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‘It is not odd, that one man’s devil is another’s god’- Sylvia Plath. So, it is understandable that students find themselves opposite this debate on Self Study vs Classroom Study. While they can decide for themselves what suits them best, here are a few noteworthy arguments.

When it comes to making a decision about studying, there has always been a debate about Self study vs Classroom Study. The two mediums could not be more different, their merits and pitfalls have been pulled apart and analysed in great detail by supporters on both sides of the fence. Historically, there has been a balance of campaigners for both classroom training and self-study.

While in school, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what worked best for me when it came to learning. I found it very difficult to keep pace with the classroom teaching and owing to my short attention span, I often found myself staring into blank spaces. I gave up trying to focus in class because no matter how hard I tried, it all went too fast. However, I managed to keep my academics on track because I devoted long hours to self-study. It never really occurred to anyone during classes that I was on the losing side. On the other hand, as a young student relying solely on self-studies was not an easy task.

Right from the length and breadth of the curriculum to difficulties in grasping concepts on my own, I got stuck quite often. However, my chemistry classes were an anomaly to this trend, where I was alive as a bird. Lost; but not in wasteful fancies, rather ideating and imagining. Though, Chemistry is often thought to be a subject about laborious periodic tables and nasty equations. For me and most of my classmates, it was a catalyst which brought the much-needed effervescence in our otherwise dull study routines. What isolated these lectures from the rest was one thing- the level of engagement of teacher with the student. The simple idea of acknowledging the diverse needs of each and every student and incorporating the same in the teaching methodology worked wonderfully for both the students and the teacher. The pace did not lead to anyone gasping for breath. In addition to this, we had ample time to contemplate and come up with our queries. However, this is one rare phenomenon.

The basic premise of the ‘Self-study Vs Classroom Study’ debate is the fact that the whole classroom teaching set up has been accused of being ineffective and exclusionary. The major drawbacks of the system being, boring, monotonous and not being able to cater to the individual needs of students owing to a high student to child ratio. Classroom study also has little consideration of the diversity in the learning curves of various students. On the other hand, the self-study system comes across as a flexible and incorporating alternative where a student has the leeway to grasp and learn at a comfortable pace. Students may choose from a variety of combinations of study resources and tools, and manage their study schedule according to their own convenience. They don’t have to wear a cloak which has been crafted in oblivion to their individualistic needs -the one which says – “one size fits all’.

However, Jumping to a quick fix conclusion has its perils. We may fall prey to the same negligence that we accuse the classroom teaching pattern being guilty of. Just like the classroom education is inefficient in incorporating the different needs of different students, a self-study paradigm can also have contradictory outcomes. The fact that both, classroom teaching and self-study paradigms have serious deficiencies is evident from my personal experience and interactions with friends. More often than not, classroom lectures go on like monologues, much like an arrow shot in the dark. The curriculum is often designed keeping in mind the course requirements rather than the capability or curiosity of the students. Information is randomly bombarded upon the students, one after another, with no time or opportunity to ponder over it. Taking to self-study does open up a lot of possibilities for the student, to get the best fit for oneself.  At the same time, with the self-study alternative, students often complain of being lost and complacent, and the difficulties they face in time- management.

In my discussions with some friends, regarding which mode of study suited them the best, they had many perspectives to offer. One of them suggested that self-study definitely is a preferred alternative to the cliché classroom routine but then, it does not seem to work for everyone. One may be wasting time due to lack of motivation and dedication. The students may simply end up banging their head against the wall if there’s no one to guide when unable to understand a particular topic or concept.

“Self-study will work only if we are really passionate about it and study diligently. Practically, very often, this is not the case. Classroom teaching makes it difficult to skip studying/learning…But then classroom gets boring and monotonous. If we could discipline ourselves and/or find a partner or someone to help, then self-studying rocks.”

Another friend opined that classroom or expert instruction was essential to get a grasp of critical concepts but then it must be complemented with a regular self-study schedule. “For me, self-study is most important but you can’t ignore the classes. Starting a completely new topic on your own is always difficult. If in the class, my teacher tells me about the concepts, then it’s easy to start. One more thing classes also install a routine. In the worst case scenario, at least you know the topics covered under that subject, even if you can’t understand all the topics in the class. Learning is a very complicated thing. One specific thing can’t be fit for everyone. Also, in the classes teachers only give the basic idea about any topic but when you are preparing for any exam or competitions then just the basic idea won’t work. You need a thorough knowledge and for that self-study is the only option.”

Another point that came up was the role of human interaction and symbiotic learning that is facilitated by classroom participation and discussions. Some suggested that self-study might be good to enable one to be at peace with one’s own learning patterns. However, the absence of classroom engagement might deprive one of the necessary stimulation that is encouraged by interpersonal interactions with the instructors and our peers.

The biggest disadvantage of self-study is that it relies solely on your will power. If you don’t have the resolve and self-discipline to spend a couple of hours a day studying then the goal is hard to achieve. On the other hand, classroom study is carried out by certified trainers with real-world experience and it follows a structured path where you’re learning the required knowledge to move onto the next subject in a reasonable time frame, there is no time to forget the subject matter because of the class structure.

In my experience, students who are innately self-driven, prefer learning visually and independently and grasp new things fast, tend to do fine with the self-study option. If these are not your strong points, you may benefit significantly with the help of a classroom training program.

To sum up, there is an urgent need for more flexibility and innovation when it comes to teaching and learning methodologies. These days with the availability of a vast pool of study aids, tutorials, e-books, self-study blogs and what not, the solution seems to be just a click away, but again there is a possibility that the student might feel lost like a fish in the ocean. The idea should be to give students the freedom of choice, while at the same time assuring them of ample guidance and support. The timetables can be designed in such a way that the classroom lecture schedules don’t get too tedious, with breaks for self-study and customizable tutorials. The potential of online tools like the tailor made study modules and discussion forums, etc. can be tapped to add to the beauty of learning.

I feel that the bottom line is to make the whole learning experience more engaging, rewarding, and targeted upon the diverse needs of the students. Instead of being in two camps of Self study Vs Classroom Study, it would be fruitful if we could devise modules which would bring together the best of both worlds.

To share your thoughts on Self Study vs Classroom Study, you may leave your comments in the feedback section. To read our views on Self Study vs Group study click here.

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