Thinking about how you learn


In order to set about your studies intelligently, you need some kind of notion of how your mind learns. It does not have to be a complicated theory, just a workable, practical understanding –enough to enable you to make choices between different study strategies and to evaluate the outcomes of your choices.

Drawing insight from other people

As the Kolb cycle suggests, you can develop an understanding of your own learning through reflecting on your experiences. But this is only part of the story. You can develop a fuller understanding of your own learning by talking with other people about their experiences of learning. Talking with other students is a powerful way of ‘thinking aloud. You make sense collectively of the way the learning process seems to work. Teachers offer insights too, both in class and through their comments on your assignments. And, of course, you can read what other people have to say about the learning process in other articles like this one. You will pick up many insights about how you learn as you work through this good study guide articles

What kind of learner are you?

While there are general truths about learning which apply to everyone, it is also clear that people differ in the ways that they learn. Since this book tends to focus on the general truths, you may want to look up other sources to explore your personal characteristics as alearner.Educational researchers have developed various schemes that distinguish between different types of learners.

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Serialist vs holist

One scheme divides students into:

serialists –who tend to work in asequential way through study tasks, starting at the beginning and proceeding step by step until they reach the end; and

holists –who tend to approach a task as a whole and hop about from one part of it to another,trying all the time to keep the overall picture in view. For example, a serialist is said to be more likely to start a book on page one and read on to the end, while a holist might read the contents list and the conclusion, skim through some of the illustrations and then dip into selected sections to build up a picture of what it is about. Either strategy can work, but some people have a clear preference for one or the other (Pask, 1988).

Controlled vs impulsive

Some people study in a steady and systematic way. Others are inclined to put in bursts of intensive study, learning a lot quickly before shifting to something else. Again, both approaches work.

Deep learning vs surface learning

Some students tend to search for the underlying meaning of atext as they read (deep learning), while others are more inclined to treat atext as information to be remembered (surface learning). Deep learning is seen as much more appropriate strategy for most university level study (Marton et al., 1997).

Verbal vs numerical vs spatial

Some people read text relatively quickly, but struggle with diagrams and tables. Others find it easy to read tables of numbers and enjoy working with information organised diagrammatically, but get bogged down in long passages of text. Indeed, it has been argued that that there are seven or eight different kinds of ‘intelligence’ and that these affect the way we study (Gardner,1993). However,there is a disagreement about how useful it is to make distinctions between learning styles and about which distinctions are most meaningful and practical. New classification schemes and new versions of old schemes continue to emerge. If you want to explore the topic of ‘learning styles you can follow it up for yourself by searching the internet. Type ‘learning styles in the search box and you will find plenty. You may even find questionnaires you can fill in to see what style of learner you are said to be. Whether some of these schemes are more ‘correct than others is not necessarily important. You can simply make use of them to stimulate thinking about your learning preferences. Try them out and borrow whatever ideas seem useful.

Becoming your own psychologist

Ultimately you need to piece together your own ‘picture’ of yourself as learner,not rely on questionnaire scores. For this, you need to become practised observer of yourself. In effect, you become your own psychologist

tracking how your mind learns and develops, and comparing your experiences with those of other students and with what you read about learning. Then you can work out what kind of alearner you think you are and develop your study strategies accordingly.

A lifelong process

Understanding how you learnisalifelong process. At every stage you can discover more. And, it is not always amatter of learning something ‘new’. There are many basic truths you can revisit and understand again at anew level. Some sections of this book will be just as revealing if you returnt them in future years, when you have much more experience of studying.

Key points

⛔ Study skills are not aset of ‘tricks’ that you learnonce and apply forever.Becoming askilled student involves: accumulating practical know-how, on things you have to do as student and how to do them

⛔ mastering the essential skills in your area of study

⛔ knowing how to keep your spirits up

⛔ being determined to take control of your studies in apractical and realistic way

⛔ becoming an independent learner by taking broad responsibility for your own studies and making your own judgments about your priorities and your progress

⛔taking areflective approach to your studies, so that you learn from experience and continually refine your skills

⛔developing an understanding of what learning is and how it happens, so that you can plan and monitor your own learning. With this approach, your study skills will continue to develop throughout your life.

Studying with full concentration and deep thought expands your mind. It enables you to participate in new realms of ideas. It extends your powers of expression and helps you to engage with the world with new confidence. But none of this is guaranteed. If you cannot connect effectively with your studies, if your time dribbles away on patchy, half-focused activity, then studying leads to frustration, disappointment and low self-esteem. That is why developing your study skills is one of the best investments you can make in yourself. It is an investment which will bear fruit throughout your life, enabling you to keep abreast of arapidly changing world. This book assumes that you are intelligent enough to give serious thought to why and how you study, and determined enough to invest significant time in improving your skills.

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