Project Details

A project, completed in 2011, to provide Good Practice guidelines for the running of Independent Learning Centres (ILCs), with the aim of supporting learners and maximising student use of ILCs. A collaboration of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology and Unitec Institute of Technology.


The key aims of the research project were to:

  • present an up-to-date snapshot of current practices in Independent Learning Centres (mainly language self-access centres) throughout New Zealand
  • add to a growing body of knowledge in the field of self-access and autonomous learning by investigating and presenting an up-to-date snapshot of current practices of student support in a range of ILCs throughout the country
  • identify some of the issues currently facing these centres and suggest some solutions to counteract them
  • create a source of innovative Good Practice ideas for maximising student use of ILCs
  • produce Good Practice Guidelines for centre workers, teachers and senior institutional managers in New Zealand.


A qualitative descriptive methodology was employed for the study, which included:

  • a comprehensive literature review
  • telephone interview (1) and face-to-face interviews with key personnel at the other thirteen tertiary institutions visited
  • a follow-up questionnaire to ensure that all the enquiries were fully covered.

The following research questions guided the project:

  • Did institutions have an ILC or did they provide solely library/learning services support?
  • Did they have a dedicated language learning centre?
  • What were the current issues and their ideas about how to counteract these?
  • What was the range and organisation of support services being offered through the centre?
  • How was learner advising carried out?
  • What were the roles of the centre managers?
  • How were learners involved in the running of the centre and their learning?
  • What resources and activities were provided for learners?
  • What was the philosophical and physical place of ILCs within institutions and student programmes?
  • What support structures for the centre were found from the teachers, schools and institutes?
  • How was autonomous learning fostered?



Kerstin Dofs

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

Moira Hobbs

Unitec Institute of Technology




$10,000.00 (excl GST)

$10,000.00 Regional Hub Project Fund

Key Findings

The key findings showed that:

  • A range of initiatives for autonomous learning support, including a demonstrated advising role, is being undertaken by ILCs.
  • A vast source of practical advice and Good Practice suggestions for the running of an ILC were identified.
  • The managerial role varied considerably between the ILCs.
  • There was evidence of the importance and need for robust institutional support, through both appropriate funding and commitment, for centres to be able to develop and thrive.
  • A range of tertiary institutions had aspirations to provide some form of useful and beneficial independent learning centre in order to encourage life-long learning, and support students towards taking more control of their learning process.

Key Recommendations

The Guidelines produced by the project provide examples of Good Practice covering the following key areas:

The learner | The overarching purpose for an Independent Learning Centre is to create a space centred around learners.

Activities | Many of the centres visited hosted a range of learning opportunities and associated activities so that students could ‘pick ‘n mix’ what suited them best and try out different techniques for learning. Some of these were to assist the learner in meta-cognitive awareness and strategy use while others were more specifically targeted on discrete learning items and skills such as different writing styles and genres, grammar and vocabulary.

Resources, materials and equipment | A highly-functional and well-utilised centre needs interesting and useful resources and learning materials adapted to a self-study situation, which should ultimately also encourage autonomous learning. Equipment should include a mix of the following technological devices; audio cassette players, TVs, Video and DVD players, CD players, MP3 players, digital recorders and computers, both PCs and laptops.

Managers and staff | An important element in the effective utilisation and successful continuation of ILCs is the type and level of the overall management of the centre. This relates to the nature of the Manager’s role itself and to the support for the centre from teachers, from upper management in the host school if applicable, from library staff (especially if the centre is housed within the Library) and the senior management team of the tertiary institution as a whole.

Independent Learning Centre | Centres aim to offer a range of flexible learning spaces and provide as wide a range as possible of opportunities for learners to engage with the material at all times to whatever extent the learner wants. Each centre has some overarching philosophies which act as inherent guiding principles underlying the centre, its utilisation and the movement through it by students. These fundamental beliefs dictate how the students could use the centre, how the resources were laid out, the arrangement of the whole area, and the learning opportunities being offered.

Institutional support | Institutional support can take many different forms including; the physical location of the centre/s, a financial contribution to setting up and running the centres on a day-to-day basis and encouraging continued development within the centre. Institutional support can also take the form of a commitment to adequately staff the centre, support an advisory service, and the extent to which principles and goals of autonomy and self-determination are embedded (either explicitly or implicitly) within the educational programmes.

ILCs from a national perspective | With the current influx of English language students to New Zealand, it is essential to know how to meet the individual needs of students from a diversity of cultural, social and religious backgrounds. It is therefore very important that institutions and managers of ILCs keep up to date with current developments and trends within the autonomous learning field, both nationally and internationally, so they are able to give the best support available to all students.


Guidelines for Maximising Student Use of Independent Learning Centres

A report prepared by Kerstin Dofs and Moira Hobbs. Published 2011.

(PDF, 7.8 MB, 110-pages).

  • 13 December 2011
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