“How to Survive and Thrive in Open Learning”. Top Ten Tips
Top Tip No 1: # Motivation
Keeping motivated and staying on track for the duration of your studies is the single most important hurdle that the independent learner must overcome. My first tip is to find a good motivational quote that creates a fire in your belly and frame it (preferably A4 size) and display it in your office or bedroom where you can see it every day. How’s this for starters? “You can do anything if you put your mind on how to do it rather than why you can’t”. Bob Proctor
Top Tip No 2: # Study Skills
In their book ‘A Guide to Learning Independently’ Marshall and Rowland tell us to use all our senses when studying. Most students [me included, until lately] use only one of their senses (sight) when studying or maybe two (touch) to write. However, research suggests that we should read a difficult text out loud to (hear) the words and draw pictures (sight) again, to get a better understanding of the topic. Put the main themes of the text on ‘Post-It’s’ and put them in order of importance on a wall to get a better understanding of the subject.
Top Tip No 3: # Time Management
As mature students we are very aware of the social and family issues that compete for our study time. Most universities that deliver Open Learning deal with this topic in their orientation open day. However, it has been my experience that they over complicate the subject with exact times and dates on a spreadsheet format that no one will follow. My tip is to keep it simple, get an A5 sheet of paper and mark it out as follows:
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Top Tip No 3: # Learning Journals
The majority of third level institutions require their students to keep a learning journal; my advice is to start this practice as early as possible in your studies. Get hold of and A5 size notebook and use this to put down your ‘feelings’ and ‘thoughts’ about what you’re learning. You will be surprised by how much more a subject comes to life when you ask yourself questions on the topic you are studying. For example, I enter stuff like: “What was that chapter about? Where can I get more information on this? I have not got a clue what they are talking about here”.
Top Tip No 4: # English Grammar
I cannot stress the importance of the correct use of grammar when submitting assignments to tutors or professors for correction. Most universities award 10% of the overall mark for what they refer to as [layout and structure] of assignments. It is important to know such stuff as… the difference between ‘Parentheses’ and ‘Brackets’, see what I mean? I didn’t know either. If you can get a copy of ‘Plain English’ by Diane Collinson et el, it is a great book as a foundation for understanding and using good grammar. By the way ‘et el’ is Latin for ‘and others’ when there is more than one author.
Top Tip No 5: # Referencing
This author has witnessed fellow mature students getting into hot water with their university’s academic review boards through lack of referencing [whether intentionally or not] in their assignments or essays. Galway University for example uses the ‘Harvard Referencing Style’, which this learner learned in detail as early as possibly in his academic studies. To help you on your way, the University of Limerick has an excellent free download booklet called ‘CITE IT RIGHT’, ‘A Guide to Referencing in UL using the Harvard Referencing Style’, which is available at ul.ie/library .
Top Tip No 6: # Note-Taking
The gathering of information forms an integral part of all academic study; whether we are reading a course module, or preparing research, attending lectures, all of which require us to take ‘useful’ notes. Andrew Northledge in his book ‘The Good Study Guide’ suggests that we use ‘highlighting and underlining’ to place emphasis on topics that need to be remembered. This learner discovered that using ‘Mind Mapping’ to take notes has been very successful as I now remember and retain more information using pictures to form links between topics. For more information on the use of ‘Mind Mapping’, Google Tony Buzan, for an exciting and highly practical alternative to linear notes.
Top Tip No 7: # Essay Writing
The majority of tertiary institutions require their students to produce written essays as part of the teach process. The reasons for the use of essays are simple; they are an excellent method for testing a student’s comprehension of a subject together with their ability to express this new learning. Why therefore, do so many of us mature students make it very difficult for the tutor to follow our arguments or thoughts? We can solve this problem by using ‘Sign Posting’; which tells the tutor where we have been in a chapter and more importantly where we are going. The tutors will thank you for it, trust me. My ‘Sign Posting’ goes something like this…. “Having discussed and explained such and such, in the next chapter the project will investigate such and such”.
Top Tip No 8: # Presentation Skills
Workshops and small group discussions are methods used by tutors to introduce critical thinking and debating of subjects to increase a learner’s understanding of a topic. Therefore, I find that if you practice the following mantra it always helps in creating clarity in discussion:
Tell them what you are going to tell them.
Tell them what you told them. (Author Unknown)
Top Tip No 9: # Research Methods
Discussion about the preparation for an end of term research project could take up an entire seminar, but for starters we will concentrate on ethics in our research. Remember, we need informed consent from the people/respondents we use in our research. My top tip is to prepare a ‘Statement of Informed Consent’ and attach this to your submission as an annex to your project.
This ‘Statement of Informed Consent’ should include the following: Your name and address on top of the page, Date, a Friendly Greeting, The title of the research, and the institution to which you will submit the research project. The purpose of the research for example (In part fulfilment of a Diploma/BA/Maters Degree in Training and Education) should also be included in this statement. The statement should also include information on how you intend to use the data gained from the respondents. Finally you should also state the level of confidentiality that you can give to the respondents, for example: “The contents of this research project will only be viewed by myself and the correcting tutor of our university”. Extracts on ‘Statements of \informed Consent were taken from ‘Practical Research and Report Writing’ Module, National University of Ireland, Galway
Top Tip No 10: # Taking Examinations
My final top tip relates to the taking of examinations, which as all students of third level education will know is part of the academic system, and for good reason. Examinations are superb forum for establishing quality control and therefore will be around for a long time to come. To help me with my examination preparations I regularly refer to Andrew Northledge’s ‘The Good Study Guide’ for techniques while I prepare for an examinations. Some of Andrew’s suggestions are as follows:
Gather all the relevant information from a single module and put it onto an A4 size sheet of paper. Repeat this process for all your modules and depending on the number of modules in each semester this should be five or six sheets.
Now, highlight all the important points from each of the five or six sheets (modules) and put these onto one A4 sheet.
Finally, place the major points from the final sheet on an A5 size index card, back and front. This is an excellent method of focusing on relevant and important themes in the modules. Now, one word or link on our index card creates a mental picture which allows us to go back to our six sheets from the modules and recover the information. It works try it!!