I am teaching beginner programmers with a variety of backgrounds. Towards the end of the course, we encourage more independent and team based learning rather than lecture based learning. This is purposeful and many students do understand the benefits. Some of which are:

  • learning how to learn
  • reading technical documentation
  • finding and vetting resources
  • discussing and sharing with others

There are only a few days towards the end of the course where the students truly research a topic themselves or teach one another, but even so, there are always 1 or 2 students who feel that they are wasting their time or that they are there to be taught and not learn stuff on their own.

What are some ways that I can highlight to students that learning how to learn a new technology (by using its documentation, online resources and your peers) is skill worth practicing for software developers?

  • $\begingroup$ I often have the chance to point out mid-semester that "well, the technology we started the class with is now slated for being deprecated and there is some new stuff to replace it". Both programming (was teaching a PHP 5.x based course when PHP 7 was released) and Linux administration/services as new distributions are released. The IT field and technologies change constantly - if you aren't self-learning to keep up, you end up stagnating and being stuck in an old job.... $\endgroup$
    – ivanivan
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 16:32

5 Answers 5


In a few days there is almost nothing you can do. Certainly you can't change their habits and attitudes about how to learn in just a few days. You can try, however, to change their behavior by making their current behavior unprofitable. If it is still possible, make the final work an important part of the evaluation. But that is only a band-aid on the problem, not a cure.

It is true that a number of students want to "be learned". I tell students that "I can't learn you." But my own behavior, not just talk, has to reinforce that. If I teach primarily through lectures and evaluate them based mostly on what they can retain from the lectures, then it is perfectly natural that they take a fairly (or completely) passive role in a course, leaving all of the "learning" up to me.

But if you teach the course again, you can start early and come to a real solution - of behavior, at least, and possibly attitude. Rather than give lectures, give projects, from the beginning. Answer questions often, if not always, not with the answer, but with the strategy for getting the answer. To be successful they will need to change behaviors learned in other courses that aren't very effective in the long run. With adult students the effect is probably even stronger, as they have a longer history of passive learning.

So, from the beginning, stress projects, teamwork, finding your own answers, verifying your own programs, telling you things rather than asking you things, and so on and so forth.

Search around for "Active Learning" and learn to teach in a compatible way.


I am posting this answer as a complement to @Buffy's answer, which suggests a deep restructuring of the course and you may not be willing, able or allowed to to do it. This answer is useful if you want to start small but still give incentives for self-learning. I tried to present examples that do not take more than one class.

  • Write exercises that require research. Instead of always presenting a full working example for every topic, present the basic usage and link the documentation. Make the last exercise of the session require taking a look at the docs. Tell them they are allowed to ask questions only after reading the docs and actually enforce the rule. If they complain, ask them how they would solve the issue if you were not present.

  • If you don't have hands-on classes, add some maybe once a month. Most students are not equipped with the correct strategies to do self-learning. By asking them questions and directing them through the process they get a strategy they can try and repeat in other contexts.

  • Ask them to present a feature or functionality of a framework/software used in the course. If someone has a doubt about the topic, direct them to the students that presented it. Only intervene if neither can solve the issue.

  • On the last part of the course students are often fatigued and not in their best form. Let students know that this is an important skill at the beginning of the course and give them more opportunities to gain independence by spreading activities during the semester and not only in the last few days.

Of course there's much more you can do and in case these examples do not suit your needs I hope they can get you inspired to create your own.


A small addition. You will have some students that are more independent than others. When they independently learn something generally useful, clearly highlight it in front the the entire class. Try to convey the information that they learned something they would not have learned otherwise.


I integrate these tools right from the beginning in my introductory web development course. My students learn about these things:

  • The HTML5 Validator
  • CSS validator
  • Browser development tools
  • Documentation in W3Schools and in the Mozilla Dev Network Site

I ask them to use the references to build elements using unfamiliar tags. I have "treasure hunt" exercises that ask them to figure out how to do things by using The Google and the docs. I am a few weeks in and am getting ready to teach JavaScript, and my students have become quite adept at creating elements on a static page.

You want to make your class mimic the experience a real developer has by using real tools and by reading the docs to make cool stuff happen.


A very important fact to achieve self studying in students is:

Show a clear and close example, I mean I f you show at your students, how you're taking a course, learning new technologies.

But is not all and not enough.

After that in every school Teachers need:

  1. Create a common guide to show how to generate this skill (is not correct only say to students hey guys please learn something new by yourself)
  2. You need to know and after show them: methods, technics, sources to achieve this
  3. You need to know about learnig styles and based on that then you can recommend your students how to start to learn by themselves

Another important fact

How you as Teacher answer the question: Why do I need to learn more by myself?

  1. So in this point you need to know how to show the befenits at your students
  2. Maybe is good idea giving them a challenge
  3. build with them a knowledge path
  4. help them to find better tutorials, books, guuides, podcasts

In spite of your students need to learn by themselves, you need walk with them in this task because

  1. you know about how to find useful information
    1. you must to know study habits
    2. you must to know how a student must to filter information

Obviously this is not an easy task, you need parent's support, teacher's support and mainly teaching knowledge, so for all of this, school needs to know how teachers give a class, how parents bring support to their children,


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