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How do you encourage students to do their self-study assignments?

Last updated on 21 February 2024
Would you like to go more in-depth during your teaching sessions, instead of repeating the basic course material? Then, it's important for students to do their self-study assignments on forehand. We're sharing five tips on how to encourage this and which tools for that.

Good self-study assignments lead to more in-depth teaching sessions
Subject matter in an academic environment is often so extensive and cognitively demanding that students have to autonomously study and practice intensively. Self-study is an important concept in activating blended education.

If, in addition, you would like to go into greater depth during a teaching session (as with the Flipped Classroom), it's usually important for all students to have finished the self-study assignments before the session. This way, they already understand the facts, concepts and methods at a basic level, so that you can focus on applying this during the meeting. As a result, you don't have to start with the classical rehearsal of knowledge, and you can offer your students a richer learning experience.

Not all students finish their self-study assignments, but what is behind this behaviour? In the busy lives of students your course is in direct competition with their side-job, extracurricular activities, social contacts, going out, family visits, social media and streaming services. Also, students tend to be less motivated when it's unclear what they have to do and what's in it for them. How to improve on this? These five tips are a good start!

1: always introduce the task
As a teacher, always explicitly introduce which self-study activities have to be done before the next meeting (feed-up) during a lecture or work group. It's best not to assume that the students will figure out for themselves what they have to prepare, how to do it and what level is expected of them.

2: make sure the tasks contribute concretely to the achievement of the learning objectives
For students, the relevancy of the activities must be crystal clear. A student always wonders: 'Why should I do this task?' Therefore, make sure to mention how the task contributes to the achievement of the learning objectives (Want to know more about this? See the tip on constructive alignment). This can be a content-related goal, but also often a process-related goal (for example: the student can independently analyse an academic article). 

3: word the assignments actively
Make sure to word the self-study assignments actively, making clear what the student has to do and why. Avoid phrases like: 'Read chapter 5'.  Always supplement these kinds of assignments with an explanation of what the student is to do with this literature. For example: 'Study chapter 5, so you can answer the following questions, formulate questions, make diagrams of arguments or apply the knowledge to a case.'

Make sure to give a clear and realistic estimated time investment. For example: 'Reading and answering the questions in this chapter will take you about three hours.' If possible, offer the student options. For example, by:

  • content  – the student looks for inspiring sources for the topic (like videos, newspaper articles or scientific articles);
  • form – the student chooses a presentation form that best fits the subject;
  • process  – the student chooses a specific amount of self-study questions to answer.

4: give feedback and appreciate effort
Make sure you use the result of the self-study assignment in the teaching meeting. This in itself is a form of feedback and appreciation, and prevents students from disengaging. Moreover, by working with the self-study assignment, you can apply more in-depth activating methods.

A simple way is to ask the students a number of basic questions at the start of the teaching session. You can do this for example with Canvas Quizzes. Or randomly select  students and ask them to describe in a few sentences the most important things they learned from the self-study assignments. A more advanced version is to apply the knowledge to new and more complex problems or cases.

5: don't adjust your lessons to unprepared students
Finally, it's best not to adapt the lesson content to students who have not prepared for it. As soon as you do, students will prepare less because they know there will be no consequences.

Digital support
Would you like your students to study texts interactively with questions or comments from fellow students? These digital tools can support your lesson: 

  • FeedbackFruits Interactive document, Interactive Video of Comprehension of Document, and Perusall. Especially when it comes to academic texts that need to be read and understood (Academic Reading). 
  • Canvas Assignments or Canvas Quizzes for asking students to answer short questions. 
  • Books from educational publishers often have learning environments with assignments or questions.

Using digital tools such as FeedbackFruits and Perusall, you can also quickly assess the students' effort when they submit an assignment or comment. You can give students 0 or 1 point for it, for instance and let this count for a small part in the final assessment (do check the Teaching and examination regulations of the programme).