Learning Strategies: How to Be in Command of Your Learning

Whether you are a yesterday's high school student, just got your bachelor's degree or going back to school after several years in the field, staying on top of schoolwork can be challenging.

Learning strategies

In theory, you can learn anything since all the necessary information is available today outside of the classroom and online. In practice, unfortunately, we can't just upload gigabytes of data into our brains with but a few easy clicks. Let's look at some learning strategies to help you with this challenge.

You have probably come across some helpful study tips and tricks to keep you on track. The secret is to look behind the suggestions and keep them straight in our minds for them to stick for long. And this is the part when SRL comes into play. As the name implies, SRL, or Self-Regulated Learning, is about, well, regulation of your learning yourself.

At this point, you might think: I know how to control my learning; I've been doing it since I got my first homework in 1st grade! Oh, my sweet summer child. Take my hand and let me introduce you to your new best friends, aka the strategies of self-regulated learning: Cognitive, Metacognitive, and Resource Management Learning. I will describe them briefly, and then we will try to put them into practice.

Cognitive learning

These are the strategies that learners can use to plan, monitor, and control their cognition. The term cognition comes from the Latin verb cognosco, a compound of the con ('with') and gnōscō ('know'). It is about knowing, thinking, and understanding. In the planning phase, we analyze the components of a task, its level of difficulty, how much time and energy we will probably need to complete it and decide how to approach it.

This is our preparation stage, where we set goals for our learning. The trick here is not to overestimate yourself. Suppose my assignment is to write an essay. Leaving it as it is will make my to-do list look short, true, but the task seems too difficult for me even to start working on it. However, if I chunk it into smaller tasks, doing one at a time is less stressful and gives a feeling of completion.

The golden principle of Self-Regulated Learning.

Another aspect of planning for learning is to think about what you already know about the topic. A fancy scientific term for it would be activating prior knowledge. You can simply reflect on what you've learned before. You can also review old notes, books, etc., to literally go back.

Time to implement your plans and start your task, keeping the goals in mind. Monitoring your cognition means checking from time to time whether you are completing your learning goals. Ideally, one of the goals is to understand the material.

Take a small break every once in a while, and ask yourself – do I understand this? Can I teach this to my friend? If not, maybe it's better to change your approach.

Metacognitive learning

If cognition is thinking, metacognitive strategies refer to thinking about thinking. This is where we understand how we learn best and adjust the methods and environment to suit our needs. There is a popular belief that every person is oriented to learn visually, auditory, or kinesthetically.

Despite being criticised, such categorisation does work for some learners. I find it easier to remember the material by drawing charts, making lists, and putting sticky notes all over my room, whereas my roommate tends to read articles while listening to the text at the same time.

Another key for successful learning is knowing your personality and character strengths. No style or approach is better than the other - it's important to know what works for you. For example, you might think: "I can remember words better when I write them down; that's why I have a small notebook for new vocabulary".

Resource-management learning

To be a successful learner, you need to be able to plan and control your thinking and your behaviour and the situation.

Start by planning your time. You don't have to be precise, but it's a good idea at least to estimate. How many hours would I need to write the introduction to my essay?

If you live in a shared apartment, you might have all kinds of distractions around you. Even if you are alone, there are sometimes many more interesting things than reading articles and writing essays. You can try to control your learning environment by removing distractions.

One more important issue is to be able to ask for help when you need it. Please don't be shy, and it's okay to struggle; we all have been there. Controlling your learning environment doesn't mean you have to be in solitary confinement. Studying with your roommates, friends, or classmates can be a good way to make your environment more pleasant.

Your study buddies are always there to help you crack that difficult problem.

Learning is not always fun. Sometimes it's hard work, blood, sweat and tears. But you can make it easier by developing your ability to learn. Keep these strategies in mind and keep your eyes open for new ideas and techniques. Thinking means asking questions. When you ask good questions, you'll get good answers. So ready, steady, go! :)

About the author

Daria Zaikovskaia from Saint Petersburg, Russia, is a master's degree student in Learning, Education and Technology. She is passionate about coffee, video games and her studies. She has a collection of colourful sweaters and a drawer full of glittery makeup to brighten the day.