundamental components, described in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2000), (4) in this case, (i) the linguistic competence, (ii) sociolinguistic competence, and (iii) pragmatic competence. To install all these skills, the learner must not rely on his teacher but he must count on himself. Education in most countries of the world of which Morocco is part and parcel has implemented the new methodology of teaching by accompanying it with processes and ways to make this task easier and more accessible in the eyes of the student.

One lives in a constantly evolving work environment. Transformations are part of daily lives whether one likes it or not! Thus, the best ally in these circumstances is one’s ability to learn in the flow of daily life in order to be able to continuously adapt. But what can one do to help managers and employees grow? If flexibility, efficiency, adaptability were to be the key words of everyone’s professional life, with busy schedules and ever-shorter deadlines, it would sometimes become almost impossible to find THE right time for THE training that will meet everyone’s needs. This is where independent learning becomes a more than interesting avenue!

What is autonomy?

1-Autonomy can be explained in the following terms:

  • Do it alone and succeed;
  • Have the means to;
  • Know how to use one’s own resources;
  • Know how to make choices;
  • Know oneself, identify one’s desires and needs, and take them into account to act;
  • Anticipate the consequences of one’s actions;
  • Know how to be WITH and WITHOUT others;
  • Be independent: in the physical sense (no disability), in the sense of thought;
  • Learn alone, be self-taught;
  • know how to search for the necessary information or ask for them;
  • Have the taste, the motivation to learn; and
  • Find strategies to overcome a difficulty.

2-What is an independent student?

This is a student who:

  • Is not dependent on others/adult;
  • Knows how to use the resources and tools provided arrangement;
  • Understood the instructions;
  • Knows how to work alone or in a group;
  • Knows how to take care of yourself appropriately;
  • Knows how to find his way in his class, in the school;
  • Knows how to evaluate oneself;
  • Knows how to ask for help;
  • Does not scatter;
  • Has understood and applies the rules of life;
  • Is perseverant; and
  • Is not afraid to make mistakes, who dares.

The Glossary of Education Reform defines student autonomy in learning in the following interesting terms: (5)

‘’Student autonomy: In recent years, educators have increasingly discussed and debated the degree to which students should be given more autonomy in the educational process. For example, the concept of  “student voice” is often used in reference to instructional approaches and techniques that take into consideration student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions. Some educators argue that students should play a more active role in designing or selecting learning experiences in schools, and that such approaches can encourage students to be more interested in school, more motivated to learn, and more likely to take greater responsibility over their education. In addition, the terms student autonomy or learner autonomy may refer to various theories of education that suggest learning improves when students take more control or responsibility over their own learning process. For related discussions, see differentiationpersonalized learning,scaffoldingstudent-centered learning, and student engagement.’’

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is a movement created in the 1960s by John Holt, an American teacher, researcher and writer who led actions for children’s rights and wrote numerous books devoted to the way children learn. According to Holt, children don’t need to be forced to learn; they do so naturally if they are given the freedom to follow their own interests, as well as access to multiple resources. Children are not forced to go to school, or to follow imposed curricula. They learn by living in their families and extended communities.

On the elucidation of the concept of ‘’unschooling’’, Patrick Farenga writes: (6)

‘’Instead of working on children to make them do what we want them to do, why can’t we work with children to help them do what they want, and in that process develop the trust and relationship necessary so a child will eventually listen to you if you ask or tell them something that you think is important for them to know or do. Yes, this takes patience and lots of time on the adults’ part, but that’s what unschooling gives you: lots of time. You don’t have to run through the lesson plans and check off boxes that show accomplishments; you can teach through conversation, through your displays of integrity and patience, through playing fair, by having fun together. Direct instruction is just a piece of the picture, but In school, It Is the entire picture.’’

And he goes on to say:

“The thing is, many classroom teachers know they need to allow more freedom, play, and self-agency in their classes—even at the college level—but they don’t find any support for it and they are conditioned to move from one lesson plan to the next based on the dictates of the school schedule, so many quickly give up the fight to do such things in their classrooms and they just buckle down and get with the program.

Self-directed education in unschooling is thoroughly different: if a child finds an interest, such as learning to play the piano or computer programming and sticks with it, most people think that’s okay. But if they move from one interest to another, or burn through all the material about identifying birds in the library or online and then never look at bird books again, parents, and educators in particular, get worried and think unschooling is failing and they must focus the child on more academic matters. But the child is focusing, just not on the schedule and subjects you wish they would focus on, and having a multitude of interests is not necessarily a sign of ADD or hyperactivity or school phobia.’’

The term has been taken up and sometimes used In a roundabout way, by different people and organizations, to describe so-called gentler or alternative methods to imposed teaching, such as child-led learning or relaxed homeschooling. Some even use the term to describe gaps in the child’s education as in “partial unschooling” or “non-teaching” or even parental neglect! The books by John Holt and those more recent by Ontarian Pam Larrichia as well as the book entitled: An Education Without School by Thierry Pardo are good bases to read to grasp the educational philosophy behind ‘’unschooling’’.

Basically, unschooling is a process of “unschooling” of the parent (and sometimes of the child if he attended school). It is a process where the adult puts his own education and that of the “mainstream” of school and society into perspective, with the real needs of the child, his innate predispositions for learning and the most recent scientific knowledge on the ideal conditions for the intellectual, physical and emotional development of children! The adult places himself in the position of a companion rather than that of an authority figure; he considers himself the child’s equal rather than his superior. Note that this does not mean that the parent does not 5nalys their legal responsibilities of education, custody and care towards the child, nor that there are no rules within the family; it simply means that the parent avoids coercive methods and accepts the child as he is, without the usual filters of societal expectations.

