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Learning how to learn
Learning how to learn

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5.3 Monitoring your progress

Of all the components in the learning how to learn process, this is probably the most difficult. As you study, you need to make a conscious effort to monitor your progress while working on the course, always with the main task in view. This is where a flexible plan devised in the preparation phase can be revised, particularly if you meet a difficult patch. Knowing when help is needed and where to go for it is important, especially if you discover that your learning skills need improving. Sources of help may be formally provided in the course materials, through your tutor or from an administrator. Check if there are any skills workshops or supplementary materials available (see Further reading and Other sources of help sections). Some courses offer help online - make sure you know what is available and make use of it. Other sources of help may be informal - other students, self-help groups, friends or colleagues. Major areas of difficulty, perhaps identified as you work through one part of the course or prepare an assignment, may have to be tackled at another time; ask your tutor what help is available.

All this is part of monitoring your progress as a learner and a student on a particular course. Try to take the time to review your progress, especially if your course has built in a 'pause for thought' or a review section. The emphasis of your monitoring should be on 'What am I learning?' as well as 'How am I learning it?'

Activity 8

You might like to record your progress as a learner as you work towards your next assignment. You can do this in any format that suits you - Activity 4 gives you some points to consider and here are some further ideas.

Keep a learning journal for at least a week, recording:

  • the timing of each study session
  • the place of each study session
  • what you were learning
  • how you were learning
  • what did and what didn't go well
  • changes you might make in the future.

Try to rate each session on a scale of 1–10 (e.g. a rating of 1 if you feel it was a waste of time, 10 if you feel that it was really beneficial) and add a comment on why you gave it that rating.

At the end of a week (or longer) pause and look at your records.


Here are some comments from Tim who kept a detailed diary earlier in the course and now adds some scores to different activities to check on his progress.

Don't do daily diary now but note significant things. I'll just note my thoughts from looking at what I've written. Not very good at being honest about my skills but I'll have a go.

Journal is useful because it's clear that it makes me think about what's going on when I study, what works well and what doesn't. Where I work isn't a problem - no children around now! 10/10 I think for where.

I can see now that studying in the evening rates about 4/10 for me - a little is fine but I'm much better in the morning - 10/10 I think provided I take a break! I can now stop worrying about that.

Seeking help and talking things through with others and sharing ideas makes a huge difference because my note-taking rating has gone from 1/10 to about 6/10 or 7/10. I can still speed up a bit though. Still my notes look better now - less detail than I used to put.

Finding time is still a bit of a problem though - 6/10 perhaps. I tend to stick rigidly to my timetable but to be honest I could do a bit more early evening and at the weekends. On the other hand I think that I could be more efficient with the time I do use. I still need to find a strategy that helps me to locate the right bits for the assignments - currently rating about 4/10. I panic and go back over everything! I want to get decent marks (not great at the moment) for my assignments and I'm trying to develop my analytical skills. I give myself 3/10 because I'm still too much into description.

The purpose of this activity is to monitor your progress as you are studying and, in this case, working towards the completion of an assignment. But keeping the diary and monitoring your study is only of use if you learn from it - i.e. if you use the information to improve how you learn. If you used a rating system, look again at the high and the low scores - when, how and why do you work well; when, how and why is your study less effective? Use this information to find ways of working that are more effective and efficient. You can also relate your diary to your plan (Activity 6) and your analysis of the task (Activity 7) since this might be a good time to check your progress and make any necessary changes.

Sue decided not to keep a diary at this point. She had kept brief notes earlier in the year while preparing her first assignment (Activity 4) but shift work and family responsibilities meant her schedules were irregular and always very tight. She said that good planning was important for her, even if only for a week or two in advance. So she decided to check out how well she kept to her action plan for Assignment 7 (Activity 6) by ticking off each stage and noting whether she kept to her target dates. As you can see, some tasks took longer than expected and she lost several days due to her son having time off school, but just managed to meet the deadline for her final assignment. Sue realised that her schedule was far too tight, especially for a final assignment and that, in future, she must allow time for unforeseen circumstances.

Here is Sue's amended action plan:

TargetTasksTarget dateDate completed
Book 6(i) skim read took much longer and needed to make notes6 Sept8 Sept
Assignment 6 (due in 15 Sep)(i) finish and post very rushed12 Sept14 Sept
Assignment 7 (due in 2 Oct)(i)check requirements18 Sept23 Sept
(ii)select relevant sections
(iii)re-readMartin ill and off school
(iv)check graphs and tables
(v)extract data
(vi)make notes
Assignment 7 Q1 (essay)(i)draw up essay plan as grid18 Sept23 Sept
(ii)include evidence and data
Assignment 7 Q2(i)re-read question and check understanding22 Sept27 Sept
(ii)draft out answer to parts (a) to (c)got stuck - phoned tutor
(iii)if necessary get help on (d)
Assignment 7 Q1 (essay)(i)DRAFT 1 of essay22 Sept27 Sept Getting worried …
(ii)check word limit and
(iii)use red pen to cut down!!
Assignment 7 Q2(i)write final version of Q224 Sept29 Sept
Assignment 7 Q1 (essay)(i)DRAFT 2 of essay27 Sept30 Sept
(ii)get someone else to read through and commentno time for this
Assignment 7(i)FINAL VERSION of essay30 Sept1 Oct
(ii)post it!
Just made it!