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Unit 1: Course Overview

1 Welcome to Learning to Learn!

Butterfly on flower

Welcome to Learning to Learn! By accessing this course you have just taken a major step toward helping you develop your study skills—congratulations! To get started you need to read the course overview. The overview does two things:

  • It explains what is involved in studying Learning to Learn.
  • It helps you to think about how Learning to Learn can help you achieve your goals and aims.

1.1 Introduction

Being unsure of what you want to do in life, or what you want to study, is not unusual. How to deal with the changes that we want in our lives can be more challenging. You might want to be clearer about what you want to do with your life, or what you want to study. You might also be interested in to meet the challenges that life keeps throwing your way. You may be thinking about whether college is for you, or if you could cope with it. You might want to think about what subjects or courses you would like to take. If you would like the chance to think about any of these questions, Learning to Learn might just be what you are looking for.

Learning to Learn takes your life as its starting point.

Unit 1 Learning Outcomes

By the time you have reached the end of Unit 1, you should be able to:

  • Understand what the course is about and how it is structured.
  • Understand what it is going to be like to be a student in this course.
  • Understand the importance of the word skills.
  • Understand how to evaluate information on the Web.
  • Start thinking about your own learning.
  • Understand the eight challenges that can be achieved through studying Learning to Learn.

1.2 The Course and its Viewpoints

This course is unusual. On most courses, if someone asks you what the course is about, they would be expect you to say something like “history” or “the environment.” But on this course, the answer would be more like “learning” or “change.” Another possible answer would be “it’s about me.”

However, in some important ways this course is really like any other course. This means it is good way to get back into (or prepare for further) studying. To benefit from the course you need to understand and make sense of the information that the course contains and the information you will be gathering for yourself and about yourself.

Just like any course, this information comes from different places. On Learning to Learn we are calling these different viewpoints. We think there are five different viewpoints:

  1. Your own viewpoint. By working through this course you will have lots of opportunities to think about your viewpoint. You’re certainly have a better understanding of your viewpoint and—who knows—you might even want to change it.
  2. The viewpoints of other people. Learning is not something that happens in isolation; it usually involves other people. These may be people you already know, with whom you may discuss your learning, or they may be people you have encountered through studying Learning to Learn, perhaps through the online course forum.
  3. The viewpoints offered in various theories of learning and change. Trust us on this one—they are really quite interesting!
  4. The viewpoints available from web resources focusing on the process of learning. In a our fast-changing, “high-tech” world you will find hundreds, even thousands, of different viewpoints being expressed through a massive variety of web resources. At the end of this unit you will get the opportunity to try the first Learning to Learn challenge, which involves evaluating the viewpoints expressed on the Web.
  5. The viewpoints of three real-life students: Karen, Levene, and Shehnaz.  Throughout this course you will follow their stories to offer additional perspectives on the learning process.  Their experiences show how it is possible to use learning, and are also resources to help you think about what can be achieved.

Let’s meet Karen, Levene and Shehnaz now.

Karen

Karen is a social worker with two grown children. She left high school before graduating. The image is of the actress who will be speaking Karen’s words.

Karen

Levene

Levene is a former electrical contractor who now works for a community organization delivering services to the elderly. He earned a GED. The image is of the actor who will be speaking Levene’s words.

Levene

Shehnaz

Shehnaz is a teaching and learning assistant. She left school before graduating to raise her children and care for her mother-in-law. The image is of the actress who will be speaking Shehnaz’s words.

Shehnaz

These three stories are the starting point for Learning to Learn. Each story says something about real experience in the lives of Karen, Levene, and Shehnaz. You will be finding out more about these three people as you work through the course.

One Final Viewpoint ...

You might have already realized that there is another viewpoint on the process of learning and personal change—it’s the viewpoint of the two people writing this course. In fact, we are reshaping an existing course for the Web. We thought it was a pretty good course before, but we wanted to make it even more interesting. 

Figure 1.1 Jonathan Hughes
Figure 1.1 Jonathan Hughes

I’m Jonathan Hughes. I work at The Open University in the UK and I’m really interested in getting people to see themselves as learners. I believe that every single one us is learning all the time. It’s really being a learner that makes us human, but learning can be so much more than that. I think that learning makes each and every one of us fully human. I hope that you’ll spot my viewpoint from time to time as you work on the challenges in Learning to Learn.

Figure 1.2 Leigh-Anne Perryman
Figure 1.2 Leigh-Anne Perryman

I’m Leigh-Anne Perryman and I also work at The Open University in the UK, where I teach and write courses like this one. I’m interested in finding ways in which new skills can be developed and new knowledge gained through learning on the Web. I’m also convinced that valuable learning can take place at any age and that you’re never too old to change. Recently, my own most challenging learning experiences have included developing my windsurfing skills (you’ll notice that I’ve not included a photo of me falling in) and learning how to use a new software programme for creating online courses. You’ll soon find out how well I did with that latter learning challenge because I’ve used these skills for working on Learning to Learn.

