Managing Your Learning Experiences
Learn About This Lesson
After completing this lesson, you will be able to:
- List the different areas or zones that students must manage to navigate their college careers successfully.
- List steps you can begin taking immediately to ensure your success.
- Describe the types of assignments or activities that are often used to measure learning performance in college.
Inquire: How Do I Take Control of My Learning?
Whether you’re at school or on the job, you will always be more successful when you are able to set your own goals and take control of the resources and opportunities for meeting those goals. Nothing feels better than putting together a plan for success and executing that plan.
This is certainly true when it comes to managing your learning experiences in college.
The process begins with identifying desired outcomes and goals for your learning. Next, you must cultivate the information and resources you need to help you achieve those outcomes and goals. Finally, you will need to engage actively in your coursework and other learning activities to ensure that you make the most of what your college has to offer.
Watch: Do You Know?
Read: Taking Control of Your Learning Experiences
Like most positive achievements in life, success in college requires that you: (1) set clear goals; (2) cultivate the right resources and information; and (3) engage actively and execute a plan for reaching your goals.
This is particularly true regarding your learning experiences. College offers a wide array of learning opportunities ranging from your coursework and internships to study abroad programs and volunteer work. College also provides access to a rich abundance of learning resources that include your instructors, library materials and exhibits, special lectures on campus, and a variety of academic services offered by your college.
Your key to learning success is to take full advantage of the educational experiences offered through your college, and to align those with your personal and career goals.
Key Learning Zones to Manage
It may be helpful to think of your college learning life in terms of specific “zones” or categories of activity and information. Here are some of the important learning zones you will want to manage successfully as you navigate your college career.
The Career Zone
Career goals: Only you can know or decide what you want to be when you grow up. If you’re not ready to make a lifelong commitment to a career path — and fewer and fewer young adults are — you should at least focus on establishing a direction, such as a general area of interest, and identify what is important to you. Your college’s Career Services office can help you think through this through. Individual departments and instructors can also offer career advice.
Internships: Many colleges and college departments provide services to help students find internships during the summer or main academic semesters. These internships can help you get a better sense of what a particular career or company is really like. They are invaluable for career planning and networking with potential employers and can add to your resume ways that position you well for future employment. Ask your academic adviser, the Career Services office, or someone within your department what types of internships might be available. Also, seek out these kinds of opportunities on your own through the web, social media, and your existing network of friends and family.
Volunteer Work: Volunteering for an organization that is committed to a cause you feel passionately about can be one of the most personally satisfying ways to spend your free time. Volunteer activities can also provide meaningful learning experiences and flesh out your resume as well. If you are interested in getting involved, there are myriad organizations – both available through college connections and in your local community – that offer both formal and informal volunteer opportunities.
– You can apply for a formal or official non-paid position at many non-profit organizations. Suppose you decide to volunteer as a member of the grounds crew for a community park near you. The organization might assign you work shifts, and would expect you to show up for the assigned shifts, as if it were a paid job. This more formal volunteer engagement comes with an expectation of ongoing commitment.
– You could instead participate in a “volunteer day” or other ad hoc or informal volunteer activities. This kind of volunteer engagement is usually more limited.
– Some organizations – both college – and community-based – will be looking for people to get involved in more leadership roles and organizing roles within the organization.
The volunteer experience can be a very rewarding one, and can help you engage with like-minded individuals within the community.
The Information Zone
The college or university website: The college or university website is a great source of finding information about learning events and resources. The website will have a calendar of upcoming speakers, performances, and other activities. It will also have important information about library resources, labs, and writing/tutoring centers.
Social media: Most institutions keep up-to-date information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. Individual departments and organizations on campus may also have separate social media presences that you can locate through the institution’s offerings. These are good sources of information on learning resources and events.
Bulletin boards: Take a look at bulletin boards as you pass through hallways in academic buildings, dining halls, sports facilities, dormitories, the student center and even local service centers and retail stores. You can often find fliers with event details and contact information.
