Learning autonomy explained to students

What is learning autonomy? Which skills must students develop to become autonomous learners?

Sep 7, 2022 - 10:52
Sep 7, 2022 - 14:20
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Learning autonomy explained to students

Your dad got home one day with two tickets to watch your favorite soccer team play live. It has been your dream to see your team so close, especially when they have been winning most of the games and are set to be in the playoffs this year. You have always wanted to become a professional soccer player, and this game is a great chance to taste what it is.

You could barely sleep the night before the game day. You dressed in your team's jersey, and off you went. You had goosebumps when the players walked into the field, a fan sang the National Anthem, and the fireworks illuminated the whole stadium. It was so exciting to watch your favorite players win this defining game! You left the stadium inspired and ready to realize your dream, to make the crowd roar in excitement for the balls you will steal in play and the goals you will score. But where to start from? What kind of training do you need? What food do you have to eat? What school do you have to go to?

Most children are caught in this daydreaming, thinking their aspirations will be realized by themselves when they grow up, that someone will pay attention to what they want and help them navigate in the right direction. Well, it doesn't happen that way. As best-selling author Jack Canfield shared in his book The Success Principles, "One of the most important principles for success is taking 100% responsibility for your life and your results." In other words, if you want something, you must work for it yourself.

Learning autonomy is what will help you achieve your aspirations. It gives you the skills to realize whatever you want in life, like becoming a soccer superstar or a successful entrepreneur, a great parent, a good friend, and an example for other children that it is possible to realize their full potential. You learn to plan, set goals, explore possibilities, research, practice, relate everything to your end goal, and self-assess your progress. Whether you are learning a subject at school or learning soccer skills, learning autonomy helps you to get the job done.

Learning autonomy is like when you learned to ride a bike. There is a process to ride it, such as balance, pedaling, and moving forward. Once you have learned it, you can go from point A to B without even thinking about the process of riding the bike. The same process applies to learning autonomy. Once you master the process, you can learn anything you want without thinking about where to start.

My nephew Danny used to watch his older brother play soccer with his friends when they were young. By 3, Danny was kicking the ball with older kids just for fun and already showing some skills. As he grew up, so did his passion for soccer. Danny would sleep with a ball and always have it around to kick it, as every minute was an opportunity to practice. He would wake up early, watch soccer tricks videos on YouTube, and later spend hours practicing what he saw. So, Danny dreamed about his pathway: joining the best team in the country, setting up the training regime to go through, eating the food to keep him in shape, and so on.

At 8, I took him to a one-week Barcelona FC camp. The coach upgraded him to play with the 10-year-olds by mid-morning of the first day, as he was that good. He eventually joined the club he wanted and was winning youth championships one after the other. During the 2020 pandemic, Danny set the goal to become the best midfielder in the country and trained for it. Because of that, he debuted on Ireland's U-16 National Soccer Team at the age of 15 (he was born in Ireland and still lives there), and now, at 16, he is the captain of the U-16 team.

There is no doubt that Danny will realize his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. He is a living example that learning autonomy works for the ones who embrace it. While his older brother is working and making the initial rookie salary, Danny says he is already working too, just not getting paid yet. Yes, he has a great sense of humor. You can accompany Danny's story on his website: www.dannymcgrath.com.

The point is that every child can reach their highest potential; all they need is a process to get there. We call it learning autonomy: the ability to function with minimal external guidance. It is what one-year-olds do naturally by walking, eating, talking, and putting their little finger in the electrical outlet all by themselves, driven by pure, innate, intrinsic motivation for discovery. Learning autonomy doesn't require you to be a genius, go to a specific school, use certain textbooks, or have the coolest app because it starts from something you already have: a brain!

You may think you must have certain superpowers, levels of intelligence, or physical capabilities to achieve your dream. Let me reaffirm that all you need is a laser-focused dream! Sir Richard Branson, who has dyslexia, founded Virgin Group and became a multibillionaire. Thomas Edison, one of the world's greatest inventors, was deaf. A college dropout, Lady Gaga has won over 200 music awards. Mane Garrincha (1933 – 1983), or the "bent-legged angel" as he was called, had strabismus, an imbalance of the pelvis, and six centimeters difference in length between his legs; his right knee had valgus, and his left knee had varus. Yet, he became one of the 11 players of soccer's World Team of the 20th century. If all these people could do it, you can do it too.

Now, you may think that learning autonomy develops only cognitive skills. But the continuous self-reflection and self-improvement throughout the learning process also develop socio-emotional skills, such as self-esteem, perseverance, self-awareness, and so on. Research done by Columbia University concluded that "The need for control is a biological imperative. When people believe they are in control, they work harder, are more resilient, and push themselves more." When students are in the driver's seat, they learn to take control of the outcomes.

In summary, the reason why you must become an autonomous learner is that it is a biological imperative and because it is the process to realize your dreams. And you can do it because you already have what it takes: a brain!

Ready to get started? Find the step-by-step on how to do it in the book Becoming Einstein’s Teacher: Awakening the Genius in Your Students

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