Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Get Your Head in the Game - 5 Tips for Success in Learning

If you have any awareness of sports—or any type of game—you've heard that the only path to success includes keeping your "head in the game."  In other words, you have to think about what you are doing (or about to do).  And you have to understand how you are thinking and make sure you are "thinking correctly"—that is, in a way that will let you perform at your best and get you closer to your goal.

This idea of "thinking about your thinking" is called metacognition (met-ah-kog-NISH-un).  And it works both in sports and in learning.  It is especially important and effective in learning a subject as overwhelming as human anatomy and physiology.

In other words, if you regularly step back from what you are doing and think about the strategies you are using (or forgetting to use) in your A&P course, you'll do better than if you just struggle along trying to "get it" all into your brain.

There's evidence that metacognition alone can improve your success in learning. That means that just the process of regularly thinking about how you are managing your learning—by itself—can make you more successful.  But that's probably because when you thus reflect on your own struggles in learning, you are more likely to tweak your strategies and watch for pitfalls in ways that make you a better student of A&P.

Some students do this kind of metacognition on their own because they've either learned it along the way, or they have a mindset that naturally tends toward metacognition.  But even if your mindset doesn't naturally think this way, it's okay—it's easily learned.

Following are some ways to get more "metacognitive" about your coursework—and thus get your "head in game."

  1. Schedule regular self-strategizing sessions. Set up a brief daily session (just a few minutes will do) and a weekly session. Put them in your calendar.  You have to have a calendar to be successful in college—even if you're not a "calendar person."  This way, you'll get in the habit of doing it regularly. 

  2. Review your progress. During your scheduled sessions, go over what you've accomplished. This is most effective if you keep notes or a journal on your progress. What kind—and how much—reading, studying, class work, and other strategies have you done since yesterday?  ...since last week? How am I performing?  I can expect to do poorly on self-quizzing activities at first, but am I getting better?  Are there concepts that are giving me particular trouble?  Am I going downhill fast? ...or am I holding my own?

  3. Get help.  If an athlete has trouble focusing their thinking in productive ways, their teammates and coaches can offer great advice.  So discuss this with students, your college learning center, and your professor. Use their advice to tweak your strategies. Then in future sessions, think about whether the new strategies have helped—or if you need to try something else.

  4. Have a positive attitude.  The worse thing you can do in metacognition is to focus on possible failure. Learn how to avoid learning and test anxiety. Evidence shows that you have to fail—forgetting what you've read, heard, or studied—before you can really learn it deeply and for the long term. So learn to value those aspects of your learning, knowing that it's a necessary step to success. After decades of helping A&P students succeed, I can tell you that returning learners, underprepared learners, English language learners, and students with all kinds of challenges can succeed in A&P if they maintain a positive, self-improvement attitude. 

  5. Try new things.  There's always a better way to do things. You've probably heard of successful athletes who have broken through some plateau they'd reached by learning a new technique or shifting their mindset in practice and/or performance.  For students, that means always being on the lookout for new ways to read a textbook, study, or take class notes. Or new ways to focus on learning and avoid anxiety.
This is just the start.  Once you make a habit of thinking about your learning, and gain specific skills in keeping your head in game, you can be more successful in all your courses—and in your career!

Explore the resources below for more tips.

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Photo (bottom): yalcin Eren