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Learning preference and school choice

Exploring independent and collaborative learners’ fit in 10 school types


When choosing a school for your child, a vital factor to consider is academic fit: what are your child’s most salient academic traits and how might these inform your school search? Here, we’ll discuss one academic trait—learning preference—and what role it might play in choosing a school for your child. 

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids’ step-by-step advice guide and our expert tips. To customize 350+ school profiles with insights unique to your child's traits, create a child profile through your user account


Learning preference and school fit: Independent and collaborative learners

Kids vary widely in their learning preferences: while some are independent learners, others prefer more collaborative learning. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s learning preferences on school choice: it can profoundly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them. 

Independent learners

Independent learners often prefer to work on their own. They tend to enjoy individualized, student-focused learning, with lots of opportunities to explore their interests in class and out.

Independent learners’ school fit: key take-homes

  • Make sure big schools have some smaller classes with individualized teaching and learning, giving your child more flexibility to pursue their interests. Small schools often have smaller classes with plenty of individualized learning, which can give independent learners the freedom to explore their passions.
  • Coed and single-gender schools vary in how much independent learning they offer.
  • Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which independent learners love. 
  • Reggio Emilia schools have a child-focused, individualized learning approach, which gives kids the freedom to pursue activities and tasks of interest. Since Reggio Emilia schools also prioritize group learning, ensure a school provides enough time for your child to work on their own.
  • IB programmes, from the primary years (PYP) to the high school years (DP), offer lots of group work, projects, and activities. This can be challenging at times for kids who prefer to work independently, completing tasks by themselves or in their own way.
  • “Independent learners prefer more scope for working on their own than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school.

To access far more detailed information about independent learners’ school fit, read our in-depth guide.

Collaborative learners

Collaborative learners enjoy group learning. They often like to work with others in class, interact with their peers, and collaborate on projects, assignments, and other school work.

Collaborative learners’ school fit: key take-homes

  • Since big schools have larger student populations, they often have more extracurriculars and supplementals for students to pursue group learning activities like debate and student government. 
  • Small schools with smaller classes offer more opportunities for the kind of group work collaborative learners enjoy. Whether it’s discussion groups, project work, or peer-to-peer teaching, they tend to offer plenty of group activities in an inclusive environment.
  • Many boys’ schools emphasize collaborative and group learning. Sometimes this includes experiential, hands-on learning, which many collaborative learners enjoy. 
  • Many girls’ schools emphasize collaborative and group learning. This often involves plenty of interaction, discussion, and open-ended inquiry.
  • Montessori schools have a child-focused educational approach with lots of individualized learning, which includes uninterrupted independent work periods of up to three hours a day, which can be daunting for some collaborative learners. That said, most Montessori schools, from preschool to the secondary level, provide kids with plenty of opportunities to work in small groups on specific tasks and projects.
  • Reggio Emilia schools enable kids to work alongside their classmates in a variety of contexts. Collaborative learning is a major focus: kids often work in groups on tasks, assignments, and projects, and aim to explore issues and solve problems with their peers.
  • Throughout the continuum—from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) to the Diploma Programme (DP)—the IB offers plenty of group work, projects, and activities, which collaborative learners tend to love. Also, “Since they have a strong emphasis on community service and activism, your child will have many opportunities to harness their collaborative learning style,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Education.
  • The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, can sometimes be restrictive for collaborative learners. Some of these schools don’t provide enough time for the types of group learning activities collaborative learners crave.

To access far more detailed information about collaborative learners’ school fit, read our in-depth guide.

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