1.3 What’s in This Course?

This course is divided into five units including this introduction. Each unit encourages you to see how learning can underpin personal change:

  • Unit 1: Course Overview introduces the course. It gives you an idea of how the course is structured and what approaches to learning and change it takes.
  • Unit 2: You and Your Learning is the first of the three steps that organize the course’s approach to learning to learn. In this unit, the most obvious focus is on the perspective that you have on your own learning. However, as you gather evidence about this perspective, we hope that you will begin to reevaluate it and to think about the possibility of change.
  • Unit 3: Exploring Learning encourages you to consider two additional perspectives that can illuminate your learning. The first is the perspective that other people you know can provide; the second is the perspective that can be provided by academic theories about learning. We think that these two perspectives can help you prepare for personal change.
  • Unit 4: Where Next? completes the discussion of academic theories. It also acts as a guide to help you establish where you want to go and what you want to achieve. In this part of the course, you are encouraged to develop a personal action plan. The focus returns to your own viewpoint and you are encouraged to change or modify how you think about using Learning to Learn. The unit also looks at how online learning communities can be used as part of the process of learning and personal change.
  • Unit 5: Reflecting Backward, Reflecting Forward is an opportunity to review what you have learned while you have been studying Learning to Learn. We are sure that you will feel that you have had an enjoyable and important learning experience. We hope that you will also be able to think about how you will take forward what you have learned from the course, perhaps building and developing your action plan in order to support other aspects of change.

As you work through the five units you will be given the opportunity to demonstrate your learning and skills by completing up to eight challenges: 

  1. The Web Evaluation Challenge.
  2. The Qualities, Knowledge, and Skills Audit Challenge (Part 1).
  3. The Theory Challenge.
  4. The Social Learning Challenge.
  5. The Action Plan Challenge.
  6. The CV/Resumé Challenge.
  7. The Qualities, Knowledge, and Skills Audit Challenge (Part 2).
  8. The Reflection Challenge.

You will find out more about these challenges and the activities involved in completing them in Section 1.7.

Sections 1.1–1.3 were intended to give you a better idea about the course itself; Section 1.4 aims to give you a better idea of what it will be like to study in this course.

1.4 Learning Through Activities

In Learning to Learn the activities involve many different tasks. These include:

  • Answering a question about something you have just learned by writing a short answer.
  • Completing a multiple-choice quiz.
  • Watching a video and making notes about the most important points.

The activities are important because they:

  • Give you the opportunity to review what you have learned from your study of the course.
  • Help you to consolidate your own learning, for example by prompting you to revisit parts of the course that you have not fully understood.
  • Generate evidence that can be used to achieve the seven challenges that feature in this course. These challenges are discussed in detail in Section 1.7.

There is a suggested time for each activity; for example, “Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.” These timings should give you a rough idea of how much effort is required. If you want to spend more time on an activity, that is fine as long as you feel you are learning. If you encounter ideas that are familiar, you may find you work through the activities more quickly. Effective learning does not have to take many hours; in fact, trying to concentrate for too long can become less efficient, especially if you become tired. You are the only person who can tell what works best for you. At first, it may be worth noting the actual time you spend on each task. If you feel you are spending too much (or too little) time on the activities, you can decide whether to change the way you study.

Once you have completed an activity you should click on the “Reveal comment” button and read the comments that follow. These comments are intended to highlight points that we think may be important. But, again, do not worry if your ideas differ from ours. You may produce ideas that we have not thought of or have not included. You may have approached the ideas presented in the course from a different viewpoint from our own. This is quite likely, bearing in mind the fact that the course is about you and we can only guess what your own perspective will be.

Probably the best way to see how activities work is to try one right now.

Activity 1.1: Learning Experiences

Allow about 30 minutes for this activity.

In the videos below, our case studies Karen, Levene, and Shehnaz speak about their learning. As you watch each video, think about the following question: What sort of learning experiences has each person had since leaving school?

When you’ve finished watching the videos, make an entry in your Learning Journal  with the title “Activity 1.1: Learning Experiences” and write down your answers. Then read the comments on this activity by clicking “Reveal comment.”

Download this video clip.Video player: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
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Transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)

I left school when I was 18 and I started work the day after. I had no high school diploma. I got a job as an office assistant making minimum wage. My first assignment was filing documents, and I realized that I didn’t even know my alphabet, so I found a copy of the alphabet and I stuck it to the wall. My manager asked me about it and I admitted that keeping a copy of the alphabet stuck to the wall helped me. And he said, “OK. That’s a good idea.” I would rather have the files be in the correct order rather than have them wrong!

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Transcript: Levene (his own words are spoken by an actor)

I left school at the age of 18 with my GED.

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Transcript: Shehnaz (her own words are spoken by an actress)

I left school when I was 18, and I left without finishing high school because I got married. I was supposed to continue my studies, but I didn’t because my mother-in-law was sick, and so I ended up taking care of her. And then we moved to England for two years. So that is why I had to have a break in my studies. And in between that, I had my children. And because I was so young, I didn’t want to leave them and go back to school. So while they were younger, I used to baby-sit at home with them.

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Comment

Karen

Karen describes a learning experience that took place at work. She seems to have been very unprepared for the work she started when she left school. She had no qualifications and she also struggled to do her job because she had not learned the alphabet. However, once at work, she learned very quickly. When she explained to her boss what she was doing when she stuck a copy of the alphabet to the wall she was able to use communication skills she had already learned.

Levene

Levene seems to feel that his qualifications were not very special. On the other hand, he has been able to draw on previous experience and has been able to use this to explore new learning. Perhaps you got the impression that he would rather be talking about the successful learning he has done since leaving school.

Shehnaz

Shehnaz speaks about why she had to stop formal learning because of family commitments. Shehnaz is married, has children, and has taken care of her mother-in-law when she was ill. Did you wonder what Shehnaz might have learned as a result of these experiences? She may well have learned far more from these experiences than from her academic courses at high school.

