Help Your Student Become an Independent Learner in 7 Easy Steps

A teenager sitting outside with a laptop

This post was originally published in January 2012. It has been updated for accuracy and relevancy in October 2021.

Watching your student master a hard concept in school is a truly gratifying experience. But what about those times when your student doesn’t grasp the material right away? What can you do when they stumble through the lessons and can’t complete the learning activities? 

If your child is enrolled in an online school like Connections Academy, as their parent and Learning Coach, it’s important to play an active role in supporting your online student. By reinforcing good elementary and middle school study skills that help them find success, especially with concepts that may be new or hard for them, you are beginning to develop an independent learner.   

While the teacher can help with understanding, you can help your student hone their independent learning skills, which will help them throughout their school journey and beyond.  

Here are seven steps to help your student develop independent study skills that foster effective learning. While these are geared towards elementary and middle school online learners, high school students looking for ways to study smarter can benefit from these study tips as well.  


How to Become an Independent Learner in 7 Steps:


1. Clearly Identify Objectives  

Just like inputting your destination in a GPS, your student needs to know their destination before they can find their route. Identifying objectives is a study skill that independent learners master. 

Make sure your student understands what they are supposed to get out of each lesson or activity before it begins. With objectives that are as clear as possible, students can determine what information they need to learn and how it is going to benefit them in their studies.  


2. Master the Art of Note Taking

Independent learners are great listeners. And few things reveal their listening skills better than note taking. Note taking is an essential study skill that students begin learning in elementary school.  

Notes should be taken when students study lessons, attend a LiveLesson online classes, do research, or watch an educational video. Research shows that when students take notes, they retain more information.  

But just because your student is taking notes during an online lesson doesn’t mean they are doing so effectively. If you see your student struggling to understand or remember the most important information in the lesson, help them become an independent learner by working on note taking strategies. These include: 

  • Previewing the readings 
  • Paying attention and writing down the boldface words and headings 
  • Reworking main ideas to ensure they understand what is being taught  
  • Reading any captions 
  • Using different tools and supplies for note-taking, including highlighters, sticky notes, index cards, graphs, charts, and diagrams 
  • Making sure the notes taken can answer or reference the objectives and questions that accompany each lesson 


3. Teach Them to Study Smarter

Just by enrolling your student in a virtual school like Connections Academy, a level of independence will be learned. You customize your student’s school schedule for what works best for them, and that includes their study times.  

Thanks to the benefits of a virtual school, your student is already learning how to stay on track with their lessons, homework, extracurricular clubs and activities daily. By practicing to manage and optimize their day in elementary and middle school, they are developing an essential study skill that will stay with them in high school and beyond. 

Outside of controlling their day, your independent learner can also learn neuroscience-based study tips that help them to study smarter for those tough subjects when they come up. 


4. Provide a Variety of Learning Materials 

Your student may need more than just a pen and paper to learn. Make sure you have helpful tools in their online learning space such as whiteboards and graph paper so students can display information in different ways. When it comes to math and science, doing hands-on activities is critical. Many online schools like Connections Academy offer a wealth of resources and instructional tools that can help bring learning to life. 

Other online study tools like note taking apps, study planners, digital flashcards, and more can also help your student hone their independent learning skills.  


5. Utilize Online Discussions 

A day in school is whatever your student makes of it. They can be engaged or disengaged, whether in a virtual setting or in a brick-and-mortar school.  

One of the unique benefits of virtual school is that students can interact in real-time classroom sessions. Encourage your student to use these opportunities to ask questions and start discussions about difficult concepts. Support from their peers can be an incredibly effective learning tool, and it teaches them to make the most of learning opportunities—wherever they may be. 


6. Develop Good Study Habits 

Repetition is the key to retention, so play around with different ways to review notes and absorb information. Elementary school students benefit from playing review games. Middle school study skills could include practice quizzes. Create sample test questions to help your student use the information they are learning in different ways. 


7. Monitor Progress 

Online schools make it easy for you to track your student’s progress and view their grades at any time. As soon as you notice a dip in your student’s performance, you can identify the problem and take the steps to get back on track.  

Encourage your student to reflect on their progress and have them think about the way they learn best. Which study skills were most useful? What areas do they still need to improve upon? If you notice that your child is struggling to learn certain concepts, let their teacher know. Then you can all work together to develop solutions that will contribute to more effective studying and better comprehension. 

The more they realize their study strengths (and weaknesses), the more your student can master their independent learning skills.  


When to Get Extra Support

Independent learners know when to ask for help. If your student continues to struggle with certain concepts or is beginning to fall behind, it may be time for a tutor. Many online schools offer varying degrees of tutoring services to support your student. Learn more about how to tell if your student needs a tutor.  

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