​​​​What is it?

Studying at university provides a different learning experience for many students. It is based on two ideas: independent learning and reflective practice.

Independent learning is one of the characteristic features of higher education; it reflects the emphasis placed on you as the driving force behind your own educational development. Reflective practice complements independent learning in that fulfilling your academic potential requires an awareness of the progress of your educational development as it is occurring.

Together, these ideas underpin successful learning in higher education. Practising independent learning and reflective practice will help you develop several important graduate attributes, notably flexibility and adaptability, and problem solving and analytical ability.

Independent Learning

Independent learning is about making decisions in relation to your academic development on your own initiative. In other words, it means learning autonomously and being active in the process of learning, as opposed to adopting a more passive approach, waiting for your tutor to feed you information. In this context, the tutor’s role is simply to guide your studies rather than pass on a roll call of facts.

Reflective Practice

Reflective practice is a learning process that involves conscious consideration and analysis of experiences and the application of what you have learnt to future practice. In the context of personal academic development, it provides a useful way of identifying certain skills or aspects of your learning practice that require improvement.

As this definition suggests, reflective practice is a process that can be be broken down into a series of stages. Various models of reflective practice have been proposed but the process within each is similar. Here is a model that synthesises the principal stages of this process:

The nature of reflective practice as a process is clear in this diagram, as is its emphasis on feelings and experience.


Independent Learning

Learning South West (1986) 'Honey and Mumford learning styles questionnaire'

Identify your own learning preferences by completing this questionnaire.

Learning cycles and learning styles

Work through the various stages of the interactive e-lesson in order to gain a fuller understanding of Kolb's theory of learning cycles and learning styles, as well as a subsequent interpretation of Kolb's original ideas.


For an overview of learning at university:

Bedford, D. and Wilson, E. (2020) Study Skills for Foundation Degrees. 3rd edn. Abindgon: Routledge

Carr, A. (2020) Positive Psychology and You: A Self-Development Guide. Abingdon: Routledge

Cottrell, S. (2013) The Study Skills Handbook. 4th edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Penn, P. (2020) The Psychology of Effective Studying. Abingdon: Routledge

Seli, H. and Dembo, M. (2013) Motivation and Learning - Strategies for College Success: A Focus on Self-Regulated Learning. 4th edn. Abingdon: Routledge

Wood, G. (2018)Letters to a New Student: Tips to Study Smarter from a PsychologistAbingdon: Routledge

For guidance on reflective practice:

Cottrell, S. (2015) Skills for Success. 3rd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Johns, C. (2004) Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. 2 edn. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing​

​​For an overview of the different techniques involved in making notes, see our helpful guide:

Note-making Guide