Were your responses were different from these comments? Do you think that you have given “wrong” answers? 

If you answered “Yes” to the first question, you should be encouraged. It sounds as though you are really engaged with the course already and are thinking about what Karen, Levene, and Shehenaz were saying. If your answer was “Yes” to the second question, then this is a good time to say that in this course there are are no “wrong answers” for any of the activities. Rather, for every activity there is a range of possible answers. To repeat, if the answers that you have given help you to develop your understanding then you are making excellent use of the activities in the course.

1.4.1 Formal and Informal Learning

Figure 1.3 Informal learning through being a parent
Figure 1.3 Informal learning through being a parent

Karen, Levene, and Shehnaz show that learning can happen in many different situations. These include work and family life, and not just places like school and college where more formal learning takes place. Much of the learning we do as adults happens because we want to, or have to, learn something. Karen’s way of coping with the filing is an example. At other times, we can learn without realizing it, and we may have little control over what happens. An example of this sort of learning could be when Shehnaz was caring for her mother-in-law. 

When learning takes place with no formal teaching, it is often called “informal” learning. Karen experienced informal learning in her workplace, as she did not learn to file as a result of being taught by someone. In the same way, Shehnaz was not taught by an “expert” about how to look after her mother-in-law or her children. Both Karen and Shehnaz have learned through the experiences they have had, rather than being formally taught by a teacher.

Your learning on this course is midway between formal and informal learning. It is partly formal because you will be working through a course that is structured and asks you complete activities in a set order. However, part of our viewpoint on learning is that we do not think of you as an empty container that this course is going to fill with knowledge. To us, this is an important point, because for many people school-learning seems just like this—especially when it comes to learning lots of facts to pass exams. We believe that this sort of learning can make learners feel that they have very little to offer and that what they have learned in their own lives counts for very little. This feeling can be a formidable barrier to involvement in learning for many people. 

Pause for a second and think whether you have experienced this sort of learning and what effect it has had on your life.

We approach your learning very differently, valuing your existing knowledge, skills, and experiences, and encouraging you to draw on all that knowledge and those skills and experiences when working through the course activities. In this way, the course combines both formal and informal learning. At various points in the course you have the option of sharing your learning with others in order to get some feedback from them. This is a form of informal learning that you probably have plenty of experience of already. 

In the next unit we will step away from the process of learning to consider the skills that may be gained as a result of that process. In particular, we will look at the different ways in which the word “skills” is used in this course.

1.5 Study Skills, Other Skills

You will find many references to skills in this course. Before we explain how we will be using this word, we would like you to think about what you understand is meant by skills.

Figure 1.4 Cooking skills can be gained in many ways, at any age
Figure 1.4 Cooking skills can be gained in many ways, at any age

Activity 1.2: What’s in a Word—Skills?

Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

Spend a few moments thinking about what you associate with the word skills. Write down as quickly as possible what you connect this word with. There are no right or wrong answers; we just want you to put your ideas down. Make an entry in your Learning Journal  with the title “Activity 1.2: What’s in a Word—Skills.”

Comment

As with many of the activities in this course, we have no way of knowing what your answer might include.  You may have said something like “abilities” or “doing things to a high standard,” or you may have identified particular skills such as “driving,” “cooking,” or “writing.”  

The problem with the word skills is that it can be, and is, used in very many different ways. This might be the case in your response to Activity 1.2. The word “skills” is sometimes connected with something that we are good at doing. We might say that someone is a skilled football player or cook. This, in turn, may be connected with work. We might need particular skills to do a certain type of work. Some jobs need specialized skills; for example, the skills required to work as a brain surgeon are very different from those needed to work as an airline pilot. Beyond this, there is the idea that some skills are needed in most jobs; for example, both the brain surgeon and the pilot need to be able to communicate with other people. These skills are sometimes called transferable skills because you can use them in many different settings

In Learning to Learn, we want you to think about the skills you have already, the skills you want to develop, and, in particular, the skills you might use as a student. The course aims to develop your confidence your existing skills and in new skills that are useful for successful study. Learning to Learn focuses on two broad sets of skills:

  • The first set comprises the skills used on a daily basis in the “real world” outside academic study. Since there are many of these, we have decided to focus on three important skills:
    • Communication skills.
    • Problem solving skills.
    • Organizational skills.
  • In this course, we will refer to these as everyday or real-world skills.
  • The second set of skills includes the skills that are more associated with studying. In this course, these are:
    • Reading.
    • Note-taking.
    • Writing.
    • Selecting and using evidence.
    • Evaluating ideas (including your own plans) and theories, including information found on the Web.
    • Thinking about your own learning (reflection).
  • In this course, we will refer to these as academic skills.

It looks neat and tidy to have these two sets of skills listed in this way, but doing this can cause problems. Calling the first set real-world or everyday skills and the second set academic skills might imply that the real world and study are completely separate from each other. This is not actually the case—however, many people do see the real and the academic worlds as being completely different from each other, which can discourage them from participating in academic study. The separate lists might also imply that real-world and academic study use different skills. This can reinforce the belief that academic skills are of little or no value in the real world.

In this course we really want you to question whether everyday skills and academic skills are completely different. We also want you to ask yourself if academic skills might be helpful in the “real world.”

We think that many everyday skills can be useful for becoming a successful student and that academic skills can have useful applications in everyday life. Being able to use academic skills in the real world can help you get used to being a student and to see this role as part of who you are.