University policies: Each college or university has its own unique set of codes and policies, but there are also common types of guidelines found among all academic institutions. They will all have policies on subjects ranging from academic enrollment and degree requirements to exams and scholarships.
You can get an idea of the kind of policies each of the different categories of institutions might offer by checking out the following links. Note that while they are representative of what a school might offer, these policies are specific only to the school to which they refer.
- Public college: Pennsylvania State University Policies and Rules for Undergraduate Students
- ￼Private college: American University Policies; Selected Listing of Student-Related Policies
- Private faith-based college: Abilene Christian University Student Handbook and Policies
- Two-year college: Cuyahoga Community College Policies and Procedures
- For-profit college: Capella University
Course syllabi: You should also be aware that your individual instructors will provide you with information about their course-specific policies and procedures via a course syllabus. The syllabus may include policies about grading, absences, and academic integrity. You will also find expectations for submitting work, for communicating with your teacher, and much more. Think of the course syllabus as a blueprint for the class. It will lay out what you will be studying each week, what your assignments are, when they are due, and when tests are scheduled.
Course announcements: Instructors often post course announcements through the institution’s learning management system or a course website. Make sure you know where announcements are posted and that you are aware of them and read them when they appear.
The Communication Zone
Classroom communication: Most faculty continue to use the classroom lecture as their primary form of delivering core information for their courses. These lectures are meant to combine subject information with the specific expertise and life experience of your instructor. Classroom lectures are only effective and valuable, however, if you are willing to be an active listener and participant. This involves a commitment to: (1) arriving to class on time and finding a seat where you can hear and listen comfortably; (2) being prepared and taking detailed notes in each lecture; (3) being present and paying attention; and (4) participating in class discussions.
Communication with instructors: Your instructors are important resources for learning information, but it is up to you to make the most of them. If you are taking a traditional or hybrid course, where classes meet face-to-face, it is important to ask questions in class and immediately after class if you need quick clarification on a concept. Your instructors will also have office hours. Visit your instructor during office hours and introduce yourself, as early in the semester as possible. This helps your instructor place a face to your name and makes it much easier for you to feel comfortable dropping by for help later in the semester. Finally, your instructors will likely provide an e-mail address for contacting them outside of class. You should not hesitate to use this if you have questions or need specific information. When e-mailing your instructors, always be professional and polite, address your messages using their formal titles, and ask clear, specific questions that make it easy for them to answer. Remember that even though email may provide you with a means of reaching out to them quickly, they may need time to process your email before getting back to you.
Communication with classmates: Not surprisingly, your classmates in college are a tremendous source of help and information in your courses. You should make it a point to meet your classmates and converse with them informally before class. Get a sense of how they are feeling about the course and what steps they are taking to succeed. If possible, take down contact information for several students so that you can get class information from them in the event you are absent because you are sick or traveling. Extend the same courtesy to them in case they need to reach someone in the class.
Reflect: Where Are You Headed?
When you go to college, you are often thinking with both a short view and a long view. In the short term, you evaluate what school you want to go to, but you may also be considering the longer trajectory toward a possible career.
What is the strongest “pull” or motivating factor for your current career path?
Expand: Managing Your Learning Performance
How do you know how well you are doing in your courses? Are you living up to your own potential? Are you meeting your instructor’s expectations for the course? Grades – and other forms of evaluation – help you, and your instructors, assess how well you are learning what you have set out to learn. Grades will determine your eligibility for financial aid, scholarships, and participation in some programs. Equally important, your grades also contribute to the way your instructors and classmates perceive you and your abilities.
Your grades can be a good indicator of your progress and growth in life learning. You begin your college career with a certain level of knowledge, skills, and maturity. As you progress through your courses and other experiences, the evaluations you receive — grades, feedback from peers, or institutional recognition — serve as useful measurements of development. Are you improving? Are you advancing more in some areas than others?
