There is an important lesson every student needs to be taught. The problem is, it’s not a part of any university course I’ve seen or heard of.
This lesson is about the big shift that happens between lower and higher education: between school and university.
At school, your teachers are largely responsible for your learning. They will remind you of due dates and may even be lenient if you miss them or need extensions. They will step in and support you if they see you’re struggling. If they think you can achieve more, they’ll tell you.
But this changes at university, where there is a MASSIVE shift in responsibility from the teacher to the student – you.
At university you MUST become responsible for your own learning and development. Your tutor will be assigned a lot more students and your face time with them is more limited (or not at all if you’re a distance learner). If you want help, you have to ask for it. If you don’t put the effort in, your tutor won’t chase you to work harder for your own future.
Now the shift itself isn’t a problem. We all know becoming an adult means taking responsibility for a lot of things e.g. eating real food, washing your bedding every so often…etc.
The elephant in the room
But the problem with this shift is that it’s not talked about.
It’s like the elephant in the room.
Your first day of university doesn’t involve a sit down where you’re told ‘the balls now in your court. At school, we were holding your hand. Now you have to hold your own’.
The problem with this elephant is that some students can’t even see it. Maybe you started university and you’re nervous. Maybe you brought along some doubts and 'bad student' baggage from your previous education. University starts to become overwhelming and your doubts start being realised. You feel like you’re behind and that everyone’s overtaking you.
But this may not be true. What may be true instead is that you were never taught this vital lesson: that you are responsible for your own learning.
University doesn’t teach you HOW to develop the skills you need to become an independent learner.
You’re expected to work out how to organise your time, create essays and reports, write references…etc. You may be directed to a few PDFs on how to learn. Or, if you really start to struggle, you may get access to some resources as part of Academic Probation...
I understand that as adults, we have to take responsibility for what happens to us. But if no one tells us about this transition, or helps us through it – how are we supposed to learn the skills we need to be successful?
I’m here to fill this gap.
I don’t want to leave you alone, struggling to learn HOW to learn effectively.
So let me introduce you to the 5 vital skills of an independent learner, and point you in the direction of my best resources to help you develop them.
The 5 Skills of an Independent Learner
1. Motivated and self-assured
It’s important that you develop the self-belief that you can improve and you can achieve higher grades. Your past grades do not have to dictate your future grades. Set the intention to develop a growth mindset where you believe you can change your intelligence with effort and the right strategies. Believe you can become more intelligent, and you’re halfway there.
We all have days where we don’t want to study. Where we’re lacking motivation and think that we should only study when we feel inspired to. The problem is – that inspiration may never come! Just because you’re not leaping for joy at the thought of studying, it doesn’t mean you can’t do great work.
2. Organised with great time management
The idea of being organised can sound overwhelming. I’m not asking you to become crazy-efficient overnight. I’m asking you to spend a little time getting the two most important things organised.
First you need to make sure all your important dates are recorded. There should never be an excuse to forget an assignment or tutorial. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you remember them. I’ve written a blog post with some tips on how to record your dates and organise your digital files.
Then I’ve written another post setting out my process for organising my physical study materials e.g. notes and handouts…etc.
3. A problem solver who takes initiative
Throughout your degree, there’s going to be approximately 1782 times that you get stuck and have no idea how to move on. It could be a tricky concept, or an essay question you’re not sure how to approach.
Taking initiative and being creative is super important if you want to overcome these challenges, rather than letting them stop you in your tracks.
On a recent study skills training webinar I held, I asked the students who attended what they could do if they got stuck on something?
Here are some of their brilliant suggestions:
- Take a break and go for a walk
- Google the problem to find other resources
- Sleep on it and try again tomorrow
- Look on Youtube for tutorial videos
- Try to explain the concept to someone else: explain it simply as if to a 5-year-old
- Discuss it with a fellow student
- Contact your tutor and ask for help.
It’s important to take initiative and try to solve the problem yourself. But if you can’t, always reach out and ask for support. Don’t waste time by sitting their stuck if you’ve already tried to resolve the problem yourself.
Never be afraid to ask for help.
4. Focused on self-development
The only way to improve is to change. If you want higher grades you need to look for ways to change your methods or behaviour for the better. I’ve written a great blog post that will help you workout where you should focus your improvement efforts.
One of the simplest ways to improve your grades is to seek and act on feedback. If you haven’t already, download my assignment feedback tracker so you can see your grades climb essay after essay.
5. Dedicated and disciplined
Answer truthfully, are you studying enough to get the grades you want?
If yes, 50 points to Ravenclaw for you!
If not, why not?
For a lot of us, a lack of time is the problem. If you struggle to find time to study, then it’s vital you make sure the time you do have is productive as possible.
That means doing what’s necessary to remove distractions before you study; setting yourself up for great studying; studying in intervals using the Pomodoro Technique.
Make sure a lack of time doesn’t become an excuse.
No one can make you study. Ultimately, no one is going to hound you to put more effort and time into your own life and achievements.
If you've found this blog post helpful, I would be so grateful if you could share it with a friend who's studying.