The focus of this research is independent studying and its effect on the student’s academic achievements. Independent study is a kind of learning process in which a single student works independently with little to no supervision (Schouwenburg, 1995). In most cases, a student and their educator agree on a topic for the student to investigate with limited teaching and direction from the professor for an agreed-upon amount of academic credits. Moreover, independent studies enable highly motivated individuals to investigate a topic of interest that does not necessarily fit into a traditional academic program (Schouwenburg, 1995). This approach provides students with the opportunity to master specialist content or obtain research experience. Additionally, independent studying allows the students to master the subject they study at a university because it allows them to structure their studies appropriately.
The rationale for this research question is the need to understand the practices that students use for independent studying. The research questions are the following:
- How do students structure their independent studying?
- What distractions impact their independent studying?
Any study whose results can be considered reliable should follow the appropriate ethical standards. The current study adheres to the four British Psychological Society (2018) ethical criteria, which are respect, competence, responsibility, and integrity. Hence, the interviews and data collection were conducted under these principles. Due to the fact that the study was also a psychology study, it was critical to follow the ethical standards for psychological studies, which are, as defined by Varkey (2021), ethics of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice. For example, when individuals were recruited, the researcher acquired informed permission with the agreement of the University’s research ethics committee. The consent forms, following requirements set by Varey (2021), requested the participants’ permission to include direct quotes in the study report. Additionally, it guaranteed anonymity, a clear explanation that the interviews would be transcribed, and explained to the subjects that all data from the interview would be deleted upon submission.
The initial message for the participants also provided information regarding potential injury or danger, as well as where to get help if needed. The subjects were re-briefed on the above before beginning the interview on the day, and a debrief letter was supplied at the end of the interview. During data collection, participants were also given the opportunity to withdraw at any moment. The interviews were recorded and saved as an MP4 file on an encrypted USB flash drive for safekeeping. The recordings were held in the researcher’s apartment; hence the applied methods align with the ethical requirements.
This study uses a qualitative methodology that allows the researcher to explore the details of the self-studying concept using insights provided by the participants. After receiving the approval for the research question from the University and approval from the University’s ethics committee, the researcher sent out recruitment emails to potential participants. These emails contained an explanation of the study’s purpose and the design of the interview, such as duration, nature of questions, and personal information disclosure. Selecting a proper sample size is one of the essential parts of a research study, and for the purpose of this research, three participants were recruited. The small sample size is linked to the resources available to the researcher, as conducting and analyzing interviews is a time-consuming task.
Discourse analysis in psychology is a prominent qualitative analytical approach. This method is a part of Discursive Psychology and serves as a framework for this approach (Goodman, 2017). It is a psychological theory that criticizes how cognition is interpreted in psychology. While Discursive Psychology does not deny the reality of cognition, it does contend that psychologists cannot reliably access what people actually think since individuals are constantly engaged in some type of social engagement when they talk. Goodman (2017) describes Discursive Psychology as “a whole perspective on social life and research into it” (143). As a result, discursive psychologists contend that what might be portrayed as an accurate demonstration of cognition is a sham.
One approach to thinking of discourse is that it is the language employed in certain social circumstances. Discourse analysis derives meaning from the words offered in a collection of data. This data might include transcripts of interviews or focus group discussions. While some approaches of discourse analysis focus on language characteristics, such as sounds or syntax, others focus on how language is utilized to achieve its goals (Emerald Publishing, n.d.). A qualitative study of this type provides a thorough framework for problem-oriented social research. Discourse analysis is primarily used to conduct research on the use of language in the context of a wide range of societal problems, such as challenges in society that negatively affect individuals.
Reflexivity is one of the five strategic contexts that a researcher must employ when conducting a study. According to Finlay (2012), who defined the following five lenses a researcher must consider: “(1) strategic reflexivity, which examines epistemological views; (2) contextual discursive reflexivity, which observes situational and sociocultural influences; (3) embodied reflexivity which highlights the relationship between interviewer and interviewee; (4) relational reflexivity that observes the intersubjective, interpersonal realm; and (5) ethical reflexivity which monitors power dynamics” (p. 317). Based on this, the researcher states that there is no bias in this study as the researcher has no affiliation with the participants. The main purpose of this study is to better understand the aspects of self-studying.
