What is independent learning?

You have probably heard that being successful at university involves learning independently, but what is that really like? 

Take the short quiz below to see if there is anything about independent learning that you hadn’t considered or that surprises you. 

(Don’t worry about your score for this activity; it’s just to check and develop your understanding).

The value of questions

Success at university is not about having all the answers, but it is about developing the ability to ask the right questions. Being critical involves not accepting everything you hear or read just because someone has said or written it, but asking questions so that you can judge what is true for yourself, based upon available evidence. It is something you already do, as the scenario below demonstrates.

Before even speaking to the estate agent, you would want to spend some time thinking about what questions you wanted to ask, so that you could make the best possible use of your time. The same is true when reading for academic purposes. It is worth writing down a list of questions that you want to answer through reading to make the best possible use of your time.

Finally, you might not just want to speak to the estate agent. We have established that their desire to rent you the house might make them put an excessively positive spin on the property, so it might be worth speaking to other people such as people already living in the area to get a sense of how noisy it gets, or other estate agents with different properties close by to see how this property compares with the market more broadly. You might search the internet to see how positively the company renting you the property is regarded and you would definitely want to look at the type of contract being offered to make sure it is right for you.

Again there are parallels with academic work. Generally speaking, good assignments are not based on consulting only one source but are the result of a student engaging with a range of research literature written from different perspectives.

Most of the time, you will be forming your own questions to guide your reading as part of your independent learning. If you are ever feeling lost or overwhelmed when reading, ask yourself, ‘What is my purpose in reading this? What am I trying to find out?’ 

It is important to note that reading academic texts stretches all of us because we are deepening our understanding and challenging our ideas.

For more on academic reading and note-making see our study guides with further strategies and resources and sign up for our workshops. In your first few weeks at Brookes you should also complete the online Academic Integrity course, which will help you use a range of sources effectively and ensure that your referencing meets the required standards of the university. In all your university experiences, though, do remember that good questions can take you a long way and there are many people who will help you towards the answers.

Active study strategies

The strategies mentioned above (asking questions and having a purpose) are both active study strategies. Being actively involved in your studying is a key way of taking control of your learning and becoming a successful independent learner. 

Active studying means you are engaged in the process and are making the information meaningful to you. You become your own teacher as mentioned at the start of this course, rather than just expecting your lecturers to ‘pour’ knowledge straight into your head.

Take the short quiz below to see if you can sort the active from the passive study strategies. Choose whether you think the activity is ‘active’ or ‘passive’ and click Check to see the answer. Then use the blue arrows below each question (bottom right) to show the next question (Don’t worry about your score for this activity; it’s just to check and develop your understanding).

(Adapted from a revision and memory strategies activity from Study Advice, The University of Reading)

Reflect on your own current study strategies – are they mostly active or passive? What could you do to make them more active for university learning? 

Our regular workshops can provide more ideas for making your studying active and successful.

Final advice from the Head into Brookes students

Our thanks go to the Head into Brookes students for sharing their experiences of being at university so honestly. In this video, they offer some final words of advice.

Conclusion and next steps

We hope that this course has helped prepare you for university life but there is lots more on offer as part of the Head into Brookes experience. Head into Brookes Live Online is a series of zoom workshops that you can participate in shortly before arriving at university, where you can learn more from students and staff about what university is like and how to make the most of the experience. Whether you are wondering how you can improve your chances of making good friends, how to manage your time effectively or deal with what looks like a lot of reading, you will find something to help you get to where you want to be. Sessions begin on Tuesday 13th September. We also have a day of events on the Headington campus on Friday 23rd September where you can meet people and further develop your skills and confidence. Find out about our live induction events, and Centre for Academic Development workshops throughout the year by following the link below.

Workshops page

Once you have started at Brookes, we also have an online course on Academic Integrity that all students are expected to complete. It explores some of the rules of academic writing that everyone in the university must follow, and will help to develop your confidence in research and writing. . You can’t do it until you arrive at Brookes but you can find out more about what it involves below.

Academic Integrity course

For now though, thank you for completing this online course. We hope it has helped you to reflect on the useful past experiences and skills you have developed that will serve you well as a Brookes student. Perhaps it has given you some ideas about opportunities for development and support that you can access over the next few months. The experiences you have at university will be exciting, challenging, sometimes daunting and, we hope, often fun. We look forward to welcoming you to the Brookes community.


We want to make sure that your journey into university is positive and that we help all students settle in and feel part of Oxford Brookes after such a challenging 18 months. A key part of this is hearing students’ views about our programme of activities designed to support your transition into university, reflecting on the difference they make and how we can improve what we do. We would really appreciate you responding to a brief survey about this online module to help us with this work. If you are happy to provide some feedback, please click on the button below, where you can also join our mailing list to hear about development opportunities throughout your time at Brookes.

Course content


This section introduces the importance of reflection in helping you reach your potential and explores what it is like to start at university.


In this section, you have a chance to reflect on what you bring to university (which is probably a lot more than you realise!) and how you can build on this during your studies.


Being independent does not mean doing everything yourself. This section explores the importance of using development and support opportunities. 


The final section looks at how you can take charge of your learning. It offers strategies for making your learning active and effective to set you up for success.