What Is Independent Study?

Although relatively new to the long-term educational landscape, Independent Study is becoming more widely used in a variety of settings and implementations. In most cases in independent study models, students work primarily from home in curriculum that often delivers the same rigor and bears the same credit as curriculum in a traditional, seat-based model. The student is usually equipped with a detailed guide on how to navigate through the curriculum on their own, with the help of a designated support person, who is often a parent. In addition to the assigned person at home, the independent study student works closely with Highly Qualified Teachers to provide instructional support when needed. How this looks depends largely on how the model has been implemented. Today, many independent study models include time on site that can include instructional sessions, tutoring, labs, collaborative projects and a variety of elective offerings for students.

Independent study models attract a variety of students from those who require more flexibility to their required time on site due to a sport or activity to which they are dedicated, to those who didn’t succeed in a traditional model for whatever reason. Many charter schools in California use independent study as the promary mode of instruction. 

Aside from providing flexibility, independent study programs can help students in developing independent learner skills and an independent disposition, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and self-assessment strategies. These skills align to the 21st Century learner desired outcomes that students critically need to develop today. According to these standards, developed by the AASL and many other organizations, students should learn to do the following today in their educational program:


  • Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge
  • Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new standards, and create new knowledge
  • Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our society
  • Pursue personal and academic growth


Through a more creative and hands on approach, independent study students can develop enhanced skills by being the masters of their own learning. Although independent study programs may not be for all students, they can offer students the time, space, and flexibility to develop these intrinsic skills that can help them become independent thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators today.

Dr. Jessica Spallino
Dr. Jessica Spallino
Jessica has a demonstrated track record of building schools that are forward-thinking, high-performing, and often unconventional. She is particularly experienced at building online and blended learning charter schools, and has a passion for improving K-12 education through new and innovative models and concepts. She’s regularly asked to speak on change management and building positive and innovative cultures in schools and in the workplace. Jessica holds a BA in English, an MA in Educational Leadership, and holds PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from New Mexico State University.

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