In the next section of the course we will focus on a skill that is valuable both for academic study and for many aspects of living in the real world—using the Internet for research. You will learn how to evaluate the information you find on the World Wide Web and will make a start on completing your first challenge (should you wish to do so).

1.5.1 Evaluating Information on the Web

You’re studying Learning to Learn online, using the Internet, so we are going to assume that you have Internet access. You may have little or no experience with using the Internet or you may be very familiar with the vast amount of information that is available on the World Wide Web (or “Web,” for short). (Note that while the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are often used to mean the same thing, they are actually different.  The Internet is the global system of interconnected computers; the World Wide Web is made up of the millions of documents that are linked together.  Clicking on “Internet” or “World Wide Web” in the previous sentences will take you to Wikipedia, where you can find out more about the difference between the two.)

You may have used the Internet to search for information about your leisure interests, health issues, to contact friends using social media sites like Facebook, or to look for study opportunities. However much experience of the Internet you have, it is important to have a way of evaluating the information you find on the Web so that you can judge how accurate the information is likely to be. This is especially important if you are using the Web for academic study or to get medical information, because information found on the Web is not subject to regulation or quality control. This means that information might be out-of-date, misleading or even dangerous. 

Fortunately, many people have spent time considering how to evaluate Web-based information, or websites. In Learning to Learn we will use the “PROMPT” checklist for evaluating information. This checklist has been developed by The Open University in the UK.

1.5.2 Using the PROMPT checklist

The PROMPT checklist features six evaluation criteria:

Presentation

“Presentation” refers to the appearance of the website being evaluated. You should ask:

  • Is the information is clearly communicated?
  • Is the website easy to navigate?
  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?

Relevance

“Relevance” refers to whether the website being evaluated is suitable for your precise needs. You should ask:

  • What is the information mainly about? (The introduction can give a useful clue here.)
  • Does the information match your needs?

Objectivity

“Objectivity” refers to whether the website being evaluated is likely to give a neutral view of the topic it covers. You should ask:

  • Is the author’s position or interest made clear?
  • Is the author likely to be biased?
  • Is the language emotive or designed to persuade?
  • Are there hidden, vested interests?

Method

“Method” refers to the information provided to support any claims that are made on a website. (This might be information about the “experts” providing the information or the source of the information. You should consider “Method” if the website you are evaluating makes any claims.) You should ask:

  • Is it clear how the data was collected?
  • If “experts” are mentioned, are they named?
  • Are links provided to the research data?
  • Do you trust the information provided and the claims made?

Provenance

The term “provenance” refers to the apparent authenticity of the website and the likely reliability of the source of the information provided. You should ask:

  • Is it clear where the information has come from? Here, you might consider the website address or URL (uniform resource locator). Academic websites in the USA usually end with “.edu” and in the UK they usually end “.ac.uk.” (This ending is called the “top-level domain.”) Government websites end with “.gov” in the USA and “.gov.uk” in the UK. Click here for a list of common top-level domains.
  • Is the author or organization responsible for the website clearly identified?
  • Is the author or organization likely to be trustworthy?

Timeliness

“Timeliness” refers to whether the information on a website is likely to be sufficiently up-to-date for your needs. Note that sometimes timeliness not that important. If you’re looking for information about the current availability of educational funding, say, then timeliness will be very important, because the information is likely to change frequently; however, if you’re looking for information about the American Civil War, timeliness is less important because that information is less likely to change over time. You should ask:

  • Is it clear when the information was produced?
  • Does the date of the information meet your requirements?
  • Could the information be out-of-date?

Activity 1.3: A Sample Web Evaluation

Allow about 30 minutes for this activity

This is a required activity for Challenge 1: The Web Evaluation Challenge.

For this activity, all you need to do is watch the video showing me conducting a web evaluation.

Download this video clip.Video player: web_eval2.mp4
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Transcript

Before you do your first evaluation of a web resource, I’m going to work part-way through an evaluation myself, using the PROMPT framework as the basis for my evaluation. I’m going to evaluate a fictional web page—Awesome Time Management Tips for Awesome People. I’m going to record the results of my evaluation in the online evaluation form which I’ve opened in a separate tab in my browser. I’ll switch to it now and you’ll see that I’ve already entered the website name and URL.

I’ll switch back to the website and start my evaluation.

First, we’ll start with presentation.

OK, let’s look at whether the information is clearly communicated. I’d have to say yes, it’s very clearly communicated, using numbered lists and short sentences. The points made are all very direct, though I did feel a bit puzzled by the fact that the “Top Ten Tips” amounted to only four items!  Even so, the language is very clear and the page is easy to navigate.  So, I’ll switch to the evaluation form and write “Clear Communication, direct language, easy to read and navigate.” I’ll add “Clear layout.”

Relevance

Here, we look at whether the website meets our needs. This site looks promising at first glance as it’s clearly about time management. However, reading through the introduction reveals that it is targeted at business people rather than students, so the web page may not be so relevant after all.  So, I’ll write “relevant at first glance, but actually seemed designed for business people”.

Objectivity

Here, we’re looking to see whether the author seems to have a personal interest and whether the language is emotional at all. The word “awesome” in the title gives a clue about the tone of this web page, right from the start. The bold claims and exaggerated language continue on the page itself and it’s not long before we discover the personal interest of the author… selling the so-called bestselling book Awesome Time Management Tips for Awesome People. This casts some doubt on the likely reliability of the information on the website, which seems to be acting as a promotional vehicle for this book. So, I’ll write “exaggerated language designed to persuade” and “website seems intended to sell a book so author is likely to have a personal interest.”

