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Key skills: making a difference
Key skills: making a difference

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1.5 Getting started

After you have worked through Sections 1 and 2, the place to start is the key skill of improving your own learning and performance.

As you began to read through these materials, you were probably not surprised to see that we had included as key skills such things as communication, numeracy and information technology. These are certainly essential operational tools for students – indeed, many would say that they are also essential tools for most occupations.

However, including ‘improving your own learning and performance’ may have puzzled you, because at first sight it does not seem like a skill at all. Surely it is just part of being a student and something that most students want to do? In any case, doesn't trying to improve your learning encompass trying to improve all the other skills you need for study?

Improving your own learning and performance can be considered to be a ‘meta-skill'-that is, one that enables other skills and techniques, as well as knowledge and understanding, to be acquired and developed. It is, like this course, about the process of learning. This key skill, then, is a little different from the other key skills because improving your own learning and performance is not a separate option that you can choose to concentrate on or not – it is the basis of the key skills approach which you will use to develop and improve other key skills and your learning more generally.

Each key skill section is designed to be used by you as you actively develop and improve your skills. Just reading about a key skill won't help you improve – taking part, planning, practising, finding things out, using feedback – offers you the opportunity to make changes and improve your skills and performance. The sections are structured to help you do this and include activities and tips to guide you as you work on your skills.

As you think about the skills you want to develop and improve begin with an analysis of what you want to achieve. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What skills am I going to need in my course/ work activities?

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses? For example, in producing written work, in handling numbers, graphs and diagrams, or in organising the way I approach learning tasks?

  • What are my priorities for improving my skills?

These questions are from the key skill of ‘improving own learning and performance’, which underpins all the other skills. One student who started with this key skill wrote:

I knew I needed to do some work on note taking and essay planning. I felt the previous year I wasted a lot of time writing notes that I didn't use – and I wanted to improve my essay planning. To start with I didn't have a clear idea of how I was going to do this, so I decided to use the key skills materials to help me … and made the decision to do ‘improving own learning and performance’. I worked through the points relating to ‘developing a strategy’. This was really useful … it made me think about how I did things – before I think I just tended to make notes and plan without really thinking about why I was doing it.

By thinking about what you want to achieve in your own skills development, choosing the areas to work on and setting your own priorities you are becoming actively involved in your own learning. Try it for yourself!