Improving Your Ability to Learn

Making Decisions about Your Own Learning

As a learner, the kinds of materials, study activities, and assignments that work best for you will derive from your own experiences and needs (needs that are both short-term as well as those that fulfill long-term goals). These decisions can include personal choices in learning materials, how and when you study, and, most importantly, taking ownership of your learning activities as an active participant and decision maker. In fact, one of the main principles emphasized in this chapter is that students not only benefit from being involved in planning their instruction but also gain by continually evaluating the actual success of that instruction. In other words: Does this work for me? Am I learning what I need to by doing it this way? While it may not always be possible to control every component of your learning over an entire program, you can take every opportunity to influence learning activities so they work to your best advantage. What follows are some ways you can put this into practice.

Make Mistakes Safe

Create an environment for yourself where mistakes are safe and mistakes are expected as just another part of learning. This practice ties back to the principles you learned in the section on grit and persistence. The key is to allow yourself the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them before they become a part of your grades. You can do this by creating your own learning activities designed to do just that.

An example of this might be taking practice quizzes on your own, outside of the more formal course activities. The quizzes could be something you find in your textbook, something you find online, or something that you develop with a partner. In the latter case you could arrange with a classmate for each of you to produce a quiz and then exchange them. That particular exercise would serve double learning duty, since to create a good quiz you would need to learn the main concepts of the subject, and answering the questions on your partner’s quiz might help you identify areas where you need more knowledge.

The main idea with this practice is that you are creating a safe environment where you can make mistakes and learn from them before those mistakes can negatively impact your success in the course. Better to make mistakes on a practice run than on any kind of assignment or exam that can heavily influence your final grade in a course.

Make Everything Problem-Centred

When working through a learning activity, the practical act of problem solving is a good strategy. Problem solving, as an approach, can give a learning activity more meaning and motivation for you as a learner. Whenever possible it is to your advantage to turn an assignment or learning task into a problem you are trying to solve or something you are trying to accomplish. In essence, you do this by deciding on some purpose for the assignment (other than just completing the assignment itself). An example of this would be writing a term paper in a way that solves a problem you are already interested in.

Typically, many students treat a term paper as a collection of requirements that must be fulfilled: the paper must be on a certain topic; it should include an introduction, body, conclusion, and references; it should be meet the length requirements. With this approach, the student is simply completing a checklist of attributes and components dictated by the instructor, but other than that, there is no reason for the paper to exist. Instead, writing it to solve a problem gives the paper purpose and meaning.

For example, if you were to write a paper with the purpose of informing the reader about a topic they knew little about, that purpose would influence not only how you wrote the paper but would also help you make decisions on what information to include. It would also influence how you would structure information in the paper so that the reader might best learn what you were teaching them.

Another example would be to write a paper to persuade the reader about a certain opinion or way of looking at things. In other words, your paper now has a purpose rather than just reporting facts on the subject. Obviously, you would still meet the format requirements of the paper, such as number of pages and inclusion of a reference page, but now you do that in a way that helps to solve your problem.

Connect It to Your Career

Much like making assignments problem-centred, you will also do well when your learning activities are connected to your profession or area of study. This can take the form of simply understanding how the things you are learning are important to your occupation, or it can include the decision to do assignments in a way that can be directly applied to your career (or future career). If an exercise seems pointless and possibly unrelated to your long-term goals, you will be much less motivated by the learning activity.

For example, imagine you were a nursing student taking an algebra course. At first, algebra might seem unrelated to the field of nursing, but if you were to recognize that drug dosage calculations are critical to patient safety and that algebra can help in that area, there is a much stronger motivation to learn the subject.

In the case of making a decision to apply assignments directly to your field, you can look for ways to use learning activities to build upon other areas or emulate tasks that would be required in your profession. This might look like a marketing student giving a presentation in a speech course about how the Internet has changed corporate advertising strategies, or an accounting student doing statistics research for a human resources course. Whenever possible, it is even better to use assignments to produce things that are similar what you will be doing (or anticipate doing) in your chosen career.

An example of this would be a media student taking the opportunity to create an infographic or other supporting visual elements as a part of an assignment for another course. In cases where this is possible, it is always best to discuss your ideas with your instructor to make certain what you intend will still meet the requirements of the assignment.


Occupation by WEBTECHOPS LLP from Noun Project

Manage Your Time

One of the most common challenges of college students is the constraint on their time. As adults, we do not always have the luxury of attending school without other demands on our time. Because of this, we must become efficient with time management and maximize our learning activities to be most effective. In fact, time management is so important that there is an entire chapter in this text dedicated to it. When you can, refer to that chapter to learn more about useful time management concepts and techniques.

See Instructors as Learning Partners

In K-12 education the teacher often has the dual role of both teacher and authority figure for students. Children come to expect their teachers to tell them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. College learners, on the other hand, seem to work better when they begin to think of their instructors as respected experts who are partners in their education. The change in the relationship for you as a learner accomplishes several things: it gives you ownership and decision-making ability in your own learning; and it enables you to personalize your learning experience to best fit your own needs. This approach then gives your instructor the opportunity to help you meet your needs and expectations in an enriching manner, rather than focusing all of their time on delivering information to you.

The way to develop learning partnerships is through direct communication with your instructors. If there is something you do not understand or need to know more about, go directly to them. When you have ideas about how you can personalize assignments or explore areas of the subject that interest you or better fit your needs, ask to discuss them. Ask your instructors for guidance and recommendations, and above all, demonstrate to them that you are taking a direct interest in your own learning. Most instructors are thrilled when they encounter students who want to take ownership of their learning, and they will gladly become a resourceful guide for you.


Partners by Eucalyp from Noun Project


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

College Foundations Copyright © 2022 by Assiniboine Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book