LEARNING TO LEARN

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 20 Mar 2018 11:06:14


 

By DR PRAGYA M KUMAR

THE exam season is on. Students are getting ready to face the challenge of evaluation of what they have learnt all year through. The process of learning is an interesting one. It involves the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and behaviour as a result of practice or experience and it is relatively permanent. Cognition refers to the processes through which information received through the senses is perceived, transformed, elaborated, recovered and used as and when required. The importance of being able to process the content of different subjects is well known to everyone who has been a student in life. The need to encapsulate, organize and store what is learnt and to retrieve when required, remains an important aspect of student life. Study Skills are as important today as they were earlier. We will refer to learning in the context of study of syllabus based knowledge for the purpose of assessment in an examination here. The Learning Process involves:

The Student

The Content

The Environment in which learning occurs

The Method of study.

The Purpose of study.

The Student

Every child is unique. In order to learn, the student must understand the relationship of input and output moderated by motivation and will power. Focus, will power and effort are the passwords to success. Self-Management is a must have skill for any student who seeks success. To start with, it is important to make a fair assessment of “where he is”, where he wants to be and what he needs to do to get there. Once the goals are clearly defined, the journey can begin. Every student needs smart goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound. Self-Belief and “willingness to delay gratification” in pursuit of goals are important friends every student must value. Self-study is a highly recommended mode of learning because in addition to processing information it empowers the person with a set of life skills. In addition to being self-disciplined and focused, the empowered student develops skills in organising the study material and learns how to learn. Like a self-guided missile, with a high level of motivation and commitment he begins to achieve success through planned effort. Stress management, time management and goal setting can transform any student into a self-charging powerhouse that pursues knowledge relentlessly. Those bold enough to choose the path of self -study, will find themselves more well prepared for life eventually. While getting battle ready (exam ready),the self-driven student will simultaneously develop life skills by learning to balance his/her time in planning ,taking decisions, organising, executing and evaluating the process of learning and its output. Self-guided study could also involve study groups where students collaborate on projects, share notes, exchange ideas and even teach each other. The whole idea of being empowered as a student is about having choices about what to learn, how to learn, when to learn and with whom to learn.

The Content

The Content refers to what is to be learnt. Every subject requires a method customised to maximise acquisition of the knowledge and skills associated with its mastery. No wonder every student of Maths values the daily practice. A lover of literature reads voraciously and writes creatively. A student of science connects concepts and experiments to understand. A commerce student needs to comprehend assets and liabilities and develop skills to make sound business decisions. A student of humanities has to master the various perspectives on humankind that have evolved over the ages and develop a deeper understanding of how societies have grown. While “subjects” have clearly defined content, it is for every student to relate what the book says to how it impacts life. Development of Higher Order Thinking Skills will be the best outcome of ingesting book content and digesting it to enrich the thought process .

 The Environment in which learning occurs

 While “to each his own” is a good dictum, the role of a relaxed, regular and organised space to study cannot be undermined. Good lighting, fresh clean air and a suitable seating arrangement would make a good study area. Conditioning, or simply put-“getting used to” a specific place to study has its benefits. Automatically, the learner gets in to the zone where distractions are few and purposeful activity is the focus. This is quite similar to the idea of working out in gym! The books, stationary and of course a study table and chair create an environment conducive to learning. Also, it sends out a message to other people around the student...”Work in Progress...Do Not Disturb”! Listening to music for relaxation is common among students to counter the effects of stress or anxiety while completing difficult academic tasks. The choice of music, its intensity, volume, personality of the student and quality of study material need to be factored in to assess the influence of listening to music while studying. In some cases, background music promotes cognitive performance while other studies have shown that listening to music while engaged in complex cognitive tasks can impair performance. It is easier to process information in the presence of a minimal level of distraction. It can be implied that students should not listen to any music or allow any auditory disturbance while studying to obtain maximum performance level. Perhaps it should suffice to say that when the material requires higher cognitive processing, silence may be the golden bet.

 The  Method of Study.

