Independent Language Learning Courses

Author(s): Steffen Skowronek
Institution/Organisation: University of Potsdam (DE)


1.1 Scope of the initiative

The Language Centre of the University of Potsdam has launched an initiative to establish a Centre for Independent Language Learning (CILL). This initiative contributes to Life Long Learning (LLL) and aims at creating learning opportunities that can ensure a sustainable future of students‘ multilingualism obtained either at school or university. Autonomous language learning is seen as an essential component in reactivating and maintaining language competence as well as in learning a new language. This learning takes place both in language courses and in the CILL.

In order to foster and develop sustainable concepts for independent language learning at the Language Centre, a pilot project was launched in 2004. This pilot project comprises independent language learning courses in English, Russian and German that include skills-related autonomous language learning workshops, meetings with a language learning advisor and regular learning activities aimed at gathering experiences in the field of independent language learning through reflected autonomous learning activities.

This project is primarily aimed at students and faculty who wish to supplement their conventional language courses with more innovative forms of learning, such as autonomous learning and tandem language partnerships. It is also seen as adding a level of flexibility in terms of time and place of learning that is not usually afforded by conventional language courses and that satisfies that needs and wishes of students and staff who cannot or do not want to participate in more traditional forms of classroom learning.


1.2 Range of languages studied

Languages studied within this initiative:
English, levels A1 through C2
German, levels A1 through C2
Russian, level B1

Choice of languages: Imposed by the nature of the project as a pilot study



1.3 Learning outcomes


Learning outcomes can defined as higher competences in the following fields:



1.4 Practical realisation


1. Preparation of the pilot project

2. Implementation of the Pilot Project


Individual courses are offered to learners of German, English and Russian every semester. Students apply for these courses by filling out an application form documenting their language skills, their autonomous learning experiences, their overall aims and objectives for the project and their existing language skills. If necessary, existing language skills are further specified through placement tests or the diagnostic DIALANG test before the first meeting with an advisor.

In the first meeting (kick-off meeting) between the advisor and the students,

At the skills-related workshops, the learners

At further advisory meetings and at the final meetings

Finally, students use assessments and feedback forms in order to briefly assess the materials they have used, thereby further establishing the degree of usefulness / suitability of certain materials. They also provide feedback on the workshops, the meeting with the advisor and the course itself.



2.1 Context

When the initiative was developed, the Language Centre was already established as the only institution at the University of Potsdam that successfully offered:

The Language Centre was faced with the following demands that constituted a challenge and contributed to the development of the new CILL initiative:

At the same time, there was a general and specific need to implement some of the new scientific and methodological findings concerning more individualized as well as more collaborative forms of learning, new challenges posed by the demand for more languages and a broader as well as deeper knowledge of the existing languages, coupled with a general need for the development of IT and lifelong-learning skills.


2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

Strategic goals exist in the context of the profile and the medium-term objectives of the University of Potsdam which is, among others, to prepare students for their professional lives as well as for the demands of academic work.


Students must be prepared for academic exchanges, internships abroad, cooperation projects with partner institutes in foreign countries and need a certain level of language competence, language skills and the ability to learn from others in order to operate successfully in target language environments and with partners with a target-culture background.


The university also aims to prepare students to meet the increased demands of a labour market in terms of their ability to cooperate with foreign partners, acquire the latest scientific and technological developments through target-language publications and to be more flexible concerning in-service training and retraining, and therefore to equip them with the skills needed to maintain and develop their language skills independently.


In addition, it was intended to develop an innovative learning arrangement in close cooperation with European partners and by making use of the findings established by European Union sponsored projects of good practice, such as Leonardo or Grundtvig programmes. It was also seen as an opportunity for networking with German and European partners engaged in similar activities.


The following aims apply to the courses developed by the CILL initiative:



The following criteria can be used as indicators of the success of the project in the framework of the desired learning outcomes, reflecting the strategic goals of the initiative.


The following factors have specifically contributed to the success of the initiative: 



5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

Initiatives such as this one particularly benefit from the conditions mentioned under success factors. These factors cannot be separated and no primary factor can be singled out: As a whole, they contributed to the successful implementation of the independent learning initiative at the Language Centre.


Particularly beneficial and tantamount to the success of the initiative was the close cooperation between all languages and partners involved, particularly the management of the language centre, the language teachers, and the language learning advisors, as well as the librarians and the student assistants in the media centres.


It can also be seen as especially relevant that the initiative was implemented as a limited-range pilot project in its initial phase, only involving specific languages and a limited number of staff, which makes it easier to gain experiences and to win new insights both into the organisational arrangements that contribute to the success and failure of specific components of the courses and into its practical implementation.


In addition, the scientific approach, which demanded systematic and regular feedback and evaluation that the learners provided, but also reflections and lessons learned by the teachers contributed to the improvement of the concept and the realization of the initiative.


Finally, without recognition in terms of the staff’s teaching load and in credit points gained by the learners, this initiative would never have gained so much impetus and continuously attracted more and a wider range of students and staff and raised interest both locally at regional workshops and internationally at meetings and conferences.


[to be continued]

5.2 Broader implications

This project uses the excellent materials developed by other European initiatives, such as ECT4LT for the in-service training of teachers and language learning advisors, EUROVOLT via VLE for teacher training as well as materials development and selection, DIALANG in order to establish student’s individual language skills, EUROPEAN language portfolio in order to support self-evaluation and self-assessment, as well as materials directly supplied by European partner institutions.


It is also necessary and useful to learn from the experiences of other European partners who had implemented similar initiatives, such as the University of Lausanne, the University of Bologna, the University of Southampton, the University of Freiburg (CH) as well as the Verband Wiener Volksbildung and the University of Bochum, to mention only some of them.


This project can be of use to other European institutions who would like to implement similar projects in the future, particularly by

In conclusion, materials that have been developed and experiences that have been gained can be of considerable use both to institutions that would like to establish or upgrade similar learning arrangements.