Autonomous learning philosophy

Independent learning allows students to take an independent and active part in their own learning, both at school and in society. (7) It is essential for the school system that students are less dependent on schools and teachers to learn, and are more able to set their own goals and achieve them. (8)

Since learning goes beyond the school context, students need autonomy to be able to prepare for new situations and new experiences in life. Independent learning can help students acquire knowledge, skills, values and motivation allowing them to analyze learning situations and develop appropriate action strategies. (9)

Independent learning involves people taking an independent and active part in their own learning. The notion of individual responsibility comes from the belief that learning can be influenced by effort, and this belief is the critical factor that allows individuals to persevere in the face of obstacles they encounter. Teachers can help students take charge of their own learning by providing opportunities and independent learning strategies. They can also encourage them to take an interest in this learning and take an active part in it. (10)

Students need to explore questions that resonate with their experiences. Everyone brings a different perspective and different experiences to the various learning situations, and in the final analysis, it is the student who learns and draws his own conclusions from the new experiences and new material with which he has been confronted. A certain sense of social responsibility will be stimulated by teaching that examines all new knowledge in terms of its relevance to students in particular, and to human beings in general. (11)

An important motivator for independent learning is to stimulate student’s interests and desire to learn. He will be motivated to learn if the activity offered to him corresponds to his experience, and if the knowledge it entails is useful and allows him to achieve a goal, he has set for himself. Such learning activities promote student thinking and the continued development of his intelligence. On the contrary, learning activities in which the student has no interest lead to an increased dependence on external motivation and make him seek rewards that have nothing to do with the satisfaction of learning for the sake of learning. This approach to teaching has the effect of reducing the student’s spirit of initiative. (12)

Kay Livingston defines independent learning philosophy in the following terms: (13)

‘’Independent learning is a method or learning process where learners have ownership and control of their learning – they learn by their own actions and direct, regulate, and assess their own learning. The independent learner is able to set goals, make choices, and decisions about how to meet his learning needs, take responsibility for constructing and carrying out his own learning, monitor his progress toward achieving his learning goals, and self-assess the learning outcomes.”

And goes on to say:

“The concept of independent learning is associated with, or a part of other educational concepts and wider policy agendas, such as improving the educational experiences and outcomes for learners through student-centered learning approaches that personalize learning and enable the learner to take ownership of the learning process (Meyer et al. 2008).”

Building autonomy in education

Throughout one’s life, one tries to become more and more autonomous in relation to others and to society that surrounds it. Autonomy cannot be decreed, it is built, gradually. It’s this desire to take charge of one’s life which guarantees an individual his condition as a citizen and which, therefore, allows the proper functioning of democracy. 

Autonomy is a concept relating to the environment, the human group, or the society in which the individual lives. The term autonomy comes from the Greek autonomia which means the power of one who is autonomos, that is to say, he who himself determines the law (nomos) which he obeys.

Autonomy implies a certain independence but it is not absolute independence. The acquisition of autonomy is a goal in itself: it is a skill to be acquired, an essential transversal skill to develop in children. (14)

The common base of knowledge, skills and culture project recalls the importance to be given to autonomy in the training of the person and the citizen. Building autonomy is one of the main missions of kindergarten and primary school. Making students autonomous does not mean letting them fend for themselves. It is the ability to allow them to be able to resolve problem situations, to choose, to try and to take decisions and initiatives. (15)

Building one’s autonomy as a student means being able, among other things, to give meaning to one’s learning, perceive at least the purposes and issues. But the acquisition of autonomy is also a means of serving learning to organize individualized or differentiated work, to organize effective group work, to free the teacher and allow him to take charge of identified students or groups. (16)

Kindergarten must allow students to do as many things as possible without parental or adult intervention at the level of material management and mental approach and thus guarantee that they automate certain procedures ensuring they can search for the answers and tools themselves without the teacher being the obligatory point of passage towards the implementation of the work. (17)

In the observations carried out or by speaking with the actors working with the young person people, we see that:

– confusions are frequently noted between autonomy and resourcefulness, between autonomy and systematic laissez-faire, between autonomous student and “wise” and calm student;

– Autonomy is too often considered as a gift, as innate;

– Autonomy, which is built in all areas of activity, is rarely an object specific learning;

– Teachers are primarily and sometimes too exclusively concerned with physical and emotional as well as intellectual autonomy; and

– The lack of autonomy of children is often presented as an obstacle to the implementation of differentiated teaching.

What is self-directed learning?

Self-directed learning (18) or self-organized learning describes a process in which the individual takes the initiative to diagnose his learning needs, formulates learning objectives, identifies resources for learning, selects and implements appropriate learning strategies and evaluates learning outcomes. 

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education defines self-directed education as follows: (19)

“Self-directed education can be contrasted to coercive schooling, which is forced upon individuals, regardless of their desire for it, and is motivated by systems of rewards and punishments, as occurs in conventional schools. Coercive schooling is generally aimed at enhancing conformity rather than uniqueness, and it operates by suppressing, rather than nurturing, the natural drives of curiosity, playfulness, and sociability.

Finally, then, Self-Directed Education refers to the educational approach of young people and those supporting them as they take charge of their education. Maybe their families have enrolled them in schools that support young people’s pursuits of their own interests and do not impose a curriculum. Maybe they homeschool by the method commonly called unschooling, where the children pursue their own interests rather than an imposed curriculum. “SDE” is diverse and expansive. It exists as an older alternative to conventional schooling, outside of relationship to schooling, and sometimes even is a refuge practice for young people who feel stuck in conventional schools.”

As mentioned, self-directed learning is a learning process in which the learner takes control of the learning, with or without help from others. According to research, the future of online learning will be characterized by greater user autonomy and fewer prescribed learning paths, leading to more integrated, searchable and catalogued systems. (20)

Self-directed learning at self-determined study times is an important trend in the advancement of learning environment and learning methods in general, due to its unique characteristics and separation of physical and social experiences. (21)

There are many motivators for any self-directed learning in the online learning environment. Perhaps this is why instructional design, learning formats, are so popular. This in turn may be the reason why online learning is so popular with today’s learners and boosts learning activities. (22)

It is assumed that traditional learning environments will increasingly change as informal learning tends to increase motivation to learn.

