The Student Experience of Self Managed Learning (SML): Evidence From Research

By Nicola Sankey, March 2008 (with Introduction by Dr. Graham Dawes)

[At the time what is now Self Managed Learning College was Called ‘South Downs Learning Centre’. The name was changed after this report was produced.]

Originally designed for adults, Self Managed Learning (SML) has more recently been adopted with young people through the work of the South Downs Learning Centre (SDLC) and under the supervision of its creator, Professor Ian Cunningham. Over the last four years the South Downs Learning Centre has worked with students from both traditional and alternative education backgrounds and it now has premises, which will allow a small number of young people to engage in SML on a daily basis.

SML epitomises personalised learning, reflecting current interest in Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) and the recent government review on Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (QCA, 2006). It offers a way forward for schools interested in these issues by providing opportunities for students to learn beyond prescribed curricula in a way that best suits their individual needs and interests. Working in small groups with a Learning Group Adviser, the students are required to answer five questions relating to their learning experiences, abilities and aspirations to identify what they want to learn and what they need to do in order to learn it (SDLC, 2004). The answers to these questions form the basis of an individual learning agreement in which goals, learning methods and criteria for success are proposed by each student. Other group members contribute to the formulation of this document by discussing the thoughts and intentions that underpin it and agreeing to support one another in the pursuit and accomplishment of their goals.

The aim of this research was to gain a deeper understanding of the student experience of SML and to draw out some common themes relating to the benefits of the programme. The evidence that is presented in this report derives from a range of evidence taken from interviews with students, learning advisers, parents and teachers as well as written and video feedback. 

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