Learning How to Learn in College

One of the most important things people learn in college may be … how to learn. It’s hard to learn anything, obviously, if you don’t know how to learn.

OK, I’m simplifying things a bit. Everyone knows how to learn to some extent. But the point is that everyone also has room to learn how to learn more efficiently. There are specific strategies students can consciously adopt to hone their ability to understand and retain new ideas.

Recently, a study looked at this question from a different angle: to what extent is it possible to teach people how to learn? In the study, 117 students at University of Oviedo, in Spain, were chosen to either participate or not participate in a “Learning Strategies Course” that, as the name suggests, was designed to teach students more effective learning strategies.

It turned out that students who took the course significantly improved in several different learning skills:

  • Elaboration: the ability to learn by elaborating on new ideas – that is, to work through the details, connect them to other ideas, and so on.
  • Self-Questioning: learning by asking one’s self questions that lead to a better understanding of new information.
  • Repetition: reinforcing new concepts through review and repetition.
  • Study Space: creating an environment that’s conducive to studying and learning.
  • Organization: being able to streamline the learning process by keeping things in order.

Besides apparently improving students’ use of these strategies, the course also changed how students saw their ability to control the learning process. That is, students came away from the course with a stronger belief that they had control over what and how they learned.

These findings reinforce the idea that learning is something you, well, learn. Just as importantly, it’s something you can teach, which suggests that there could be a useful place for courses that teach students how to learn.

Image: Flickr/Xiaobin Liu