3.3.1 Academic Skills

We hope that one result of studying this unit is that you will feel more confident about using your academic skills. In this unit, these skills include:

  • Reading for meaning.
  • Note-taking.
  • Writing in an academic way that includes different points of view.
  • Selecting and using evidence.
  • Evaluating ideas (including your own plans) and theories, including information found on the Web.
  • Thinking about your own learning (reflection).

However, referring to these skills as “academic” creates the risk that they are only seen as useful for a course of study. In this sense, they might be seen as part of a surface or perhaps a strategic approach to learning. Yet all the academic skills that are listed above can be useful in other situations. For example, when you read something like a cookbook or a newspaper article, it is likely that you are reading to understand the main points about how to cook something or about a topic in the news.

There are also situations in real life where you might have to take notes or summarize key points. This occurs in many occupations, for example, where it is useful to have notes about decisions reached at a meeting. To take these notes, you have to select which parts of the discussion are important. Although you may have to use written communication in many areas of your life, it is probably true that writing in an academic style is perhaps the most specialized of these academic skills. For example, the assignments for a course of study are not the same as other types of writing. They have their own rules which may include, for example, the need for an introductory paragraph in an essay or the need to include references indicating where ideas and quotes have come from. Submitting assignments will give you a clearer understanding of some of these conventions about academic writing, such as the value of using concise and clear sentences. You will not be expected to learn them all at once.

Activity 3.21: Reflecting on How You Have Used Academic Skills

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes for this activity.

This activity is an opportunity to reflect on some of the academic skills that you have used while studying this unit. In order to do this:

  1. Select two activities from this unit for which you developed new skills.
  2. Draw up a table similar to the one below.
  3. For each activity, identify and record the academic skills that you used and any other ways you could use those skills.

My Academic Skills Table

Activity from Unit 3 What academic skills did I use?Are there any other ways I could use this skill?
Activity 3.8: Exploring learning theories“Reading:” I read this a couple of times to really try and understand the key points.My daughter’s school has just been evaluated. I want to read the report to understand why the school did not do very well.
Activity 3.8: Exploring learning theories“Note-taking:” I took notes about what I thought was important in the overview of theories.I might need to take some notes on the report to explain it to my partner.


Hopefully, completing this activity will help reinforce the idea that so-called academic skills can be useful in other situations, too. Developing these skills is not very different from the situation faced by anyone who takes up a new interest. Think back to the discussion of the different ways of learning to dance, earlier in the unit. If you had learned how to dance salsa and then took up the tango, then you would have to learn in what ways the tango is different from salsa and in what ways the same. So, do not be afraid about getting it slightly wrong to start with. After all, trial and error can be a good way to learn, as long as you can see some value in making the errors and have the chance to move on from them. It can also help to have support and feedback from other people, as discussed at various points in this unit. For example, the members of a community of practice may be able to help you in adapting your existing skills for use in a new situation.

Shehnaz, one of our original case studies, also discusses the ways in which academic skills can overlap with real-world skills, as shown in this video clip.

Download this video clip.Video player: Shehnaz (her own words are spoken by an actress)
Skip transcript: Shehnaz (her own words are spoken by an actress)

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

Obviously, as my family grew, I had to start to think about how many people were involved in our house and how many people I was cooking for, things like that. And still having money left over to go and enjoy ourselves as well at the end of the month. I had to get into a routine to make sure the food was ready on time. That routine is the same kind of thing that you need to have when you are studying, because you need to set a timetable in order to finish your assignments and get them in on time. Before I went back to school, I thought that my life skills and academic skills were completely different, but when I did go back, I found that what I had learned through life, I could apply to my academic learning to help me succeed in what I was doing.

End transcript: Shehnaz (her own words are spoken by an actress)
Shehnaz (her own words are spoken by an actress)
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You’ll look at “real world” skills again in the next section.

3.3 Preparing to Move On—Connecting Theory with Skills

3.3.2 “Real-World” Skills