Developing independent learning

By ‘independent learning’ the EEF means approaches that support pupils to plan, monitor, understand and manage their own learning, in order to develop inquisitive, self-motivated learners. Independent learning approaches include feedback, peer tutoring, collaborative learning, and metacognition strategies. Evidence emerging from EEF evaluations and the wider evidence base suggests that when used and implemented correctly, these approaches provide powerful ways to raise pupil attainment.

This page presents evidence on independent learning from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit alongside the results from recent relevant EEF projects. 

Evidence Summary

The independent learning approaches in the Teaching and Learning Toolkit demonstrate relatively high impact for relatively low cost, with the exception of primary school homework. The evidence suggests these are cost-effective approaches which schools should consider when deciding how to improve pupil attainment.

However, these high impacts can be difficult to achieve in practice as the approaches require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop an understanding of what is required to succeed. Teachers need specific skills to be able to help pupils develop these independent learning capabilities alongside content knowledge.

A number of EEF projects which employ meta-cognition approaches have found positive impacts on attainment for programmes that seek to improve students’ abilities to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning: Thinking, Doing, Talking Science, Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing, Changing Mindsets and Philosophy for Children. These findings are broadly in line with the wider UK and international evidence. In contrast, the EEF evaluation of Let’s Think Secondary Science (LTTS), a project which aims to use principles of meta-cognition to improve science attainment, provided no evidence of improved science attainment for students by the end of the programme. Because previous evaluations of CASE – the programme on which LTSS is based - suggest that it had a long-term impact on academic attainment, EEF will be measuring the longer term impact on GCSE results once they are available for the participating students.

Two EEF peer tutoring projects, Shared Maths and Peer Tutoring in Secondary Schools, illustrate the fact that effective independent learning can be hard to achieve. Both projects failed to find evidence of impact on attainment outcomes. These findings are surprising because international and British evidence collected to date on peer tutoring has been very positive. They may reflect the fact that these particular approaches to peer tutoring are not effective, that the projects were not well-implemented, or potentially that there are some contexts in which peer tutoring is not effective. This blog discusses the results in more detail.


Our YouTube channel features discussions on the evidence presented in each of the Toolkit strands.