What is Independent Study?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2019
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An independent study is a course of instruction in which a student works on his or her own on a specified topic and coursework for a set amount of credits. The student will work with a professor or teacher to complete a long-term project or several projects, and the student will conduct research and complete assignments on his or her own. The independent study is often assigned to students who are especially advanced in a particular subject, or conversely to students who need extra one-on-one attention from a teacher or professor. High school and college students can participate in an independent study in some cases, as outlined by a teacher or administrator.

Participating in an independent study places much of the responsibility of education on the student. He or she may not participate in structured class lessons, but instead do research independently and complete projects deemed challenging and appropriate by both the teacher and the student. Much of the student's learning will therefore be self-directed, meaning the student is responsible for the discovery and dissemination of new material. This can be particularly challenging for some students, so in many cases, an independent study course is reserved for more advanced students or students who can take responsibility for their own learning.


Throughout an independent study, the student will meet with a teacher or professor for regular guidance and discussion, as well as evaluation of the student's progress. Such meetings allow for one-on-one attention that may prove invaluable for the student. Some students who do not thrive in the regular classroom environment may be eligible for an independent study course for this very reason: the face to face interaction with the professor allows the student to process information and learn in an environment different from that of the normal classroom.

The structure of an independent study course can vary significantly depending on several variables, including the instruction goals, teacher and student preferences, and available technology. Online courses, for example, may be the best option for students who are visual learners and tech-savvy. A research project may be best for another type of student who learns best from reading or listening, and a hands-on project may be best for a kinesthetic learner. Independent studies are very often tailored to the individual's needs, and the teacher is responsible for ensuring all major topics of a course are covered by the projects.


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