Friday, August 12, 2011

Back to School: Accelerate Your Learning Success

I’m definitely a lifelong learner. I recall, as a preschooler, setting up my friends on apple crates, around a shiny blackboard that my Dad had painted for me to write on with chalk. I joined the future-teachers’ club in high school, then got a teaching degree in university. Now I teach university myself – and continue to learn from my students, colleagues, clients, and research projects (and, of course, from my kids and grand-kids!).

My third degree was in Educational Psychology, so I also know a bit about how people learn. It may surprise you to learn that not all “smart” people do well in school – nor are many of those who do excel measurably “smarter” than their peers.

So – why are some people so much more successful at learning than others?

Successful learners work to their strengths. They understand their own learning styles and, where possible, find learning opportunities that fit. For example, “morning people” may struggle at night school; on the other hand, “night people” may find it impossible to absorb anything from an 8AM lecture. Extraverts prefer learning with others, in an interactive community; introverts, however, typically prefer quiet environments with time to reflect before responding to questions. Auditory learners do well when they can listen (podcasts, and recording lectures instead of taking notes, can reap huge rewards). Visual learners, on the other hand, may benefit from charts, graphs, photos, illustrations, and mind-maps. Kinaesthetic learners learn as they “do”; practical workplace-based training, hands-on demonstrations, and making physical models facilitate learning success for these folks.

Successful learners also set goals. In formal education, most courses have learning objectives posted as part of the course outline. Strong students, however, also set specific learning goals of their own. These goals help them focus their energy and spend their time wisely. If marks are important, they pay attention to the specific grading criteria of the course and ensure that they follow assignment guidelines closely. They make use of the instructor’s office hours and check in early to ensure that their assignments are on track.

Finally, successful learners take care of themselves. They integrate lifelong learning (whether formal or informal) into their other life roles. They realize that they won’t achieve their learning goals if they burn out; nor will they achieve their other life goals if they focus exclusively on learning. They strategically give learning activities exactly the amount of time they are worth – no more, no less.

If you’re heading back-to-school soon, take time to learn how you learn – identify your learning style and strengths. Set specific measureable goals – and track your own progress. Build in rewards for achieving milestones and small successes – and structure your life such that lifelong learning is sustainable in the midst of your other important life roles.

Click here for a special Back to School offer for Life Strategies’ LearnOnline courses and in-house customized training.

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