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Key messages to take away

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They’re just a few key messages when it comes to teaching students how to learn. And there are some really easy things you can do to help get them down this path. Most important thing is it’s an opportunity to change the educational system. We can change who is successful in our institutions. We can do that by helping students to be more proficient at this learning process.

Now, I’ve actually given presentations all over the United States, helping students how to learn. And every time I give a presentation on helping student how to learn, the students will come up afterwards and say, “Thank you so much for presenting this information.” And typically they’ll say, “I wish somebody had told me sooner.” Very few students who come up thinking it was a waste of time. The reason this is all important is that overall students do want to learn. They love the learning process. They oftentimes just don’t know how. So for struggling students, for students who are doing well, for medical students, anybody out there. Helping them to learn better will make them better learners. It doesn’t have to take much time. There’s a huge return on investment for this.

Students learn how to learn by hearing what other people do and by trial and error. There is a huge body of knowledge about how people learn and if we spend just a small amount of time teaching students about these learning principles they will learn faster and more effectively.

We can teach students to recognise the importance of sleep. Everyone knows how they feel after a bad night of sleep or even after an all nighter studying. What students often miss is recognising they have control over their sleep, exercise, nutrition, and hydration. As an activity, simply asking students to jot down in the morning how much sleep they got the night before and then how they felt all day is enough to point out the relationship and to change their sleep patterns.

We can teach students about chunking and how patterns impact our learning. These are principles that have been known in psychology for over 50 years and are very consistent across people. Teaching students these principles is very easy and has immediate impact. We can show examples of the principles in everyday life and point out how they are perceived in the same way by nearly everyone.

We can teach students about the value of practicing retrieval. The evidence for the effectiveness of retrieval is extensive, but there is a challenge here too that students can often give up because they find the process boring. Tell them about the research base for retrieval, why it is important for their study, and try to make it fun and engaging.

These are essentially the principles educators need to apply, but we would like them to be practically focused as much as possible i.e., they need to be principles that an educator can act on.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this course on helping students to be better learners. I really appreciate you listening, taking the time to work through this material. I hope you take an active part in the course and please comment on discussion boards. Contracting with your colleagues is, after all, the best way to learn. Thank you.

Thank you for taking this ‘Helping Students Learn How to Learn’ course which has been developed with Todd D. Zakrajsek. We hope you have enjoyed it. Remember to mark this lesson as ‘Mark Complete’ to earn your Course Completion Badge.

Further reading:

Doyle, T. & Zakrajsek, T. (2019). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Stylus publishing.  

McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus publishing.  

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success and how we can learn to fulfil our potential. Ballantine Books. 

Lexia (2017). 6 Tips to Help Students Develop a Growth Mindset in the Classroom [Blog post].

Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About sleep's role in memory. Physiological reviews, 93(2), 681–766.

Developing a Mindset for Successful Learning. Samford University. [Video series]. 


Is there any key message here that particularly resonates for you, either in your teaching practice or your own experience as a learner?

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

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