I’ll end my evaluation here but if you were evaluating this website you’d carry on and cover method, provenance and timeliness. But I’ll end here.

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Comment

What did you think of my evaluation? Did I miss anything? Probably! If you were evaluating this website you may have different needs than my own and might answer the questions from a different viewpoint.

Next, you will get the chance to do your own evaluation of a website using the PROMPT form.

Activity 1.4: Evaluating a Website

Allow about 20 minutes for this activity.

This is a required activity for Challenge 1: The Web Evaluation Challenge.

This activity involves evaluating a website about note-taking skills.

Comment

How did you get on? As the activity guidance states, there are no right answers for this activity and every Learning to Learn student will have evaluated the website slightly differently. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that evaluations will differ depending on your focus. For example, the University of Massachusetts note-taking site seems intended for people taking notes in face-to-face lectures and may not be quite as relevant for people studying distance learning courses online.

Sometimes an evaluation can depend on hard-to-find information. For example, the note-taking web page you have just evaluated does not give clear information about who has created the page so it is difficult to assess its objectivity and likely reliability at first glance. The page has actually been created by the University of Massachusetts but finding this out involves leaving the note-taking page and visiting other pages in the Learning Resource Center website. So, you should be prepared to hunt around when evaluating websites in the future.

Hopefully you now feel better equipped to use the Web for your studies. In Unit 1.7 you will get the chance to complete a challenge demonstrating your Web evaluation skills. For now though, you’ll learn about another very important study skill—reflection—which is the focus of Unit 1.6.

1.6 Learning Through Reflection

What is Reflection?

You may have noticed that many of the activities ask you to think about things you have already done, like reading a particular part of the course. “Thinking back” in this way is a vital component of reflection.

Reflection is one of those things that is both really simple and quite complex. It’s simple because, like learning, we all do it—it’s really nothing more than thinking back over something that you or someone else has done. You may be doing that because it was really pleasant or because it was particularly unpleasant. So you may be reflecting on something because of the emotions that are attached to it. 

Reflection can also serve as a guide for future action. You may think back over something to try and make sure something similar happens next time—for example, you may reflect back to when you had an enjoyable meal in a restaurant. This reflection might encourage you to go back to that restaurant.Alternately, you may reflect to make sure the same thing does not happen again—if the food was cold and the waiter was rude, thinking back to that time might make you eat at home that evening!

Reflection at Work

People in many different careers are expected to be reflective about their work.  Doctors, social workers, nurses, and teachers are all supposed to be reflective practitioners. This means that they are supposed to learn from what went well and from their mistakes to ensure that they become better and better at what they do.

The need for such reflection is not confined to high-status careers. Would you like have your car fixed by a mechanic you know never reflected back about whether they had tightened all the wheel nuts?

We bet you’ve reflected already.

Our basic starting point is that everyone reflects—the world is not divided up into amazing people who reflect and the rest of the world. You might even have reflected on what you have read so far, for example by trying to puzzle out whether any of what you have read applies to you.

Why is reflection great?

It means that we are able to get so much more out of the experiences we have and it means that we have much more say about what happens to us. If you’ve had a great vacation with your family or friends, thinking back over it means that the vacation doesn’t completely end when you arrive back home.

Reflection can also put you in a better position to decide whether you want to repeat an experience. That vacation may have been good but you may reflect that you want to do something different next time.

1.6.1 Introducing the Learning Journal

On this course we are encouraging you to go one step further and to write down your reflections using a reflective journal. Using a journal in this way ensures that you capture your thoughts, otherwise there is always a strong possibility that reflections are lost. Writing down your reflections also means that you can use them in Reflection 8: The Reflection Challenge (and in other challenges). Your journal will be much more useful to you if you get into the habit of using headings for all your journal entries. When your reflection is linked to an activity, we suggest that you include the activity number and name in your journal entry heading.

There are different ways to organize what you write in your journal. Figure 1.5 shows one way but you should feel free to try and work out what suits you best.

Figure 1.5 Sample of Learning Journal entries
Figure 1.5 Sample of Learning Journal entries

We encourage you to use the Learning Journal, which you can go to now or can also be found on the Learning to Learn website. The activity that follows is an opportunity for you to make your first entry in your Learning Journal.

Activity 1.5: Reflection on Today

Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

This activity gets you to do some reflection on when you last reflected on something. Ideally it will be some thinking you have done today. Pause for a moment and jot down something you have thought about, preferably today and ideally within the last hours or so. This should be something where you have thought about something you have done in the past which has had an impact on what you have done or plan to do. 

Before you get started you might like to have a look at the example and the section “How to Reflect,” which gives a framework which you can use for this activity. Make an entry in your Learning Journal with the title “Activity 1.5: Reflection on Today.”  

Comment

As an example: I have two ways I drive to work. One is on a busy motorway; the other uses quiet country lanes. I much prefer the country lanes.However, when I took this route yesterday the road was under repair, so tonight I will use the motorway.

Figure 1.6 A country lane
Figure 1.6 A country lane

How to Reflect

Reflection involves thinking and writing. These sometimes seem like quite separate processes. So when I’m writing I shopping list, I think, “What do I need to put?” and then I might remember that I only have a few slices of bread left. Then I write “Bread” at the start of my list. 

However, I find that once I start writing after reflection, I have thoughts that I didn’t expect to have. So once I start to write my shopping list, I may start thinking that I would like to buy ingredients for a meal to share. So the easy way to start to reflect is to start writing about what you have been doing. 