In many ways, you are in the best position to monitor your progress and to manage your overall learning performance. Not surprisingly, this is also an area you can manage effectively by setting clear goals, cultivating the right resources and information, and engaging actively to realize your goals.
Managing the Learning Performance Zone
Engagement: Are you willing to engage actively in all aspects of your learning life? That is what it will take for you to own your performance in school. What do we mean by engage actively? In class, engagement means reading assignments before coming to class, taking notes, asking questions, and following up with your instructor or classmates after class. Engagement also means reading the course syllabus carefully, understanding what is required for your different assignments, and scheduling your time so that you can allocate the time you need to complete all the activities. Finally, the engaged learner takes eager responsibility for going beyond what is assigned in your courses and utilizes every educational opportunity offered by your college or university. This kind of active approach – with an attention to detail – will lead to a strong performance in the classroom. It will also position you well for a successful professional life.
Tests and exams: When you are learning something new, it is hard to escape tests. This is true in school, and it continues to be true in most careers. There are always tests. One of the life lessons that college teaches is how to translate your learning into success in test-taking; you begin learning how to manage your study time and improve test-taking skills. These are skills you will use your entire life.
Tests or exams are generally intended to assess your understanding of a block of information covered in a course. These allow instructors to measure your performance as a student, and to see how the class is doing as a whole. The most important things to know about tests are: (1) when they will occur; (2) what material they will cover; and (3) what types of questions or test items will be used. With this information, you can prepare methodically for each exam. If you feel you need additional help preparing, you will find that your institution offers a variety of academic services to help you prepare for your tests.
Papers: Many instructors use the course paper to measure performance. Course papers can be the kind of 2-3 page compositions that are common in English courses, or major term or research papers (8-15 pages) that may be assigned in courses in your major. While tests are designed to measure your immediate grasp and recall of specific information, papers are intended to allow you to apply the information you have learned. When preparing a course paper, you will develop premises and support them with evidence, providing your professor with a sense of your ability to draft arguments, and defend them cogently. It is important that you understand what is being assigned and when it is due. You will want to allow yourself plenty of time to prepare, gather resources, receive input from your instructor, and write multiple drafts. Your college will have some form of writing center or tutoring service that can help you with the actual writing.
Projects: As you advance in your coursework, you will likely find yourself working on different kinds of course projects. Course projects are designed to help you put the information you are learning into action. Projects may be assigned to individuals or groups, and generally require, (1) research, (2) synthesis of research information into a model or presentation, and (3) written documentation or a paper related to the project. When working on projects, be sure to review the assignment and requirements carefully. It is helpful to create a checklist for your projects to help you track your completed tasks and overall progress.
Presentations: Many courses will require you to make individual or group presentations about your work. These are invaluable opportunities to develop the communication skills you will need to succeed in many professional environments. The purpose of presentations is to demonstrate your ability to synthesize information through research and present it to others in a way that allows them to understand it clearly. As with your course papers, planning and organization for your presentations are just as important as the actual delivery. Proper planning and practice will give you confidence and ensure that your information is easily understood.
An overview of the communication skills that translate to college and professional success
Source: College Confidential
One of the BEST Motivational Videos I’ve ever seen! (Video: 1:16)
A video about famous people who set goals and didn’t give up, regardless of what others said
Source: YouTube Video (wecell4you)
An informative video with tips and resources for organizing your learning.
Source: Thomas Frank – College Info Geek
- course paperlearning-evidence assignments that require students to synthesize and apply their thinking in written form. Course papers can be 2-3 page compositions that are common in English courses, or major term or research papers (8-15 pages) that may be assigned in courses in your major area
- course projectlearning-evidence assignments that generally require research, synthesis of research information into a model or presentation, and written documentation or a paper related to the project
License and Citations
Authored and curated by Rob Reynolds Ph.D. for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA
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