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Learning how to learn

Get thinking What do we mean by learning how to learn?:

The activity below will help you to explore what we mean by learning how to learn.

Think back to an example of study you have done in the past, or any fairly structured learning opportunity you remember. Focus on a particular activity or task when you were consciously engaged in learning. Jot down a brief description of what you were learning - what was the subject, topic or task? Having reminded yourself of that, write a brief description of how you were learning it.

This is what Tim wrote:
There was a prep essay which was due before the course started. To be honest, I was really nervous. It took me ages - I kept changing the words round over and over again. I wasn't feeling very confident because I haven't written an essay for about 20 years. I started to panic a bit because I only had a couple of evenings put aside to do it. I thought that if I kept on writing, I'd get there in the end. It wasn't productive and I had no idea of what I was trying to do - a bull in a china shop approach really.

Now that I've thought about it I can see that I was trying to write the essay without planning how I was going to do it. I didn't approach it systematically at all - that's why I couldn't get started. It was a real learning curve though because when I got my feedback from my tutor, it was clear that I hadn't actually answered the question - to be honest, I'd hardly read it. I just homed in on the topic. I made the assumption that I was no good at writing essays. It's taken me a while to work out what was happening but I think I've learned that good essays don't just 'happen'.

Sue's notes were different:
I was reading one of the set books and studying graphs - trying to interpret the information especially that needed to answer Q1 on my first assignment.

I read it over and over again; I thought I understood it but was not sure.
There was so much information; I thought 'I'll never remember all this.' It all seemed to be important.

If I try to understand basic principles rather than try to remember all the details I might do better, and valuable study time will be more effective.
Can you begin to see the difference between thinking about what you were learning and how you were learning; between the content of your study and the process of doing it? Only when you begin to examine the process are you likely to consider whether there might be other more effective ways of studying. We are certainly not suggesting that you engage in this activity every time you study, but being aware of the two dimensions of study and being able to analyse both of them is an important part of learning how to learn.

You will notice that the focus here is on learning - your learning. It may be that the example you chose to examine was an occasion when you were being taught to do something. In this unit we do not look at the teaching side of the experience, although that does not mean it is unimportant. Here the emphasis is on you and your learning in any learning situation and this places a considerable responsibility on you to think through the process. It also encourages you to understand more of what happens to you when you learn. As well as enhancing your learning, this can increase your control over your own learning; you may find this is an approach that is new to you, but do give it a try.

To find out more about your own learning go to Try this: Thinking about your learning.

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