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

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2.9 Putting it all together

One aim of completing a key skill is to pull ideas together, reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of your work and identify those aspects that you can ‘take away with you’ for the next task.

The process of strategic planning, monitoring and reflection, and evaluation is one that you are encouraged to use throughout these materials. Activities prompt you to plan and monitor your work, think about what you have learned and how you have learned it, keep an ongoing record of how you adapt your skills, review your progress, record ideas on Skills Sheets and use what you have learned.

In all of this, the key skill of improving your own learning and performance forms the ‘web’ supporting the other key skills and provides a way to use your learning skills systematically.

A crucial aspect of all the key skills is critical reflection – this enables your learning to be long lasting. Learning that sticks takes time and effort and often you need to go back and try things again and again, think about what you did and which aspects were successful. This ‘thinking about’ or reflecting is not an end in itself. The outcomes of structured reflection might include a new way of doing things, the development of a new skill, the resolution of a problem or the consolidation of effective learning – recognising that you have done something really well and resolving to do it like that again in the future. Without a period of critical reflection and consolidation, skills and knowledge can just drift away. Critical reflection offers the opportunity to stand back from what you have learned to reconstruct it so that the ideas and skills you have acquired and developed become more coherent.

The reflective process consists of:

  • Thinking about what you have done. This involves thinking back over the detail of the process, that is, how you tackled the different tasks. What you did and how well you did it. It also involves looking at the final product – the work you completed – as critically/objectively as possible; considering any feedback that you received; recognising your achievements and giving yourself a pat on the back when you deserve it!

  • Identifying your learning. This involves looking beyond the concrete product of the work and thinking about the less tangible outcomes. What additional skills have you acquired? What have you learned about yourself as a learner and what sorts of strategies worked or didn't work well for you?

  • Thinking about your next task. Once you are aware of what you have done, how you have done it and how well you have done it, you are in a good position to adapt what you have learned to help tackle the next task.

Or, in other words, you generalise from your learning experience by identifying the general principles and applying them to new situations. Becoming more aware of the process of learning and the skills you have used makes it more likely that you can build on your knowledge and skills in tackling different but related tasks.

In working through each of the key skills sections, you are invited to try out the tools to think about, manage and reflect on your learning. If you work on different key skills as well as ‘Improving own learning and performance’, and become familiar with the three-stage framework, you may feel you are ready to leave the written instructions behind. You should be able to adapt the processes and techniques you learn to suit the learning task and integrate the general principles of the framework into your everyday study and learning routine. This is what we mean by making the framework your own. Once you reach this stage, we hope that you feel ready to move on and tackle your next learning task with:

  • greater confidence;

  • greater awareness of your own learning process and what works for you;

  • a growing portfolio of key skills and learning techniques to draw upon;

  • a clearer idea of how to identify and develop any additional skills you might need;

  • a knowledge of the resources and support available to help you develop additional skills;

  • the ability to assess your own skills, learning and performance against outcomes and criteria; and

  • a flexible approach to using the framework and the capability to adapt your skills to different situations.

In short, you will be more ready to start taking control of your own learning and will be on the way to becoming a fully independent learner. What is more, the knowledge and skills you have learned are not just useful in any one higher education course – they will stay with you throughout your higher education career and beyond to use as part of your personal development.

Key skills are not only valuable in higher education. If you are considering promotion or a career change, you will find that the key skills you acquire are highly valued by most employers. When employers take on staff with qualifications from higher education, they want people who are more than knowledgeable about their subject area. They want people who can ‘hit the floor running’ and operate as part of teams in the workplace, communicate effectively with their colleagues, use information technology and numeracy skills to carry out functions and solve problems, and so on. Above all, they want people who can take control of their own learning and development, identify what skills and knowledge they are going to need in their future work, and set about getting it on their own initiative using the resources available at work and through education and training materials.

You will also find that professional bodies and institutes are increasingly looking for key skills, too. Many now have formal requirements for ‘continuing professional development’ (CPD)—in other words, providing evidence that you have kept your professional knowledge and skills up to date. CPD schemes require you, on a regular basis, to identify what new knowledge and skills you need, to locate and use resources to update yourself and show how you have incorporated your improved knowledge and skills in meeting new standards in your professional practice. Does this sound familiar? It should.

We know that students in higher education, and especially if you are a part-time student, often find the volume of work daunting and feel under pressure. We know, too, that you put a lot of time and effort into completing this course alongside a course of study. We said at the beginning that you should look at this additional time as an investment in your future success. We hope you feel that the investment will pay off.