However, if you not quite convinced by my take on the magic of writing, then you might find a framework useful to get you going. This framework assumes that you are going to start with an actual experience and means that you need to start with an accurate re-telling of that experience. The framework is built on four questions.

  1. Who was there, who was most involved, and who was least involved? Who said what and who listened?
  2. What was the sequence of events?
  3. Where did this happen?
  4. When did things happen? 

Once you have written about these you can then add another question: “What have I learned from this?” If you are feeling adventurous, there is a final question you might try: “What will I do in future as a result?”

Keeping a Learning Journal for the duration of the course will allow you to review your entries on a regular basis—perhaps once a month. This can help you to recognize:

  • Your progress, as you see that there are things that you used to find difficult but can now do relatively easily.
  • Recurring themes in your thoughts and actions that indicate potential areas to work on in the future

1.7 Learning Through Challenges

Figure 1.7 Are you ready for a challenge?
Figure 1.7 Are you ready for a challenge?

In this unit you will be introduced to the eight “challenges” that can be achieved through studying this course. You will learn about what is involved in completing each challenge and about how you might use the evidence of your achievement to demonstrate your skills to other people. You will also get the chance to complete your first challenge.

1.7.1 Why Complete the Challenges?

In Section 1.5 you began thinking about the different types of skills that will be covered in this course. You were encouraged to consider which skills you will be bringing to your studies and which skills you particularly want to develop.

You are likely to be asked about which skills you have at many points in your life. Going to college, getting a job, joining a community group, helping out a neighbor, becoming a volunteer ... all of these activities may involve someone asking you about your skills. But how can you prove you have particular skills?

Formal learning settings such as college and university courses will usually offer qualifications that recognize your learning. However, such qualifications give few clues about the skills that a person has developed in order to gain that qualification. For example, could you guess what skills a person may have developed if they have gained a Diploma in Business Management? Me neither! I’d make a guess that the person could manage others in a business setting but would not be sure what that involves. What’s more, this Diploma may not acknowledge other skills that have been gained as part of the study process, such as communication with other students, essay writing, finding information using the internet, time-management, and meeting deadlines.

The challenges in Learning to Learn give you the chance to clearly demonstrate to others (and to yourself) the skills and knowledge that you have gained from studying the course.

1.7.2 About the Learning to Learn Challenges

The eight challenges featured in Learning to Learn give you the opportunity to gain recognition for important skills you have developed through studying the course, allowing you to demonstrate these skills to others, for example when applying for a job. The challenges are entirely optional and each can be completed independently of the other challenges. 

The challenges will build on the activities you are asked to do throughout Learning to Learn and will often use your responses to those activities as the basis for your achievement of a particular challenge. In this way, working on a challenge will also consolidate your learning of key parts of the course.

Throughout your study of Learning to Learn you will be able to consult your “Activity Record” (look for the link to this at the right-hand side of the course website). Your Activity Record details all of your work on the course, together with the challenges you have completed. At the end of the course you could save and print your Activity Record to use as evidence of your learning and skills.

The eight Learning to Learn challenges are listed below.

Web Evaluation Challenge: This is the first challenge of the course.  You will get the chance to complete it later in Unit 1. It involves you demonstrating the Web evaluation skills you developed in Section 1.5 and requires you to evaluate two websites that could be useful learning resources.
Qualities, Knowledge, and Skills Audit Challenge (Part 1): This challenge is in two parts and builds on the skills audit activities in Unit 2. Part 1 of the challenge requires you to identify the skills that you have at the beginning of the course.
Theory Challenge: This challenge builds on the Unit 3 discussion of learning theories and the related activities. It allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the learning theories that are covered in the course, and the ways in which these theories may be relevant to your own life.
Social Learning Challenge: This challenge builds on Unit 2’s activities connected with gaining feedback and on Unit 3’s discussion of informal learning and communities of practice. The challenge allows you to demonstrate your communication skills and requires you to use the Learning to Learn online forum to get feedback from other students, which may help you to achieve your learning goals.
Action Plan Challenge: This challenge builds on Unit 4’s activities. To complete this challenge you will be required to create an Action Plan setting future goals and identifying sources of support that might help you to achieve those goals.
CV/Resume Challenge: This challenge requires you to create a CV or resume recording your skills and experiences.
Qualities, Knowledge, and Skills Audit Challenge (Part 2): Part 2 of this challenge requires you to assess the extent to which your skills have developed as a result of studying the course and to identify any new skills that you have gained.
Reflection Challenge: This challenge acknowledges your skills as a reflective learner and draws on your responses to the reflection activities that feature throughout the course. You complete the challenge when you have worked through the course.

1.7.3 How to Complete a Challenge

The Learning to Learn challenges are all optional. However, we recommend that you complete as many as you can in order to get some recognition for your learning on this course and for the skills that you have developed and knowledge you have gained.

It is not essential that you complete the challenges in sequence but we recommend that you do so, because the challenges are closely linked with the course content. Each challenge will require you to have worked through specific parts of Learning to Learn. Of course, you may start the course already possessing some of these skills or some of the knowledge required to complete a challenge—if so, then you have a headstart!