Content related skills and tools include mnemonics, which aid the retention of lists of information; effective reading, note taking, acronyms, mind maps, synoptic notes and several other strategies which are employed by students based on their personal preferences and learning styles. The latest addition to the different tools for studying available to students is the mobile device that finds a place in almost every young person’s pocket now. As Susan Kruger, founder of Studyskills.com puts it: History will show that mobile technology will be the catalyst of the greatest revolution in education because it is putting the learner in the drivers’ seat. She is an educational consultant who encourages the use of: Mobile apps to improve concentration and quality of sleep. (Binaural beats and specific types of music.) Electronic calendars and reminders. Timers for work/homework management. Electronic notebooks synced across devices for organizing notes, assignments, and research. Any skill which boosts a person's ability to learn, retain, process and recall information when required can be termed a study skill. Study skills, academic skills, or study strategies are approaches applied to learning which are critical to success in academics, essential for acquiring good grades, and useful for learning throughout one's life. They are an array of skills which tackle the process of organising and taking in new information, retaining information, or dealing with assessments .There are different strategies to choose from. One of these is SQ3R: This is a useful, simple, step-by-step strategy to learn and study from textbooks. It helps to discover the important facts and ideas in a textbook, then master and retain that information to prepare for an exam. SQ3R is an abbreviation to help you remember the steps and to make references to it simpler. The symbols stand for the steps followed in using the method: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. This strategy of systematic study makes learning efficient and effective. The first step, Survey is like a trailer to gain an overall idea of the chapter content including major headings, sub headings, boxes and diagrams if any. This step would help assess how much time is needed for a thorough study. Next step involves seeking answers to Questions-who, what, where, when, why, how. With these questions driving the process, learning would be more active. Reading will open the door to answers with reference to the main idea and supporting information required to answer content related questions. Reciting the answers with the intention of retention: recalling, rephrasing and writing the synopsis of important points to remember add value to the learning process. The next step is to review. This would be like a dress rehearsal. Without looking at the answers, reading the questions and trying to answer them without support is a test of how well learning has occurred. If one can't answer the question independently yet, one is not ready for the finale. Going through the notes and testing should follow logically.  

The Purpose of Study

As is the case with most students at this time of the year, learning is focused on an assessment, a test or examination that requires retention and recall. Much like the status and profile picture on social media, there are tools for that can be used to condense content and do so in a capsule. Summary methods vary depending on topic, but most involve condensing large amount of information from a book into shorter notes. Some of these are: Synoptic outlines showing keywords and definitions and relations, usually in a treelike structure with branches are also a very valuable tool for revising the syllabus in a short span of time before taking an exam. Mind maps can be another effective way of linking concepts together and for planning essays and answers in exams. They give a visual summary of a topic that preserves its logical structure, with lines used to show how different parts link together. Flashcards are also helpful in revision for the purpose of appearing in an examination. They are visual cues on cards on which short summaries are written. Being discrete and separate, they have the advantage of allowing students to re-order them, pick a selection to read over, or choose randomly for self-testing. Diagrams are often underrated tools but can be used to bring all the information together and provide practice reorganising what has been learned in order to produce something practical and useful. They can also aid the recall of information learned very quickly, particularly if the student made the diagram while studying the information. A mnemonic is another tool of organising and memorising information by using a simple phrase or fact as a trigger for a longer list of information. For example, My Very Efficient Mother Just Served Us Nuts…captures the names and sequence of planets in the Solar System. Acronym, which is a word formed from the initial letter or letters in a phrase or set of series is a helpful and creative tool. For example, VIBGYOR is an acronym for colors that make up a rainbow (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red). Another aspect of “purpose of study “ is appearing in an examination. Learning in that context would also include acquiring an understanding the pattern of the question paper, time allotted and marking scheme. Important points to remember while filling out the personal details in an OMR sheet for example, may also need some attention while the preparation is on. Self-belief and confidence are the wings on which a student can fly towards success but a lot of hard work, practice, discipline, determination and dedication is required to get there. Learning to learn has no full stops. Every day is an opportunity to learn…something new, do something new. For the pursuit of knowledge is a lifelong journey…each milestone only inspires us to keep moving and get to the next one.

(The author is Psychologist & Trainer and can be reached at [email protected])