I have been looking at the course notes for one paper at a local college. I was interested to see that the tutor expects students to attend 2 hours of lecture, 2 hours of tutorial, and 6 hours of self-directed study. The tutor is saying that you should put more time into self-directed than you get form the college. Total time for one paper is 10 hours per week, most of which is self-directed.
When I teach my students, I always ensure that they have some idea of what homework they are expected to complete. Until now i have called it homework, but i like the phrase “self-directed study.” That’s what I will be calling it from now on.
But why does self-directed study work? I think most people understand the idea that if you want to learn something you have to repeatedly do it. For example a craftsman plumber does not get that way by accident. They have to complete a long apprenticeship. I master builder does not get that way by attending a few site meetings, and an architect does not become registered just by going to the correct school. We learn by repeating what we want to learn. I have taught me kids the times tables. I took a long time to learn all the way up to 12×12… but it was repetition.
I know why this works. I have been reading a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. The brain is plastic, so the more we do a thing, the more the brain fires synapses, The more the brain does that, the better we get at it. Self-directed study makes the brain get better at doing it.
Another good book is called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This book talks about how the brain becomes an expert. There are a few really good stories in here that help you to understand how people learn. Again, repetition is vital.
I did have one student that said to me “It’s not my job to learn, it’s your job to teach me!”