Three key discourses were identified as a result of this study which are the use of the calendar, setting targets, and dealing with distractions. Based on the participant’s answers, the researcher can conclude that the approaches to self-studying differ; however, the participants aim to maintain structure within their studies and want to adhere to a certain study plan. Additionally, they track their achievements to evaluate their progress. Finally, an important element of the studies is the strategy of overcoming the barriers that the participants cited, as there are many issues that impact the person’s ability to dedicate time to studying. Procrastination, distractibility, and a lack of time to study were among the common problems cited by participants.
Having a fixed schedule and planning ahead is an important factor that allows for effective self-studying. Participant 1, “Oliver” stated that he uses a timetable to keep track of his studying plans:
“Umm or like a timetable. So I would… For, for Monday through to Friday, umm it would just be like my own personal diary. So I’ll allocate how many hours to what type of topic I wanna study. And I’ll do that for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Umm I generally just use umm one week and then just repeat, I don’t have more than one week’s worth of umm, you know, mixing things up too much, I just tend to uh yeah stick to, stick to the same each week.”
Participant 2, “Manuza” also mentioned planning as an important factor in her self-studying routine:
“So in order to manage kind of my studying time effectively, I really plan well in advance because as well as work and voluntary work and studying, obviously there’s life events like birthdays and social gatherings, and what I know is that I can’t just work, work and work, I do need time out from it. So I try and schedule in reasonable time slots for me to study when I know that I will have the time. Umm, and I just look at my work schedule and my other schedules as well, and umm I don’t ask too much of myself, so maybe sometimes I just say, “Okay, you’re just gonna do something for one hour on this day,” but I’ll put it in my diary, my kind of umm diary on my phone.”
The third participant, Elliot, states that he has a calendar but adjusts it daily as he has to consider his health state. This participant shared the following: “sometimes, you may with your target setting it may be several weeks in advance but then the following week your impacted, your health condition impacts upon that.” Thus, knowing personal capabilities has played a major role in this participant’s ability to plan ahead.
Here, Manuza shares that, similar to Oliver, she prefers to plan her studying time ahead, and she uses a calendar on her phone to have time slots dedicated to studying. The difference in the approaches of the two is that Oliver studies Monday through Friday and sometimes on the weekend, while Manuza has to ensure that her studying does not intrude with her full-time job and private clients. Based on this approach, the researcher can conclude that the participants use a schedule and a calendar as a spaced practice approach. Spaced practice is one method that psychologists recommend using when studying to promote long-term learning (Finlay, 2012). Time is of the essence while studying for a university course, and it may make a huge difference in how much the student learns and how well they perform later on. Instead of cramming intensely immediately before the exam, a more productive method is to spread one’s exam preparation throughout numerous sessions. This is referred to as spaced or scattered practice (Zacks & Hen, 2018). The student will be able to learn more and retain the information for longer if they spread out the learning activities across time.
Unlike cramming, periodic practice involves many learning periods, each of which is shorter in length. The learner can master the learning material by focusing on a subset of topics during each session with several sessions. They may spend more time during each session since they are not required to cover all of the course knowledge that may appear on an exam, as occurs when cramming. This time is required to analyze and integrate essential concepts and details from a section of the course (Zacks & Hen, 2018). Furthermore, each session provides an opportunity for them to return and review previously learned knowledge. By reviewing course contents across numerous sessions, they are able to encode that information more efficiently into long-term memory, fill in any gaps in their knowledge, and be ready to utilize it.