At key points in the course you will be told that you may now be ready to complete a particular challenge.  You will be provided with a link to a dedicated page for that challenge. This page will contain information about:

  • The focus of the challenge.
  • The benefits of completing the challenge.
  • What you need to do to complete the challenge.
  • The evidence that you will create in the process of working on the challenge (for example, a Qualties, Knowledge, and Skills Audit or a CV).
  • How you might use this evidence in the future in order to demonstrate your skills and knowledge.

The “challenges”section of the Learning to Learn website contains links to the eight challenge pages.

1.7.4 Frequently Asked Questions About the Challenges

Q: Are the challenges compulsory?

A: No. You may choose not to complete any challenges, or just to complete a few challenges related to your own interests. However, we hope that you will complete as many challenges as possible, because they will help you to consolidate your learning. They will also give you recognition for the skills and knowledge that you’ve developed since starting Learning to Learn.

Q: Do I have to complete the challenges in order?

A: No, although many of the challenges draw on knowledge and skills gained in particular units, so it is highly recommended that you don’t attempt a challenge until you are prompted to do so. However, you may choose to wait until later in the course to complete a particular challenge. (You can return to the challenge pages at any time.)

Q: How will I know which of the activities in the course will contribute towards completing a challenge?

A: If an activity is an essential element of a challenge, you will see the logo for that challenge alongside the activity.

Q: Will I have proof that I have completed a challenge?

A: Yes. Each challenge you complete will appear on your Activity Record for the course. You will also be able to download and save the evidence created for each challenge (e.g. a CV or your completed Action Plan). Every challenge that you complete will add to a portfolio of evidence demonstrating your skills and knowledge.

1.7.5 The First Challenge

Now you know all about the Learning to Learn challenges, you’re ready to complete the first one—the Web Evaluation Challenge. This challenge is optional, and you don’t have to complete it before continuing with the next section of the course. You could even come back and complete the challenge later.

Activity 1.6: The Web Evaluation Challenge

Allow about 90 minutes for this activity.

This is a required activity for Challenge 1: The Web Evaluation Challenge.

If you have not done so already, you should complete Activities 1.3 and 1.4 as preparation for this challenge. The time taken to complete these activities is not included in the 90 minutes listed above.

To complete the Web Evaluation Challenge itself you need to:

  1. Conduct PROMPT evaluations for two websites. (If you need to revisit the PROMPT checklist, click here.)
  2. Enter the results of each PROMPT evaluation into the online form for that evaluation:

Activity 1.7: Reflecting on the Web Evaluation Challenge

Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

Whether or not you completed the Web Evaluation Challenge, now would be a good time to reflect on your feelings about the challenges in Learning to Learn.

Make an entry in your Learning Journal with the title “Activity 1.7: Reflecting on the Web Evaluation Challenge.” Then, make some notes in response to some or all of the following questions:

  • If you completed the Web Evaluation Challenge, how did you feel before and after you completed it? For example, were you anxious about completing your first challenge or did you feel you could take it in your stride?
  • If you did not complete the Web Evaluation Challenge, why was this? Do you think you will return to the challenge later in the course?
  • Whether or not you completed the challenge, how do you now feel about the remaining Learning to Learn challenges? How many do you think you will attempt? Are you drawn to any particular challenges?
Comment

Reflecting on your studies is a very personal activity so it would be difficult to guess your responses to the questions above. Maybe you decided not to complete the Web Evaluation Challenge at the moment—if so, then you will have your own reasons for this and may have recorded them in your Learning Journal. If you completed the challenge, you may have said something about how you felt afterwards or whether it took more or less time than you expected. Whether or not you completed the Web Evaluation Challenge, we hope you will have identified some challenges that seem partiularly interesting to you, or particularly relevant.

1.8 Looking Back and Moving On

Unit 1 has introduced you to the main aspects of Learning to Learn and also outlined some academic skills that we will be focusing on. By now, you may also have completed your first challenge.

At this point in the unit, the key question is: What have you learned that you did not know when you started Unit 1?

When you reach the end of a unit, it is a very good idea to review the work you have completed. Although most people feel fairly confident reading steadily through a unit from start to finish, there will be situations where it is more important to read through quickly to identify a key point, or to look through several sections to get an overall view of the main ideas. In these cases, reading every sentence carefully would not be appropriate and would waste time.

Suppose you wanted to find one piece of information quickly—for example, a fact that you knew you had read in the current unit. What would you do? One way would be to look at the contents list or browse quickly through the units, reading the headings and subheadings. The first sentence in each paragraph often introduces the main idea, too. Or, if you have a good idea where you read the information initially, you can quickly glance through the unit just looking for that one piece of information.

1.8.1 Using a Mind Map to Summarize Information

To quickly summarize a lot of information, some people find it helpful to draw a “mind map” that shows how different topics are connected. (“Mind Map” is a trademark of the Buzan Organization.)

A mind map can be produced for any subject or topic. To create a mind map, start with a large sheet of paper and colored pens or pencils. Mind maps usually begin in the middle of the paper with a word, phrase, picture, or symbol that represents the subject being explored.

The next stage is to let your mind wander as freely as possible around the subject, thinking of key words or phrases that trigger ideas. The most important of these are placed nearest to the central image and are connected with lines to the center. After this, you should add associated ideas to each of the key words, again using lines to connect them.

Figure 1.8 A mind map showing “mind map laws”
Figure 1.8 A mind map showing “mind map laws”

The process of creating the map can help to sort ideas and how they fit together. These maps are very personal and can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish—there is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people like to add a lot of detail, including color, pictures, page references, and examples, while others prefer a simple plan, concentrating on key points.

