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Learning at Uni – how is it different from school?

At university you will have to: take personal responsibility for your time and your studies; think for yourself, questioning, evaluating and drawing conclusions about what you hear, see, read and do; and reflect on your experiences, making changes accordingly to improve your performance. To do all this involves the following:

Independent learning

This means being pro-active and taking personal responsibility for:

  • Understanding how your course works

Carefully study the information provided to you. Keep a checklist of things you still need to know and find them out from your tutors or appropriate university services.

  • Seeking help when you need it

Create your own contact list for your tutors and university support services. This list should include:

– Find or establish a quiet, comfortable workspace in which to study.

– Make sure you have the files (physical and/or digital) that you’ll need to organise all your course and assignment information.

– Set up the IT you’ll need and familiarise yourself with the university’s online learning systems.

– Use a diary, termly or year planner to plan your studies around your other activities. Find termly and weekly time planners under Time Management on the SLAS website.

– Create and build your own glossary of subject terms and definitions.

– Arrive on time, prepared, notes to hand, and having read any background material requested.

– Listen carefully throughout, taking notes of key points, theories and ideas.

– Be prepared to take part in discussions, if requested.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking means:

  • Questioning what you hear, see, read and did (e.g. a method you used) and assessing how convincing, or efficient, or valuable, or useful it is.
  • Going beyond pure description, so that:

– As well as giving facts or data, you say what they show and challenge the methods by which they were gathered – e.g. ‘The survey does not take full account of…’

– As well as describing a theory or process, you discuss its strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages – e.g. ‘This method has several benefits…’

– As well as summarising a piece of text, you say what it shows, identify the key points it makes, and explore its accuracy – e.g. ‘The main weakness of the author’s argument is…’

  • Reflecting on your own learning to create a cycle of improvement

– Read and consider assignment feedback to identify areas for improvement, then take action to improve your performance next time, including seeking help if you need it.

– Keep a learning journal in which you consider a specific learning experience (e.g. a deadline missed), reflect on how and why it happened, and plan how to avoid similar problems in future

– Reflect on what went well, as well as what didn’t. This will help you repeat good performances.

For guidance on all the topics mentioned above – including Lectures and seminars, Critical and reflective thinking and Time management – the Student Learning Advisory Service (SLAS) provides 1-1 appointments, workshops and study guides.