Independent learning = initiated by the child, not forced

The term ‘’independent learning’’ was first used in English with the word “unschooling”. The literal translation “unschooled” is inappropriate, as we shall see independent learning can also take place at school. The term “unschooling” used by John Holt (23) has been given many numerous translations: autonomous learning, informal learning, self-managed learning, free learning…. (24) This just how difficult it is to define the term simply! It seems that independent learning is what one most often uses when, as adults, one wants to learn something or learn how to do something. No one asks one to do it, but one decides to do it, usually for one’s own pleasure (for example, learning to dance, to play a musical instrument, or to speak Japanese or draw). It may also be out of necessity, but without any external injunction (learning to drive, speak a foreign language…).

On the Unschooling Philosophy of John Holt, Kyle Pearce writes: (25)

‘’The term “unschooling” likely derives from Ivan Illich‘s term “deschooling”, and was coined by education philosopher John Holt who is considered by many to be the father of the unschooling (and the homeschooling) movement.

The term “unschooling” has become used as a contrast to versions of homeschooling that were perceived as politically and pedagogically “school-like,” using textbooks and exercises at home, the same way they would be used at school.

John Holt’s definition of unschooling is allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear. He also said he was not entirely comfortable with this term, and that he would have preferred the term “living”. He saw no distinction between learning and living a meaningful life.’’

Understanding independent learning?

Ildikó Horváth defines autonomous learning in what follows: (26)

“Autonomous learning is a complex and multi-faceted construct. According to Holec’s definition, it can be seen as the learners’ capacity to self-direct their own learning, which means taking responsibility for the decisions concerning the different aspects of the learning process. In self-directed learning, learners’ choices remain mainly on the learning management level, i.e. the behavioural level of learning, and it self-direction relates to the practical side of learning such as selecting learning materials, methods, the place and time of learning, the partners, etc. (Holec 1981:3). According to a more recent definition of autonomous learning, however, there is more to it than its purely management aspect. Autonomous learning, first of all, means critical thinking, planning and evaluating learning, and reflection, a conscious effort on the part of the learner to continuously monitor the learning process from beginning to end (Benson 2001:59– 60). This is the cognitive side of autonomous learning.’’

By autonomous learning, one means training that allows everyone to take initiatives and concrete actions. It is dynamic learning, with personalized progression that follows the learner’s pace.

This is the concept:

  • Just in time;
  • Always accessible; and
  • At your own pace…

Indeed, not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. However, whether one is a manager or an employee, it is important to regularly update one’s knowledge to stay up to date, efficient and motivated by one’s work. (27)

Independent learning allows to keep one’s balance in the middle of the storm, but not only that! By providing the opportunity for managers and employees to have different experiences and acquire new knowledge. With independent learning, everyone can influence their own development. This allows them to be in a proactive posture. Training is no longer undergone, but chosen. Everyone naturally becomes more committed to becoming a better version of themselves. (28)

In doing so, they become more confident, more efficient, more collaborative. They develop distinctive expertise that is useful for them, the organization and their peers. And who knows? This can help develop recognition within teams, and recognition is a source of commitment. In short, independent learning creates favorable conditions for 9nalyses9t at work and professional advancement. (29)


Here are 7 levers that promote independent learning:

‍1-Offer choices: Autonomy is one of the keys to performance. And having the choice “boosts” the feeling of autonomy! Enough to be even more engaged and invested in learning.‍

2-Learning in action: If you apply what you have just learned, there is a much greater chance of remembering it in the long term. In addition, it allows you to move from theory to practice and that too is very stimulating!‍

3-The learning posture: Some people talk about the growth mindset, that is to say the right attitude to have in order to successfully learn. By remaining open, positive, ready to make mistakes, and also by taking the necessary step back and accepting being destabilized, puts all the chances on our side to succeed.‍

4-Intrinsic satisfaction: Without motivation, there is little chance of persevering. Feeling proud of the progress one has made, quickly noting the positive effects in one’s daily lives and feeling that this new skill will perhaps become one of distinctive strengths, that gives wings!‍

5-The social dimension: Learning together is engaging and opens up new perspectives. Who says autonomous does not mean solitary, one therefore relies on the sharing of discoveries and on “feedback” to stimulate awareness.‍

6-Accessible content: To learn better, it is important to have access to modern, practical content that facilitates learning. ‍

7-Fun: Because learning is even better when it’s done with pleasure. The pleasure of discovering, of trying fun and unusual solutions, but also the pleasure of sharing with others to be able to go even further.

Independent learning is taking responsibility for one’s own learning, defining one’s own goals, choosing what and when to learn, observing one’s progress, developing questioning and critical evaluation skills, and reflecting what has been learned in the context of the curriculum while having the support of the school. (30)

As a preliminary, one defines learning, in general terms, as “a change in a subject’s behavior in the face of a given situation, due to the fact that this situation has been experienced several times”. The first point on which one need to focus one’s approach to learning is that nothing in human behavior is an inevitable consequence of rigid, biologically-programmed predetermination. Contemporary biology itself has definitively given up on conceiving of the organism in a deterministic way (i.e. as the realization of genetically predetermined potentialities). (31)

The idea that learning is an adaptation of living beings to ambient stimuli is thus outdated. Maturana and Varela’s theory of autopoiesis, on the other hand, radically challenges the idea of adaptation as a mechanism governed by the input output schema. (32) In classical definitions, adaptation is presented as the organism’s response to the demands of the environment: these demands are the cause of the modifications that take place in the living system. Autopoiesis theory (i.e. the theory that adopts the autonomy viewpoint to explain the organization of living systems) has reversed the terms of the problem. According to this paradigm, adaptation is the result of selection by the organism from all the stimuli coming from the environment. (33)

The place and role of the teacher

The role of the teacher has evolved: he is no longer limited to providing knowledge, he has become a guide, a mediator, a regulator and a coach.

