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


  • availability of human resources – qualified staff and time;
  • availability of and easy access to suitable learning resources that are specifically designed for autonomous language learning;
  • potential student numbers high enough to justify additional efforts and expenditure;
  • actual student numbers high enough to sustain the effort and draw conclusions for the future development of independent learning courses at the Language Centre;
  • potential to exchange experiences and network with other European institutions in this field of activity.


1.3 Learning outcomes


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


  • Better command of the target language in general;
  • Better skills in certain areas such as speaking, listening, reading, writing, lexis, grammar, pronunciation;
  • Increased intercultural awareness and intercultural communication skills;
  • More realistic assessment of language skills and actual ability to solve specific tasks;
  • Improved command of the German / English for specific purposes related to the subject that the students take;
  • Wider range of IT skills, increased computer literacy;
  • Superior knowledge of learning techniques and learning strategies for life-long language learning;
  • Higher potential of acquiring transferable independent learning skills – both to other languages and to other subject areas;
  • More realistic views of activities involving the planning, implementation and evaluation of autonomous language learning activities;
  • Enhanced self-esteem and ability to study and work successfully using the target language (L2).


1.4 Practical realisation


1. Preparation of the pilot project

  • Participation in conferences, symposia, workshops presented by external experts,
  • In-service training sessions,
  • Arrangements that allow for the recognition of the staff hours involved
  • Regulations that concern the formal recognition of the students’ workload involved as “Schlüsselqualifikation” for BA students, with a certain number of ECTS points for incoming students and with SWS (for Magister/Diplom students),
  • Selection of criteria for material for independent language learning activities, e.g. useful advice on learning activities, methods and strategies, support and guidance, availability of keys and feedback, clear labelling of language levels (start level, target levels) according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Language,
  • Discussion of practical implementation (number of meetings with an advisor, number of workshops to be offered and attended, workshops in L1 and/or L2, forms of cooperation between the advisors and the media centre (Mediothek), joint implementation of planning activities, alternative ways of documenting the learning process by the learners, criteria for grading / certification,
  • Adaptation (from the Unversity of Freiburg / CH, Mediathek, by Dr. Michael Langner and from the European Portfolio project) of existing materials for the use at the University of Potsdam,
  • Development of own materials such as an independent learning materials catalogue, an application form and documentation material for the learning activities as well as for the autonomous learning counselling meetings between the advisor and the students

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,

  • the existing language skills of the learner are clearly established
    b) desired learning outcomes are specified
  • the responsibilities of the advisor and of the learner are determined
  • a learning contract is signed
  • hints are given that explain the specific challenges associated with independent learning
  • students are encouraged to explore new methods of learning foreign languages
  • autonomous learning materials are recommended
  • the idea of planning, implementing and measuring progress and the means of doing this are discussed

At the skills-related workshops, the learners

  • familiarize themselves with different language learning techniques
  • learn how to find and select materials suitable to their learning project
  • reflect their success / progress
  • exchange ideas and experiences with other learners
  • are encouraged to form independent learning groups

At further advisory meetings and at the final meetings

  • the learners assess their own activities in terms of desired and achieved outcomes
  • the assessment and the written documentation of the learning activities are commented on by the advisor
  • the reflection of the learners is further discussed in order to establish valid and efficient ways of individualized learning
  • the quality of the learning activities and their documentation is assessed and graded by the advisor
  • further recommendations are jointly worked out by the advisor and the learner

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.


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