I have taken several online courses about learning in the last few years. Some have been interesting and inspiring. Others have been less memorable.
I am happy to say Improving Your Study Techniques is definitely worthwhile taking if you want to make the most of your study time, whether online or as an on-campus student. Presented by Maple Hupkens and Anne-Miek Hermsen of the University of Groningen (Netherlands), each of the four weeks brought new material to help with organization, prepare the brain for study, learn the work, and revise effectively to prepare for exams. Techniques for dealing with procrastination, stress, and keeping motivated are also covered.
Some aspects of this course were very similar to concepts covered in Learning How to Learn and Learning How to Learn for Youth. It also sheds new light on various other facets of learning and time management.
Three-step Study Plan
Rather than trying to learn new material in one big dollop, this course recommends dividing the process up into three brain-friendly steps, which are further divided into separate tasks. The three steps are Preview, Study, and Revise. Breaking it up into parts is likened to eating slices of bread rather than trying to chomp through the whole loaf all at once.
Step 1 Preview: look through the material and get your brain ready to actually learn it. See what the chapters or segments of the course are about.
Step 2 Study: go through the material in detail. Read, summarise and understand it. You don’t have to remember it until step 3.
Step 3 Revise: work on remembering everything. This step is often overlooked.
The Course, Week by Week
The preview step, covered in Week 1, includes planning your study time plus taking a good look at your current study routines. Do distractions eat into your study time? Learners are taught how to skim through resources and help our brain prepare for the learning to come. This part reminded me of the “picture walk” described in Barbara Oakley’s book Learning How to Learn. A couple of quick previewing exercises and examples are included.
The first few steps of Week 2 deal with summarizing an article, which helps with understanding. Short-term and long-term planning are discussed and learners are encouraged to make individual long-term study plans. Time management is again mentioned and we are reminded to take the time to focus on understanding the subject in this step. Don’t worry about remembering it until the revision step.
Making a SMART weekly study plan is discussed in Week 3, along with techniques for getting the most out of lectures, revision and how to tackle exams. As mentioned in step 3-1 “… revision is key to remembering. And the more you remember about a subject, the easier it will be to connect new information to it. So by revising, you are building a network of knowledge that leads to mastery of a subject.”
This course refers to revision. Other courses call it “spaced learning” where you go over the material daily at first, then gradually space out the time between learning sessions.
Week 4 deals with procrastination, stress and motivation. Common reasons for procrastination and ways to overcome them are discussed, including a handy downloadable chart. The Pomodoro was one such tool. However, the chart said to start the Pomodoro over again if you stayed distracted for more than a minute. I was startled by this recommendation. I would much rather bring my mind back quickly to the task with the knowledge that I could give myself a small reward in 25 minutes. Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of the Pomodoro to accomplish tasks such as studying, writing blog posts, housework and even exercise.
Reduce stress by making your own realistic study plan using the techniques taught in this course.
Stay motivated by setting small, short-term goals and rewards for reaching them.
Various downloadable PDFs will help you create your weekly and long-term study plans, track your daily activities, deal with procrastination, and revise more effectively. There is even an article explaining how having enough sleep helps us learn.
Like many FutureLearn courses, learners are encouraged to share their comments on every page of this course. Some of these comments are real gems of wisdom, and it’s easy to spend plenty of time reading through them.
Like many resources about learning, many of the strategies presented can be transferred to completing any large task, such as writing a book or training for a big sporting challenge or other life event.
A Final Thought
FutureLearn courses are session-based. If you can’t join the current session, select the bookmark icon to receive an email when the next run of the course is announced.
This review was first published at Online Learning Success.