The teacher has a determining role in awakening motivation in the learner and therefore in building autonomy. It is his responsibility to conceptualize motivating activities, to build them, to implement them and finally to analyze the students’ results. THE teacher is a real architect of school life. Even if autonomy presents itself as self-organization, it can be acquired through the organization of school life. The teacher must therefore conceive of one’s activities as tools that will allow him to organize himself in the conduct of his learning and in his behavior. (34)

This means that the teacher gradually makes the student responsible, an actor of his learning by modulating his interventions according to his needs and by agreeing to lose absolute power over the class.

Who is a teacher? Role/responsibilities of a teacher (36)

The more meaningful the activity is for the child, the more the teacher has benchmarks to analyze his successes and his difficulties. He will therefore be able to better direct his work independently. It is essential, indeed, that the student clearly perceives the meaning, the interest of the task proposed to him and that he understands what he is learning (verbalization of the teacher and/or student’s different moments: during the presentation of the task, during the completion of the task of self-assessment). (36)

Sukriti Sen defines the teacher in the following words: (37)

‘’Teachers play a very important role in a student’s life. As a teacher, one must bring out the best in students and inspire them to strive for greatness. Students are considered as the future of the nation and humankind, and a teacher is believed to be a credible guide for their advancement. Not only do they guide students in academics or extracurricular activities, but teachers are also responsible for shaping a child’s future, making him/her a better human being. A teacher imparts knowledge, good values, tradition, modern-day challenges and ways to resolve them within students. A good teacher is an asset to the students.’’

Every activity has a metacognitive dimension. The teacher must also be vigilant about the tools available to students because these contribute also to the exercise and development of autonomy. He also takes care of the material organization, spatial, temporal of the living environment which must be thought of in an evolving way with and for the students in depending on the needs, difficulties, problems, situations encountered on a daily basis.

The teacher will ensure a good alternation of the forms of work implemented which must be reflected and allow students to learn to work alone (small group work, etc.). He will design learning situations which must be part of learning units with reinvestment and transfer phases as well as evaluation times (including self-evaluation). The teacher will pay attention to the wording of instructions. It grants a positive status to error: errors serve as points of support for learning and have a formative dimension. Errors implement a pedagogy of success. (38)

The teacher’s role is that of advisor. His interventions are measured, and have a reassuring effect. The teacher will help the students to overcome the obstacles they encounter. Autonomy then takes on its full meaning. It’s not just about mastering knowledge, but also about an analysis of the constraints of the activity. Each child 12nalyses these and organizes his resolution based on the knowledge he has acquired. Depending on his choice, the student will be required to use certain tools that he can integrate into his working method. (39)

The teacher must question his own pedagogical planning strategies and to ensure that every choice and every organization serves the progressive learning autonomy. Indeed, one can’t expect autonomy as an innate or spontaneous, or even as a prerequisite. It is the pedagogical variables that condition and guarantee autonomy. It’s a complex process that takes time and requires real teaching. (40)

For the University of the People, teachers matter greatly in society: (41)

‘’Teachers are the ultimate role models for students. The fact that students come into contact with many different types of teachers in their academic career means that more likely than not, there will be a teacher that speaks to them.

The teacher-student connection is invaluable for some students, who may otherwise not have that stability. Teachers will stay positive for their students even when things can seem grim. A great teacher always has compassion for their students, understanding of their students’ personal lives, and appreciation for their academic goals and achievements. Teachers are role models for children to be positive, always try harder, and reach for the stars.’’

The different dimensions of autonomy

Autonomy must develop in different dimensions and levels:

Emotional and relational autonomy: the child must gradually free himself from the help of the adult; he is capable of acting alone in the situations he encounters;

Physical autonomy: the child becomes aware of his physical possibilities, he learns and controls daily actions; and

Intellectual autonomy: the child must be able to think for himself; he is able to use tools to learn; he must have the means to use what he has learned in other contexts; he must learn to learn and evaluate himself.

Autonomy is built over time. It is therefore a long learning process which is built over time. Motivation is an essential component of the act of learning. It is a condition essential to the acquisition of knowledge. It translates into a thirst for learning. (42) It is born from several determinants which are:

-The perception that a student has of himself: This perception is linked to the knowledge that the student has of its own skills and potential. He must be, therefore, helped to evaluate them, during his learning based on lived experiences.

-The perception of the value of an activity: It is characterized by the judgment that a student makes about an activity. It is important that the teacher gives meaning to the learning. That is to say he must ensure that the new knowledge answers the students’ questions, which is dependent on the level of the students and their personalities and also their environment.

-The perception of their skills to carry out an activity: The student evaluates his abilities to carry out an activity. This is made possible by the implementation of a self-assessment process (a moment of metacognition in a dual relationship with the teacher can be useful)

-The perception of a student’s controllability over activities: the student needs to feel a degree of control over the unfolding of the activities proposed to him. He needs to be able to express his ideas and be active throughout the learning process. All this awakens the child’s desire to learn, and he will become more involved in the learning process by showing commitment and perseverance in the face of certain difficulties. A motivated student is a student who will make choices when carrying out a learning activity, so that he will develop strategies to achieve it.

Autonomy seems to use the same ingredients as motivation. It is essential that the learner feels that he exists and is recognized. This esteem from others will give rise to a self-esteem that will translate into self-confidence, leading to the acquisition of a certain degree of autonomy. But isn’t it that motivation comes from this self-confidence? (43)


What is digital learning?

Digital learning is quite simply the integration of digital technology into any training content. The term digital learning, comes up frequently on search engines and with which it is now useful to become familiar if one is not already! (44)

Whether deployed in small doses in addition to face-to-face teaching or in a fully dedicated educational formula, digital learning can take on different aspects at one’s convenience. It can thus fit together and complement existing training content to optimize it, make it more effective, or even facilitate exchanges between students and teachers.

