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

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2.3.2 Monitoring progress

As the focus moves from preparation to action it is important to keep a check on what you are doing and how well you are doing it. Use your plan to help you review your progress, noting your successes and achievements as well as whether you met your deadlines and targets. Often, learning involves bringing together different activities, ways of studying and approaches to the subject. Consciously draw these different strands together, and don't be afraid to make changes where necessary to help you make best use of the resources available to you. Taking control like this helps you to focus on what you want to get from your learning and is often called managing your own learning.

But keeping on track is only one aspect of this stage. The other important aspect involves using feedback to move things forward, adapting and applying your skills for use in different situations, learning new skills and being critically reflective. In this context it is important to note that the word ‘critical’ does not mean ‘finding fault’ or being negative or unkind. In thinking about your own learning, ‘critical’ has a more positive meaning. Being critical means not accepting things at their face value, but looking below the surface and enquiring what is going on, and keeping on enquiring until you have answers that satisfy you.

Critical reflection is a deliberate process. It involves taking time out from your work to focus on your ongoing performance and the thinking that led you to particular actions. It involves you asking yourself what you are doing and what you are learning from the experience. Ask yourself questions that begin: What if…? Have I considered…? Would it help if…? Your goal here is to act on your plans and then assess the outcomes of your action. Using critical reflection means bringing your knowledge and experience to an activity to challenge and modify your thoughts about it, and to generate new ideas. Most importantly, perhaps, the outcomes of your reflection can help inform what you do in the future, prompting you to restructure your strategy, actions or ways of framing a problem. Sometimes this is a painful business, but if you can discuss this with a colleague they can provide support and understanding, if you are willing to be honest about the adjustments you are trying to make. Keeping an ongoing record, such as a learning log or diary, helps you to reflect by focusing your attention on what you are doing, and how and why you are doing it. It can also help you to begin to assess how well you have achieved your goals.

Figure 1
Learning diary entries from a student doing an OU course