Participant 3 “Elliot” has also referred to the practice of scheduling their study sessions to ensure that they study consistently and are able to grasp all the material. However, unlike the other two participants, Eliot prefers to set targets for the day instead of planning for weeks: “Um, I would.. usually write out a to-do list, with um, so a list of things that I need to do with times next to it.” Similar to the techniques used by other participants, the to-do list allows to track progress and plan the study sessions.
With setting targets for studying, the participant had different approaches. Setting targets is one of the psychological methods that can be very useful for motivation and studying. Apart from helping the student divide large studying tasks into smaller ones, by setting targets, they can measure their progress and track it. This approach is more useful as opposed to focusing on one big goal, which takes more time and effort to reach and can lead to a loss of motivation. Manuza discussed a different approach where she does not set small targets for her studying and instead focuses on bigger goals: “I set big targets, like bigger targets for myself, like for instance, like doing the master’s course as a whole, it’s kind of like a big target for me, but smaller ones mm, not really.” On the other hand, Oliver states that he sets several hourly targets for each subject, and if these are not achieved by the end of the week, he chooses to study on the weekends: “I tend to give myself a good couple of hours on each top-topic.” Elliot states that he also uses target setting, “um, so generally I’d look at what my assignment deadlines are. So I’d look at my deadlines and then obviously work my targets around that.” Thus, all three discuss using targets as a method for self-studying.
If one wants to excel as a student, one must set study goals because creating objectives is a good predictor of higher grades and completion of one’s qualifications. Goal-setting is crucial since when it comes to defining and attaining objectives, everyone has unique hurdles (Zacks & Hen, 2018). Over the course of studies, a person encounters difficulties, and by identifying a specific obstacle, they may make a goal for that issue. Staying up late and playing computer games, for example, may interfere with studying and deprive a student of sleep. Hence, they may establish a goal to get to bed at a specific hour or to exercise every day. These goals are essential in creating a path toward academic success.
Goals have a strong influence on how one view themselves and others. Focused and goal-oriented people are more likely to have a positive attitude toward life and regard mistakes as temporary setbacks rather than character defects. According to studies, when one educates their mind to think about what one wants in life and strives toward achieving it, the brain instantly rewires itself to acquire the ideal self-image and incorporates it into our identity (Zacks & Hen, 2018). If one reaches the objective, one feels fulfilled, while if they don’t, their brain keeps pressing them until they do. High values and ethics are the foundations of effective objectives. They, like the S-M-A-R-T-E-R objectives, assist the individual in identifying his essential beliefs before beginning to develop success goals. Hence, the more closely people connect our basic beliefs and principles, the more likely they are to gain from our goal plans.
The achievement of goals is clear evidence of a person’s success. The breadth of self-evaluation improves self-confidence, efficacy, and self-reliance. Moreover, it provides the student with the incentive to continue establishing practical objectives in all phases of life. Setting objectives allows the minds to envisage our ideal future, the way one wishes to view ourselves in the coming years. A person becomes aware of their reality and may create appropriate expectations when they get insight into our wants and requirements. Goal-setting impacts both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which is why most great athletes and business professionals begin every activity with a well-thought-out plan of action. There are several examples of goal-setting being utilized effectively as a psychological remedy.
Dealing with Distractions
The final topic of the analysis concerns the barriers to studying that the subjects might have noticed. Over the course of the interview, they were asked to reflect on the things that obstruct them from studying effectively, and one aspect was self-sabotage and “procrastination.” For example, Manuza stated that she prefers to study on days when she does not have any other arrangements because this allows her to stay more focused; otherwise, she procrastinates on her phone. “Oliver” stated that he needs a specific space with no distractions as when he studies at home, he often is carried away:
“I generally work those Saturday and Sunday places 9:00-5:00. So then, yeah, if I know, I-I guess then it comes down to the self-discipline, so working throughout those days but still having the energy or motivation to carry on… Carry on with my studies, once I’m done.”
Procrastination and being distracted are some of the common things that affect the studying of people. Many students are overwhelmed by long to-do lists of things to accomplish, especially when there doesn’t appear to be enough time in the day. This might lead to them being stressed and delaying getting started. Academic procrastination is a bad habit that has significant implications for pupils.