Introducing digital education, Rosemarie Mcilwhan writes: (45)

‘’Digital education is an umbrella term for any “education that is conducted at least partly in, with or through digital technologies. This is a deliberately broad definition that could encompass the use of technology in traditional classrooms, blended learning (which combines online and face-to-face instruction) and education that takes place entirely online.” (Allan, 2019) 

In the 21st century, digital technologies are often an unseen part of daily life, from online banking, social media and streaming services, to education or work-specific activities such as email, PowerPoint presentations, and PDF handouts. However, when it comes to more overtly digital technologies such as the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), or creation or use of digital media resources, or adoption of pedagogical approaches specifically related to digital education things can feel a bit more daunting.’’

Digital learning has continued to grow in recent years, linked both to the desire to better meet the needs of learners and to the democratization of new technologies, whether at home or in the workplace. Most if not all students have the ability to access a computer, a tablet and of course their most valuable tool: their smartphone! Enough to facilitate the implementation of new technologies for the optimized development of educational skills. (46)

For adults, a lot of educational content is now directly and entirely accessible online with the added bonus of being financially supported. Dozens of training organizations, platforms and other teaching centers have therefore developed specific online learning content in recent years while continuing to offer face-to-face courses in traditional form. (47) 

Computing pedagogy

The health crisis experienced since spring 2020 with the closure of schools, colleges, high schools and universities for several weeks has considerably accelerated the phenomenon of digitalization of learning. Constrained and forced at first, many establishments were able to bounce back and seize the opportunities that such a context could ultimately bring them.

The first to be affected were ultimately the students and teachers who had to resort to digital learning training in order not to jeopardize their learning process in conditions which were not always easy for everyone. An experience from which everyone was able to learn.

However, let’s not believe that digital technology, which is an integral part of our lives, remains easy for everyone. However, many people say they are still far from digital technology for various reasons: inability to access technology, lack of skills or information… A digital divide that remains and does not only concern seniors as it would be easy to think. There is still work to be done to get younger people, especially, to become familiar with these tools and the possibilities they can offer them. (48)

Digital education: how does it work?

The trend in terms of digital version learning consists of being deployed in two distinct forms: e-learning, that is to say distance teaching, or blended-learning, which means mixed learning and which combines both face-to-face training and educational content distributed using digital e-learning tools. (49)

Let’s take a closer look at these two approaches together.

E-learning (50)

The first option available is to implement the content of one’s training in an entirely digital manner. Distance learning centers generally offer a training course with video courses accessible online that students can follow at their own pace if the pace is not imposed on them.

On a dedicated platform, learners connect and watch video course modules of varying length. They have access to online exercises which can quickly be corrected and commented on by the teacher or even additional educational resources. An articulation which is organized according to the methodology of each establishment and its philosophy with a single objective in mind: to enable students to become more efficient, to advance in their training with monitoring of their progress. (51)

One of the specificities of e-learning is its collaborative aspect: students discuss with the teacher the course they are following or any difficulties encountered but also exchange with each other via messaging or a discussion forum that one can set up using the different technologies available.

For online training to be effective it must be easy to access, offer an ergonomic interface to ensure student access to courses, modules and all the resources that one deems necessary so that they become autonomous in their training course.

Blended learning (52)

Blended learning, also called blended-learning in digital training jargon, means that you offer your students a course combining traditional face-to-face teaching supplemented by a digital e-learning platform and specific content which completes or enhances the course. An educational formula which offers the advantage to learners of being able to manage their time at their convenience.

In 2020, the European Commission looked into the subject by publishing a study on the potential and challenges linked to this learning model. It emphasized the important points to take into consideration when considering the success of this combination of distance and face-to-face teaching. These include school supervision, legislative texts, the role and working conditions of teachers, the evaluation of learners and the well-being of staff and students. (53)

What are the challenges?

Three major challenges will face one’s establishment if one decides to implement such a learning method: the integration of digital technology, the proposal of new courses and the development of critical and creative thinking.

Integration of digital teaching

Integrating educational content therefore requires having a platform on which students and teachers can connect to share lessons, exercises and all the resources necessary for acquiring skills. (54) 

For it to be successful, one’s integration must take into account several elements such as real-time feedback in order to be able to monitor student activity and their progress. The smoother the user experience of the platform, the more easily students access it and the higher their engagement rate remains. Whatever options are available one must keep in mind that one’s interface must remain personalized and faithful to one’s training objectives as well as learning culture. (55)

Proposal for new learning

Deciding to implement a new learning model also involves being a force of persuasion. Indeed, if one’s method is already well established, only face-to-face for example, offering digital learning will not be without difficulties with one’s educational community, if it proves more or less resistant to change. It’s up to one to convince it by giving it all the information and presenting the advantages that e-learning and blended-learning training in English will bring to one’s establishment and students. (56)

Development of creativity and criticism

It will be much easier to organize digital learning if one already uses digital training support, which one can improve and make more relevant by adding specific content and new modules for students. On the other hand, if one does not use digital training support, it will be more complex to design and deliver digital teaching. But nothing is impossible – or almost nothing – in the digital world, so it’s up to one to think critically and be creative! (57)

The benefits of digital learning

So, what are the benefits that teachers and students will be able to gain from a digital learning experience? (58)

This model offers several advantages such as being able to study at one’s own pace, using a pleasant and familiar environment that one has the freedom to choose and configure according to one’s objectives.

Students will gain autonomy, become independent and more responsible. Group work is made easier. Digital learning remains accessible to everyone, including learners who have limited time to devote to training such as people who already have a job or devote themselves full-time to their children at home.

Since the educational content is accessible to them 24 hours a day, the process remains flexible by offering the possibility of combining a professional activity with training to allow, for example, retraining with complete peace of mind.

An important point in this specific context: online training always remains less expensive than a face-to-face course and offers a fun aspect thanks to e-learning, serious games and other gamifications.