Activity 1.8: The Creation of a Mind Map

Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

We have recorded a pencast that shows the creation of a mind map, exploring one of my own recent learning experiences. Watch this pencast and, when you’ve finished watching, think about whether you would have added any extra information to the mind map.

Comment

I hope you were able to follow my thought processes when creating the map. You’ll see that I ran out of space on the page, which shows that it’s a good idea to use as large a piece of paper as possible when creating a mind map. Did you think of anything I might have added to the mind map? I wanted to add a further learning experience related to my car breaking down—learning how to mend my bicycle brakes, which I found had seized up because I hadn’t used the bicycle for ages. However, there was no space for this, so I had to restrict my mind mapto the most important aspects of the learning experience.

Creating a mind map will often involve selecting the most significant points from a lot of information. The process gets easier with practice.

You will gain some practice with creating a mind map in the next activity.

Activity 1.9: Looking Back and Creating a Mind Map

Allow about 15 minutes for this activity.

Look back through Unit 1 and summarize what you have studied in the unit using a mind map. Even if you have never used one of these before, try it and see how you get on. For this mind map, the central theme is Unit 1 of Learning to Learn, so put that in your central bubble. Then go back through the unit picking out the main ideas and the points that relate to them.

Comment

The figure below is a mind map that a student created for an earlier version of Learning to Learn. Your mind map probably has some of the elements here and you may also have added the challenges and the web evaluation skills you learned earlier in Unit 1. Whatever the content, your mind map is your personal record of the content of Unit 1 and how the different sections relate to each other. You may find connections that others do not spot. You may find it helpful to create your own mind map for each section and use it to review your work later.

Figure 1.9 Mind map for the contents of Learning to Learn Unit 1
Figure 1.9 Mind map for the contents of Learning to Learn Unit 1

Mind maps can be created using a computer instead of using pen and paper. The advantage of using a computer is that you can edit the components of your mind map. Figure 1.10 shows an extended mind map of the learning experience shown in my pencast and was made with a mind mapping program.

Figure 1.10 Computer-generated mind map showing what I learned when my car broke down
Figure 1.10 Computer-generated mind map showing what I learned when my car broke down – we recommend that you view a larger version of this mind map

You’ll notice that it is quite different from the mind map in the pencast because it has more detail.

If you’re interested in further exploring computer-based mind mapping, the following websites offer free mind map creation programs:

In the next section you’ll look at another important aspect of the study process—planning your study time.

1.8.2 Planning Your Study Time

One of the most difficult aspects of being a student is fitting in your studying with everything else in your life. This is why this course focuses on organizational skills, including time management. It is important both to find enough time to study and then to try to make the most effective use of your time.

Finding enough time can be a challenge—it often means giving up activities you currently enjoy or perhaps negotiating with your family and friends to pass on some of the daily chores, or to allow you some time to yourself. Nonetheless, it is surprising how much can be achieved in short five- or ten-minute slots, such as recapping previous work, sorting out paperwork, or planning future work. Having found some time, it is also worth thinking about whether this is the best time for you to study and, if not, changing it.

Activity 1.10: Planning Your Study of Unit 2

Allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

Quickly read through the main headings in Unit 2. Using your experience of studying Unit 1, create a rough draft of the times for your study sessions for Unit 2. Remember to include some emergency time in case your timetable does not work out as planned or you want to include further work on Unit 1. At the end of Unit 2 you will be asked to revisit this study planning to see whether it worked out as you planned. Make an entry in your Learning Journal with the title “Activity 1.10: Planning Your Study of Unit 2.”

Comment

A student made the following comment:

“I looked through Unit 2—there are lots of activities. That might slow down my reading. A lot of the activities seem to be about Karen, Levene, and Shehnaz, and then there are others which seem to be about me. I think I’ll study this in several chunks. I’ll have time on Wednesday afternoon to do a couple of hours—might get as far as the part about communication skills.”

It is worth considering the times of day and the lengths of sessions in which you work most productively. For example, if you know you are going to lose concentration after a half-hour or so and also that you are just too tired to study in the evenings, it is probably better to schedule your study time for new topics in half-hour slots in the morning and use the evenings for something else.

If you check off the activities you can do, you will be able to see which areas to ask for extra help on or practice further. This will help you make the best use of your tutorials and study sessions.

1.9 Conclusion

At the start of this unit, there was a list of what we hoped you would get from your study. Remember, the aims of Unit 1 were to:

  • Understand what the course is about and how it is structured.
  • Understand what it is going to be like to be a student in this course.
  • Understand the importance of the word skills.
  • Understand how to evaluate information on the Web.
  • Start thinking about your own learning.
  • Understand the eight challenges that can be achieved through studying Learning to Learn.

It would be useful to think about this list before moving on to Unit 2 to see if you feel that these goals have been achieved. Sections 1.1 and 1.2 explain what the course is about and how it is structured. So, in addition to your mind map, you could look at your notes on these sections. Section 1.3 focused on the importance of active involvement on the unit, so you could think back about how active you have been. For example: Have you given yourself time for the activities or have you worked out when and where you are going to study?

Some of the activities in Unit 1 relate to working out what is meant by “skills” in this course. You could check whether you understand which skills play a part in Learning to Learn. Finally— and perhaps most importantly—have you begun to reflect on your own learning?

Next Steps

To better understand how you learn and what your habits are, please consider filling out a brief Self-Reflection Questionnaire.

Once you have completed Unit 1: Course Overview and all the activities, move on to Unit 2: You and Your Learning.