25 Taking Initiative

Taking Initiative

Emilie Jackson

Learning Objectives

After reading this page, you will be able to:

  • take responsibility for your own learning;
  • identify and manage “hidden” responsibilities while studying in college.

Why Is This important?

Students have many daily responsibilities in college. Students must attend class, submit assignments, participate in group projects, and more. However, one responsibility that is just as important as those daily responsibilities is taking initiative. Taking initiative means stepping up to make things happen when you haven’t been asked. 


People giving thumbs up in front of a chalkboard
People giving thumbs up in front of a chalkboard. Image source: Pexels

Learning Is Your Responsibility

Learning in college is your responsibility. Before you read about the how and why of being responsible for your own learning, complete the reflective exercise below.


For each statement, give yourself a score from 1 to 5 that best represents you; 1 indicates that the statement is least like you, and 5 indicates that the statement is most like you.

1. Most of the time, I can motivate myself to complete tasks even if they are boring or challenging.
1 2 3 4 5
2. I regularly work hard when I need to complete a task no matter how small or big the task may be.
1 2 3 4 5
3. I use different strategies to manage my time effectively and minimize procrastination to complete tasks.
1 2 3 4 5
4. I regularly track my progress completing work and the quality of work I do produce.
1 2 3 4 5
5. I believe how much I learn and how well I learn is my responsibility.
1 2 3 4 5

Were you able to mark any 4s or 5s? If you were able to mark at least one 4 or 5, then you are on your way to taking responsibility for your own learning. For the questions that you marked 1s and 2s, these are areas you need to develop in order to take more responsibility for your learning.

Let’s break down each statement to understand how we can own our learning:

  • Motivation. Being able to stay motivated while studying and balancing all you have to do in your classes will be important for taking responsibility for your learning.
  • Deliberate, focused effort. Taking ownership of learning will hinge on the effort that you put into the work. Because most learning in college will take place outside of the classroom, you will need determination to get the work done. There will be times that the work will be challenging and maybe even boring, but finding a way to get through it when it is not exciting will help you succeed in the end.
  • Time and task management. The ability to control your calendar will allow you to block out the time necessary to study.
  • Progress tracking. A commitment to learning must include monitoring your learning, knowing not only what you have completed (this is where a good time management strategy can help you track your tasks), but also the quality of the work you have done.

Taking responsibility for your learning will take some time if you are not used to taking control. However, if you have any difficulty making this adjustment, you can and should reach out for help from instructors, tutors, or coaches along the way.

Identifying “Hidden” Responsibilities

Many of the college expectations that have been outlined so far may not be considered common knowledge, which is one reason that so many colleges and universities have classes that help students learn the academic skills they need to succeed. The term “hidden responsibilities” describes unspoken, unwritten, or unacknowledged rules that students are expected to follow that can affect their learning. 


Imagine that you are taking a marketing class. Your course outline indicates that on Tuesday your instructor is lecturing on the chapter that covers social media marketing. This information sounds pretty straightforward. You plan to attend class and hear the lecture your instructor gives on this topic. However, there are some unwritten rules, or hidden responsibilities, that are not likely to be communicated. Can you guess what they may be? Take a moment to come up with at least one answer to the following questions.

  1. What is an unwritten rule about what you should be doing before attending class?
  2. What is an unwritten rule about what you should be doing during class?
  3. What is an unwritten rule about what you should be doing after class?
  4. What is an unwritten rule if you are not able to attend that class?

Some of your answers could have included the following:

Before class: Read the assigned chapter, take notes, and record any questions you have about the reading.

During class: Take detailed notes, ask critical-thinking or clarifying questions, avoid distractions, and bring your textbook and your reading notes.

After class: Reorganize your notes in relation to your notes from previous classes, start the studying process by testing yourself on the material, and make an appointment with your instructor if you are not clear on a concept.

Absent from class: Communicate with the instructor, get notes from a classmate, and make sure you did not miss any important details.

The expectations before, during, and after class, as well as what you should do if you miss class, are often unspoken because many instructors assume you already know and do these things or because they feel you should figure them out on your own. If you are unfamiliar with these expectations, it is important to ask questions so that you can adjust your habits, behaviours, and strategies to achieve success at college.

Key Takeaway

While students receive instructions and tasks from their instructors, students must show initiative by taking responsibility for their own learning, learning about unspoken tasks, and participating in college.

Attribution Statement: Adapted from College Success by Amy Baldwin, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-introduction