Reflecting on the benefits of digital learning, Eddie Playfair writes: (59)

‘’ When asking what impact new learning technologies should have on education, the answers often fall along a linear spectrum. At one end of this spectrum is the commonly held idea that learning is learning, and that new technologies are just new tools for an old activity. We must use these new tools effectively in our teaching, but the fundamental role of the teacher remains unchanged and implies the same ability to understand how learning occurs. At the other end is the view that digital technologies are radically transforming the nature and acquisition of knowledge and that we need to completely rethink our pedagogy to ensure that our students can benefit from this new world of educational opportunities, qualitatively speaking.’’

The impact of screens on autonomous learning 

Digital technology is an integral part of our modern societies. It has now become essential in learning and access to information, in relationships with others and with administrations and even in entertainment.

The introduction of new technologies does not have a “magic” role in educational performance, but it is their use in a teaching system constructed by the teacher which could make a significant contribution.

Decades of research have shown a benefit in learning to read using paper books. As for digital books, several studies show a greater contribution to learning to read, while for others, the results between the two formats are similar. (60) This may partly come from the fact that not all children’s books (61) are of the same quality, offering little or no digital enrichment. (62)

Online pedagogy

On how well-suited are electronic books for literacy, De Jong and Bus write: (63)

‘’Multimedia additions to books on CD-ROM include oral reading, dynamic visuals to represent (parts of) the story, highlighting of text while the text is narrated and sound effects. Not all of these facilities have been subjected to experimental tests. For instance, books on CD-ROM focus children’s attention on the relationship between text and oral reading by changing while it is narrated. As a result, children may internalize characteristics of the text format and extend their sight word vocabulary (Reinking, 1997; Smith, 2001), but more research into this hypothesis is needed. Voices, sounds and dynamic visuals, on the other hand, seem to be effective. There is evidence that feelings, mood and character actions, elicited by filmic depth, sounds and voices, improve the ability to make inferences about story events (Trabasso and Van den Broeck, 1985). Third and fifth/sixth graders who read CD-ROMs (story books or informative texts) with such multimedia extensions certainly scored significantly higher on inferential questions than students who read the print versions (Matthew, 1996; Reinking, 1988). ‘’

More and more children’s books are now offered in a digital version. There are great similarities between the paper version and the digital version. Reading books on screen still offers a certain number of advantages compared to the paper version. For example, we find the integration of animations, music, sound effects or even audio playback. (64) A majority of researchers agree that these features will support the child’s learning. However, they must be thought of so as not to interfere with understanding. One can in particular think of the sounds and music which entertain the child and make the audio narration more or less comprehensible. Other features are offered such as the possibility of clicking on words in order to listen to the sound at the syllabic level and thus facilitate phonological awareness.

Not all books offer the same level of functionality. (65) This is particularly the case in the context of an audio reading by the narrator which will be accompanied by highlighting of the text as the story progresses. This allows the child to follow the story and improve their reading skills by having better recognition of words and letters. In 2002, Jong and Bus studied the impact of this feature on learning to read. They demonstrated that for some children this presented a more effective tool than having an adult read a book without having the words highlighted. According to them, digital books complement more traditional reading, but should not replace it.

Active digital and autonomous learning

Learning occurs when the learner is active rather than passive

Active learning occurs when the learner constructs his own understanding of content. It is opposed to the passive reception of teaching.  Given the interaction between children and the tablet screen, it arouses more active involvement than other forms of media, such as television or traditional books. However, a caveat is that it is easy to confuse active learning with the simple physical movements needed to operate electronic devices, because these movements make children seemingly move. Learning does not occur through fingers, but rather through active understanding and mental manipulation, whether the child uses his fingers or not.

Learning occurs when the learner must mentally manipulate ideas, perceive similarities and differences between new concepts and acquired knowledge, and then incorporate this new information into a more complete overall understanding. This is true in many contexts for varied learners.   When evaluating the educational potential of an application, it is therefore important to consider the active or passive nature of the learning activity.

Learning occurs when the learner is engaged and not distracted

Technology has transformed the process of creating educational content for children. These can look at a lion in its actual habitat rather than just reading about it or seeing it in a static image. They can interact with letters and words by dragging letters across the screen and hearing associated sounds. At the same time, these technological advances also have the potential to distract children from their learning and developers from their educational goals. Too often, developers adopt a “more is better” framework and inundate the child with unnecessary stimuli that, while entertaining, distract the child from the learning objective.

Young children may be particularly vulnerable to these distractions (69) and the negative impacts of distracting stimuli have been demonstrated even with simple animated books (those whose pages develop a three-dimensional volume or set elements in motion), which are nevertheless of low technological complexity. (70) (71)  In a recent study comparing parent-child interactions while reading digital books and traditional printed books, researchers showed that parents issued more directives and asked fewer questions with the digital books; moreover, the understanding of the story that 3-year-old children were developing suffered. (72) Thus, multimedia additions must be evaluated both for their potential benefits and their possible harms.

Learning happens when content is meaningful

Children can learn anything from animal names to characteristics that distinguish mammals from reptiles. However, children need to be able to connect these learnings to their own lives to make sense of them. When choosing or creating an app, it is crucial that children not only learn that the triangle on the screen is a triangle, but also that the piece of pizza in front of them also looks like a triangle. The idea that meaningful learning has more educational potential than mechanical learning is not limited to digital applications and applies to learners of all ages. By requiring deeper levels of information processing, more substantial learning occurs. Applications should therefore help children learn useful lessons beyond the application itself and even beyond the screen. (73)

On the question of the importance of digital learning the book entitled: Meaningful Online Learning Integrating Strategies, Activities, and Learning Technologies for Effective Designs, written by Nada Dabbagh, Rose M. Marra, Jane L. Howland, the emphasis is on the concept of meaningful learning: (74)

“Meaningful Online Learning explores the design and facilitation of high-quality online learning experiences and outcomes through the integration of theory-based instructional strategies, learning activities, and proven educational technologies. Building on the authors’ years of synthesized research and expertise, this textbook prepares instructors in training to create, deliver, and evaluate learner-centered online pedagogies. Pre- and in-service K–12 teachers, higher education faculty, and instructional designers in private, corporate, or government settings will find a comprehensive approach and support system for their design efforts.’’

