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Learning Strategies and Test Performance

Know thyself: How your attitude to learning may affect your educational performance

There is a growing interest in understanding how people like you learn.

As psychologists you will probably come across some of the research literature - particularly if you develop an interest in educational psychology. Here are some research findings that may help you understand your own approach to learning.

Having read this section you may decide to change your approach to your studies, particularly if you think you are an extreme example of one of the categories.

Ideally you should aim to develop an approach to your studies that draws upon the strengths of each style, whilst avoiding some of the more negative attributes.

At the very least this page may help you understand why you are being exposed to a variety of learning experiences.

Can you identify your learning strategy?

A group of American researchers has suggested that there are five different types of learning strategy exhibited by adult learners. This is important because knowing what type of learner you are may help you understand how you can best utilize the learning resources and teaching experiences offered on your course.

The researchers administered a questionnaire (the Self-Knowledge Inventory of Lifelong Learning Strategies ) to 1,143 students in Alberta and used cluster analysis and group interviews to collect supplementary information to characterize learning patterns and preferences from representative students in each of the five types of learning strategies.

I have gone through the report and tried to extract a flavor of each learning strategy. You may recognise yourself in one of the groups. I have also tried to alert you to some of the strengths and weaknesses of each strategy. You already appreciate that your program of psychology courses utilize a variety of teaching techniques, ranging from conventional lectures to group work which involves cooperative work with other students.

You may already realize that you are more comfortable in some learning situations than others. For example, you may prefer lectures to working with other students in groups on a Case Report. The reason for this may be your personal learning strategy. If you can begin to understand how learning strategy interacts with particular teaching methods and experiences, you may be able to get more out of teaching situations that you don't personally feel at ease with. Don't give up on a particular type of teaching situation, try to understand what it offers you. It will almost certainly be a valuable educational experience that you would have rejected if left to your own devices and desires.

I am conscious that my description of the five learning strategies reads a bit like an astrology column in a newspaper. You may recognise yourself in one or several of the categories. I don't know if learning strategies are stable or change with time or situation - I bet they do. Nor do I know how well the categories would translate across cultures. But this research may help you & that's what matters in the long run.

You can read a report on this research online - Identifying groups of learners through the use of learning strategiesby Kolody et al, 27th Annual SCUTREA conference proceedings 1997

  • Navigators

    locate and use the best information. They tend to plan a course for their studies and stick to it. They tend to structure or process information so that it can be better stored and retrieved. The researchers found that these tended to be the students with highest grade point average. A clear structure and organization of material is crucial for these people. If you are in this group you will probably be interested in the Aims and Learning Objectives for your course. You will probably be aware of the required reading for the course and the supporting web site. I would guess that you will do well on the exam at the end of the course, particularly the multiple choice section. But I do have a word of warning! Try to broaden your reading and discuss ideas with other students. The 'Points to Ponder' inserts are designed to give you jumping-off points for discussion. This will be particularly important in the second and third year of your course when you will be expected to show evidence of imagination, insight and synthesis. See Essay Writing: How do I do it, and why did I get that mark?
  • Monitors

    tend to be older students who make learning plans, check to see if they are on task and compare their progress to their learning plan. This group tends to avoid distractions and set time aside for learning. They tend to rely on recommended learning resources, books etc. rather than discussions with fellow students. If you are in this group take heed of my comments to Navigators above.
  • Critical Thinkers

    use mental images and memories to facilitate problem solving. They like opportunities for individuality and creativity in assignments, as well as opportunities for hands-on learning and experimentation. This group of people place relatively little emphasis on memorization and do better on open-ended questions and problem-solving activities than answering factual questions. You may find that the 'Points to Ponder' inserts have captured your attention. If this description fits your learning style, you may be having problems assimilating the sheer amount of information on the Biological Bases of Behavior course. Fear not! Your time will come in the second and third years when much more emphasis is placed on your ability to show critical analysis of material and evidence of imagination, insight and synthesis. See Essay Writing: How do I do it, and why did I get that mark?. I would urge you to take a look at the Aims and learning Objectives for your course and get a copy of the recommended text !
  • Engagers

    love to learn. They use lists to help memorization. They tend to do best when they are actively engaged in a meaningful way with the material and therefore excel on projects based on their individual interests. They tend to do well on group projects, particularly when the group dynamics reinforce the learning strategy of reward / enjoyment these people thrive on. You may find that the 'Points to Ponder' inserts have captured your attention. If you are lucky enough to belong to this group I expect you will pass the course with flying colors and you may have utilized the opportunity offered by the web siteto explore supplementary material that especially interests you. A word of warning! Don't let your enthusiasm for a topic carry you away so that you don't have sufficient time to cover aspects of the course that are less interesting to you. Check that you have covered everything that may appear in the exam by referring to the Aims and learning Objectives for your course.
  • Networkers

    engage in lots of discussion and debate with other students. Interaction with students and lecturers is the key to learning for this group. They excel in brainstorming sessions, teamwork and discussion of opposing or different viewpoints. The 'Points to Ponder' inserts has probably sparked off this type of discussion. If this description fits your learning style, you may be having problems assimilating the sheer amount of factual information on the Biological Bases of Behavior course. You may have found that the various bars and clubs around Plymouth offer a more congenial atmosphere for your preferred learning strategy. But there is hope - you have just the sort of skills, aptitudes and approach to life that employers are crying out for. Believe me they want people who can relate to other people - the market for anoraked nerds who know all about how a fly finds its food and a mate is severely restricted. Your time will come, there are plenty of opportunities to work in groups during the three years you are on this course. Just make sure you get through the first year by using the web sitefor this course and take time out to study the syllabus for your course. Good luck & mine's a Guiness!
  • Some general points about approaches to learning

    I'm not an educational psychologist but there are some generally accepted do's and don'ts. For example
    1. Doadopt a Deep learning approach
    2. Don'tuse a Surface or Shallow learning approach
    Deep learning approach Surface or shallow learning approach
    Develop personal understanding Reproduce content 'parrot-fashion'
    Relate new information to previous knowledge
    and experience
    Passive acceptance of ideas and information
    Link ideas together using integrating principles Lack of recognition of guiding concepts, principles & patterns
    Relate evidence to conclusions Focus learning on assessment requirements

    How you view learning may affect your performance

    Do you think that what you learn is under your own control and are you doing it because it is intrinsically rewarding?

    In other words do you view learning as self-regulatory and intrinsically rewarding? Or, do you think that lecturers are responsible for teaching you, and they they control the rewards and punishments in the learning situation? In other words do you view learning as externally controlled and extrinsically rewarding?

    Research indicates that students who rely on self-regulation and intrinsic reward are more effective learners than those who believe learning is under external control and extrinsic reward. There is evidence that learners can improve their performance by modifying their beliefs about the forces that control their learning.

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