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Is Independent Study Just as Good?

  1. Nov 23, 2011 #1
    Hey everyone!

    Unfortunately, I made myself a great mistake by taking a course in Ethics over the summer, and I felt as if I hardly learned anything at all because the course was paced too quickly for me to handle, which is why I passed it with a "C." I wanted to see if I could possibly re-take it, but I was told that I couldn't raise my grade to anything higher than a "C." The main reason that I wanted to re-take it is so that I could take it at a more steady pace, and so that I can "grasp" the material that I'm being taught. Will I still be able to learn the material pretty well if I buy myself a copy of the textbook and read it during my free time?

    It's almost the same thing for Astronomy. I've always wanted to take that course, but I simply won't have time to take it since I'm already thinking of taking Chemistry. Again, will I be able to learn the material from those two courses if I study them independently just as well as if I were taking their lecture courses?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2011 #2


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    You can do it, but it takes a lot more effort than doing it in a classroom setting.

    You have to have the discipline or the interest to want to learn something properly. If you are doing some kind of science, you have to be disciplined (or interested) enough to learn the theory, set up experiments where you are absolutely anal about making sure that the experiment is setup correctly, where your measurements are correct, and that everything is documented and analyzed to a high standard.

    If you are willing to get your hands dirty and not just read stuff, that is a good indicator to use.

    Also realize that for many people in knowledge-based professions, we all end up doing this. Programmers are always facing changes in new technologies, platforms, paradigms and so on. Doctors have to be aware of new information, and many will do their own experiments in free time that they have.

    One thing that I have noticed at university (at least the one I go to), is that the university has a transition from a more spoonfed environment to one that is nearly completely independent in terms of learning.

    In the first year you have lectures, tutorials, labs and although you do your own work, it is largely supervised in your first years. By the last year, tutorials may completely dissappear and you are expected to be able to do pretty much all of the work yourself, do the exercises in your own time and take pretty much full responsibility for your own learning.

    By the time you get to a PhD (i.e. you have completed coursework), you are doing pretty much everything yourself.

    If you are someone who has been doing things independently yourself for a little while, you may not need a university system experience since you are already in that mode of doing things.

    So yeah my advice is to evaluate yourself in light of what I have said above, and then think about your intentions on why you want to learn something. This hopefully might give you an idea of whether it is a good idea or not, and how to go about it if you want to.
  4. Nov 24, 2011 #3
    It depends:

    1) One thing about classes is that they force you to do things.
    2) Also a class has some external reference as to how well you are doing
    3) Finally, there are things that you just can't learn from a textbook.

    If it's a "go to lecture, memorize material, regurgitate on the test" then it's pretty easy to replace with self-study. If not, then it's harder to impossible. One thing about self-study is that it's better if you don't do it by yourself.

    Depends on the course. If the course is primarily "memorize these facts" then it's easy to replace. If you are going to be spending a fair amount of time doing laboratory work or learning a mathematical technique, then it's hard to replace.
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