Why Think About Your Learning?
Your capacity to learn can be improved by:
• being motivated
• having a clear purpose
• analysing how you do things
• being willing to try new things
• recognising what works best for you.
If you take some time to think through how you as an individual learn effectively, you’ll find that:
• studying will be more enjoyable
• it will be easier to understand course material
• You’ll tend to remember course themes, concepts or techniques, which will help when you come to write assignments or prepare for exams.
Finding out about how you learn can help you to develop study techniques that suit your needs and the task at hand. Improving your study strategies will save you time, lighten your workload and help to improve the quality of your work.
Spend a bit of time taking stock while you’re studying. You’ll be able to recognise and build on your strengths and make sensible decisions about how to deal with problems. Learning from feedback on your course assignments, reflecting and being prepared to try new things are important aspects of being an independent and effective learner.
It is also important to keep in mind two things about learning.
• There is no single method of learning that guarantees success. How you learn best depends on many different factors, and you need to find out which approaches to learning and study techniques work well for you – this also depends on the situation or task at hand.
• Although we all differ in the way we learn, there are key approaches and methods that tend to be effective for many of us (e.g. active reading and being creative in taking notes).
Although there are approaches to learning that seem to work well for a range of study activities, you’ll find that particular subjects do require the development of particular learning skills. For example, you can try to learn computer programming by reading about it (there are books on computer languages), but it is easier and more appropriate to learn by actually programming and writing computer programs.
Disciplines or subjects such as history, business studies or biology have particular research traditions, academic practices and conventions. This means that you’ll find generic ways of learning and studying that are valuable, but if you’re taking a particular programme, or specialising in a subject area you’ll become increasingly familiar with the practices of the discipline and the study approaches that are required. For example, psychology students have to become well-versed in research methods that are used in psychology. If a student writes up say, an experimental report for their psychology course, they need to adhere to the guidelines for report writing, which relate to the accepted practices of reporting research studies in the field.
If you move between different subject areas (from say, art history to a science course) then you’ll need to recognise that the established practices of the discipline will feel rather unfamiliar. You’ll need to give yourself time to develop the particular skills that a new subject requires. For example, in taking science courses you’ll need to become familiar with interpreting complex graphs – a skill that is not likely to be needed in arts-based disciplines.
Your course guide or materials include learning outcomes that outline the key intellectual, practical and professional skills you should gain on the course.
These skills are usually categorised into four groups.
• Knowledge and understanding. Gaining specific knowledge related to a particular subject (e.g. facts and concepts in scientific areas).
• Cognitive skills. Thinking skills, such as problem solving and analysis.
• Practical and professional skills. Skills related to a vocational area (e.g. web design or lesson planning).
• Key skills. Skills gained as a result of study, such as communication skills and time management.
These can help you to be clear about what you’ll be learning on a course, and the kinds of skills that you’ll develop.
Your Learning History
There are key factors that are likely to affect you as a learner and your approach to learning and studying. These include:
• your experiences as a learner, both in formal settings (e.g. at school) and informally, through unstructured or unexpected learning experiences (e.g. learning at a museum)
• your motivations (such as the reasons why you are taking a particular course of study)
• your feelings or emotions, which can relate to your previous experiences of learning
• your existing strengths, preferences, habits or skills.
These factors can influence how you experience and engage with your current study, and have implications for the study techniques that you tend to use (which may or may not be effective).
(Source: Open University UK)