The magnitude of this occurrence among students, as well as its detrimental influence on academic accomplishment, necessitates more attention and research on the subject. Procrastination is believed to be practiced by more than 70% of college students (Ellis & Knaus, 1977). Moreover, academic procrastination may vary depending on the task: procrastination was indicated by 46 percent of university students in an introductory psychology course while writing a term paper, 30 percent when reading weekly assignments, 28 percent when studying for tests, 23 percent on attendance requirements, and 11 percent on administrative activities (Ellis & Knaus, 1977). Furthermore, they investigated potential reasons for academic procrastination as observed by students. The findings revealed that fear of failure and task aversiveness were the key factors.
For participant 3, their health state has played an essential role in their ability to study. This can be considered a distraction as their chronic health condition affects their ability to concentrate and complete tasks. As a result, this participant argues that:
“I think I think, probably like most people with health conditions, it fluctuates, so you may go through a period of actually quite good health and then generally then you might go through a period of ill health or poor health or just feeling less well.
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the strategies for self-studying that help students excel academically. Three participants were interviewed as a result of this study, and three topics emerged over the course of the analysis. Procrastination is a common occurrence in academic contexts. It has been researched from a range of theoretical perspectives, with many origins and implications proposed. Recent research supports the idea that academic procrastination may be viewed as a situational failure and a failure in learning self-regulation (Shlomo & Hen, 2018). It shows that therapies should target both situational and self-regulation weaknesses in order to assist students to overcome their procrastination tendencies.
The interviews allowed the researcher to understand some of the underlying factors of self-studying and the way that the participants organize their studying time. The spacing effect of the spaced-out practice, which was a part of the calendar planning element of this research, refers to the advantage of dispersing learning throughout time. This impact has been proven in over 200 research investigations spanning more than a century of study (Zacks & Hen, 2018). In general, a series of practice sessions results in better long-term memory as opposed to a single practice session of the same duration or repetitions.
All three participants cited issues that they face, such as distractions, noise, and lack of time as they study, because these issues do not allow them to practice effectively. However, simple steps such as having a quiet space to study allow to mitigate the effect of this. Although the distractions that the participants face differ, generally, all three reported facing difficulties with distractions and the need to study at a place where they can concentrate.
Interview Schedule Limitations
When planning interview schedules for qualitative research, it is critical to keep question type and duration consistent throughout. Qualitative interviews should last between 30 and 1 hour. Since the current interviews were approximately 30 minutes long, the depth that the discourses could supply for analysis was restricted. Another significant drawback of the interview schedules was some interviewer bias. Although the researcher has no affiliation with the participants, some potential bias is possible when planning the interview questions.
In the interview with Oliver, for example, the interviewer said, “interesting. So you kind of preach it to your uh clients, but you yourself don’t really do it all the time, right?,” when referring to the target setting. Questions should be non-judgmental because this might impact the participants’ viewpoint, hence influencing future replies in the interview. Moreover, it is not the interviewer’s responsibility to become interested in the interviews, which was evident at times. This question, however, appeared to imply some insufficiencies in the participant’s approach to self-studying and might have made them uncomfortable and biased towards the researcher.
An interview is a meeting in which someone answers questions about himself or herself for a newspaper story, television show, study, or other purposes. In social research, there are several methods for gathering primary data. The common instruments are the interview and the organized schedule. The majority of interviews are based on organized – schedules, and schedules are filled by interview tactics, thus, the two tools are inextricably linked. With this approach, the researcher delves inside or sees the interviewee’s reactions or thoughts.
Interview schedules can improve the reliability and trustworthiness of the data collected. An interview timetable makes it easier to conduct an interview. Since the questions have already been prepared, it is much easier to carry out and complete the interview, which improves the chances of gathering reliable information or data. The questions, which were pre-planned, are intended to be well-thought-out and focused so that they target the core of the topic, guaranteeing that the answers collected are right or accurate.
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