Learning is maximized through social interaction

Although one of the attractive features of tablets is that children can use them on their own from a very young age, research has repeatedly shown that social interaction supports learning.  Apps should foster this interaction rather than replace it.  Application developers increasingly favor off-screen experiences as well as hybrid experiences, in which children play together with an application and with parents included in the process. In some apps, the technology requires kids to play together or solve problems together off-screen, with the device becoming the moderator rather than the partner.

Self-learning and new technologies

Much research at present emphasizes on learners and their spontaneous uses of technologies, highlighting the breaks with traditional teaching but also the need for documentary training: (77)

‘’Teaching is based on the learner and the teacher who becomes more of a mediator-facilitator than a transmitter of knowledge, hence a desacralization of the function. The decompartmentalization of education and multidisciplinary work are also imperative, in particular to prevent multimedia from remaining the preserve of technological disciplines.’’ 

The technological world has changed the behavior of training, research and information gathering. It arouses the development of information skills to sort and be able to best process the abundance of information. The technology today offers a multitude of resources of information, production and sharing, which broadens the formal and informal learning opportunities, and strengthens learner skills: (78)

‘’In activities outside the school context, motivated by friendship or interests, they acquire a certain number of skills in exploring, searching information on Google, by reading the comments of, peers, by “tinkering”, by “trial and error”, by creating and by sharing their creations. The experts are not necessarily adults but also peers. Thus, they let themselves be guided by their interests, only learn things that are useful to them, share their visions with others.’’ 

Today, technological tools provide a considerable contribution benefit to the learner and even the teacher. These news ways of learning and teaching have become an instrument to build knowledge, carry out projects, enter into relationship with others, or overcome difficulties of any kind, especially oral. Thus, new technologies will (79)

‘’…transform school and respond to basic needs of education and training. Whether at the global level to achieve the ambitious goal of education for all, at the European level to support the development of the knowledge society, or at a more local level to promote school projects or increase the efficiency of teaching practices.’’

In the world of technology, the learner can be an actor and create his personal learning universe. To tell the truth, technology has positive effects on self-learning, especially in developing in students a taste for such an approach: (80)

“According to their promoters, these technologies will prove to be very close to active methods that encourage learner involvement and autonomy, or very much in line with inspired programmed teaching methods, or very much in tune with the discovery and inquiry that is learning from a constructivist perspective.’’

Learning with new technologies is one way to learn without being totally dependent on teaching.

The role of digital technology in the learner empowerment process

The place and role of digital technology in schools, and particularly in the process of teaching/learning a foreign language is already the subject of a genuine institutional commitment, since digital tools offer a host of pedagogical advantages. (81)

Here, one distinguishes between two possible uses of digital technology, both in and out of the classroom: playful use, which is characterized by an approach that is generally considered to be fun, recreational or entertaining; and the use of digital technology for practical purposes.

For Julié and Perrot ICTE (information and communication technology in education) can be of tremendous importance: (82)

‘’ICTE can be an invaluable asset […] as it enables us to vary teaching materials to increase students’ exposure to the language; to empower learners’ action and reflection by developing their critical faculties, and break down the barriers between English lessons physical and temporal limits of the classroom.’’

In addition to being a motivating factor, the digital tools set up in schools and also those available to students at home, would be a practical asset in empowering learners, as they enable them to better manage their learning.

In order to qualify as autonomous, learners must be able to show the ability to take charge of their learning when learning is carried out outside of the presence of a teacher. There are many digital devices that enable students to manage their own learning more easily, and offer the entire educational team the ability to monitor and support the student in his goal of empowerment. (83)

Implementing pedagogical differentiation

As well as pushing back the boundaries of the classroom and optimizing course organization, digital tools promote learner autonomy by enabling teaching to be adapted to individual learners and their particular needs.

From the very beginnings of computing and the development of artificial intelligence in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been an institutional desire to exploit digital potential to support both an individualized approach to each student’s needs and a global approach to the classroom. This desire is still present today.

The digital tool processes the information, considers the learner’s answers, activities, successes or failures and adapts the content accordingly. Digital technology could thus provide an opportunity to adapt the entire learning process to each student’s profile, since it can assess and adapt exercises almost immediately: (84)

In this way, learning is totally individualized, with each learner following a progression that meets his or her own needs. Differentiation means organizing interactions and activities so that students are constantly, or at least as often as possible, confronted situations that are most fruitful for them. Differentiated pedagogy therefore poses the problem of bringing students not to a given point (as we do with our current curricula), but each to his or her highest level of competence.  

Relevance of ICT in education

Autonomous education includes concepts such as autodidactic (individual learning in complete isolation) and hetero-directed autonomous learning (autonomous learning within a group). Autonomy, which can be considered as the ability to learn, is, indeed, the ability to take charge of one’s own learning. This is not innate; it must be acquired. Taking charge of your own learning means being responsible for, and assuming responsibility for, all decisions concerning defining content and progression, selecting the methods and techniques to be used, monitoring the progress of learning and evaluating acquisition.

The use of Information and communication technologies In education appears to be a strategic choice for the success of learners and the development their autonomy, especially those with little formal training. Education can gain in quality by acting on technological tools, resources and learning processes, but it now remains to establish a fair trade-off between all these factors to measure their feasibility and profitability. (85)

In this regard Vinay Pawar writes: (86)

“Information and communication technologies (ICT) can influence students’ learning when teachers are digitally trained and understand how they can be integrated into the curriculum. Schools use different ICT tools to communicate, create, distribute, store and manage information. In some contexts ICT is also part of the interaction between education and learning, through approaches such as replacing slates with interactive whiteboards, the use of smartphones typed by students or other devices, learning during class and “classroom” -fashion model. Where students see conferences at home on their computers and perform more interactive exercises in the classroom. By informing and training teachers digitally about the use of ICT, these approaches can address higher thinking skills, provide creative and individualized options for students to express their understanding, and prepare students better for technological change in society and the workplace. , ICT problem planners should consider: looking at the overall cost-benefit comparison, ensuring and maintaining the necessary infrastructure and ensuring that investments are consistent with the support of teachers and other measures for the effective use of ICT.”

Motivation, autonomy and ICT in education are the key words that have appeared repeatedly in previous years. Taking these elements into account certainly give a new role for the learner, who can no longer remain anchored in the passive model of passive reception of knowledge from the teacher. But the effect also echoes the latter. The teacher is no longer the owner of homogeneous, stable knowledge that can be passed on to one generation of learners after another. Far from the reassuring shelters provided by brochures and ready-made methods, one is constantly venturing down paths of unknown experience. There can be no doubt that the claim to be a teacher is always a rewarding one.

Education is a continuous learning process, constantly adapting to new tools and new needs imposed by each new group of learners. Perhaps motivation lies in this constantly renewed challenge. Developing autonomy in new learning contexts could be an added value if one succeeds in developing the learner’s metacognitive strategies from pedagogical logic to learning logic.

Conclusion: What if self-directed learning was the training of the future?

Studies show that people who engage in self-directed learning are generally more persistent. They also manage to adapt their learning to their work context. The success rate is often higher, not only in terms of achieving objectives, but also in terms of resilience. The ability to solve complex problems and to use critical thinking and, as such, creativity increases. (87)

Finally, one finds that people who engage in self-directed learning are able to transfer their learning to their everyday lives, as well as to the people around them.

Students will not all become independent at the same rate, but according to age and skill level in a given subject. It is important to set the optimum conditions for student learning, if one wants to encourage everyone to take more and more part in their own learning.

Independent learning cannot be achieved alone. Learning is an approach based on relationships between students, and between the student and the teacher. Students engage in learning activities as individuals interdependent on other individuals in the classroom and in society.

Autonomous learning has implications in the area of decision-making, as individuals are expected to analyze problems, think, make decisions and act according to the goal they have set. To be able to take responsibility for their lives in a time of such rapid social change, students must never stop learning. As most aspects of everyday life are likely to change profoundly, independent learning should enable individuals to better adapt to the constraints imposed by work, family and society. For example, changes in the field of work may require retraining, changing jobs and lifelong learning, with new technology making the values, attitudes and skills acquired during this essential common learning.

As with creativity and critical reasoning, independent learning is an important foundation for maintaining democracy and promoting social justice. Citizens must study the problems facing them autonomously and make rational decisions, based on an assessment of their own interests and those of society in general. They must then act according to these decisions, and not according to decisions that others have made for them supposedly for their own good. As guardians of the future, today’s youth need to acquire independent learning skills, which will empower them to act according to the principles of social justice and for the survival of our planet.

Finally, it is thanks to autonomous learning that all other common essential learning can form a coherent whole. Independent learning helps to synthesize all the concepts presented there.

In summary, independent learning:

– Is based on learning activities that correspond to the student’s experience;

– Allows students to take responsibility for their own learning;

– Is essential for lifelong motivation and growth;

– Prepares students for their role as responsible citizens in a constantly evolving society; and

– Is a tool allowing one to also achieve all other common essential learning.

Although digital technology has only recently made its appearance in classroom teaching today, it has become a real asset in everyday life. In this analysis, we focused on the learner and tried to understand how digital technology and the devices it enables impact learning and how they are likely to be a driving force in achieving learner empowerment.

As we have seen, in order to qualify a learner as autonomous, he must have demonstrated the ability to take charge of his learning, and since the ability to take charge of his learning is not innate, the teacher must put autonomy as a training objective. When used appropriately, digital technology can contribute to the development of autonomous learning strategies, and thus to learner empowerment. 

However, the complete autonomy of learning and the disappearance of the teacher in favor of digital technology does not seem achievable or even desirable. The conclusions we have drawn from our experiments with digital technology clearly indicate that the teacher will always have an essential role to play in school learning, since adapting digital devices to learners requires the support of teachers. 

On the other hand, although digital tools are complementary, they can contribute to changes in teaching practices and pedagogical approaches, and thus contribute to the evolution of the teacher’s role in new environments where technology has the upper hand and somewhat enhances greatly autonomy in learning.

While many of the qualities of digital technology have been studied, we realize also the limits that this pedagogy brings to the learning process. Indeed, knowing certain indispensable elements and mastering the various tools it offers is a prerequisite for making good use of digital technology in the classroom.

Autonomy is first and foremost a skill that should be seen as a learning objective. It is not, therefore, the result of learning with digital technology, but a skill to be acquired. In some cases, digital technology can improve learner motivation, which may be linked to actual learning performance.  Digital technology can also be a means of making the learner more active and deepen his learning, but the pedagogical scenario must serve the pedagogical objectives and this is sometimes difficult to design. Digital technology is therefore a tool that teacher and learner need to know how to handle if they are to achieve the goal of autonomy.

On the importance of the use of digital technology in enhancing independent learning, Sandrine Lamer writes quite rightly: (89)

‘’The initiators of the project to integrate guided self-learning into the school curriculum began with a topical issue: the introduction of ICT into education. Today, new information and communication technologies are an integral part of all training. Their use has been commonplace in scientific, industrial and economic circles ever since they first appeared, but in recent years they have also become more and more systematically established in educational methodologies.’’

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter/X: @Ayurinu


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  89.  Lamer, Sandrine. (A2022, April), op. cit.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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