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Being aware of your habits as you study is vital to the success of your learning. Bad habits can hold you back and, unless you analyse what you are doing, you might remain unaware of better ways of doing things. At the OU we call this analysis 'reflective learning'.
Like many other aspects of studying, reflective learning is highly individual. There's no guidebook on how or when to do it. Rather than thinking of reflection as yet another task to be added to the 'to do' list or squeezed into a busy study schedule, view it as something to practise at any stage. The emphasis is on being a reflective learner rather than doing reflective learning.
"An experience that is repeated without reflection is just a repetition, which does not help you to learn."
Reflection has an important role to play in learning and self-development. Reflection could be described as
Get used to reflecting on your experiences as part of your everyday learning. In this way, each experience - whether positive or negative - will contribute to your development and personal growth. Record your reflections in a learning journal or on audio.
"I've come a long way since doing my first TMA - I suppose I'm starting to develop some reflective skills in that I'm looking at how my study sessions have gone and identifying strategies that work well for me. "
It is easy to become stuck in a study routine that is not effective for the task in hand. Reflecting on what works well helps you to develop your skills, as you try out different approaches.
Reflective learning can help you to get more out of your studies in several ways.
You may find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer range and number of activities you're expected to tackle while studying. Figuring out how to plan your time and prioritise study tasks, and how to juggle all your other commitments (such as work, family, friends and hobbies), can prove quite challenging. It's worth thinking ahead to organise your time and reflect on why, what, how and when to prioritise.
Your motivation for studying can be improved if you reflect on your study goals and relate them to the broader goals in your life, both personal and professional. Reflection can help you to define immediate goals and then devise strategies to achieve them.
Procrastination, the art of putting things off until they absolutely have to be done, is both a cause and a symptom of anxiety. It can lead you to miss deadlines or fall behind with your study schedule and can severely affect your confidence. Reflecting on how, when, where and why you procrastinate can help you to recognise and challenge your routines and habits.
How often do you make negative assumptions about your ability to study? These beliefs can undermine your confidence and motivation but by reflecting on the assumptions you can make positive changes.
Regardless of whether or what you've studied before, chances are that you've gained expertise and insights from your vocational or personal experience. Be aware of the useful skills that you bring with you to your study. However, also be aware of when you might need to let go of preconceived ideas of what is required from your studies.
Each subject requires the development of particular cognitive processing skills (for example, the ability to construct an objective argument in a social sciences assignment). Listen to Gill and Maggie, discuss how prior understanding might become 'prior misunderstanding' in a new discipline. Critically evaluate any assumptions you might be making and think carefully about your approach.Sign in to view this video
Your tutor may have suggested that you get in touch to discuss any problems you have while studying, and you've probably received information about the range of other support services available to OU students. But sometimes it's not so easy to ask for help. Reflecting on how you are coping with your studies can make it easier to request and respond to available support.
You may need to try a few different tools and methods of reflection to find which is most beneficial to you. Common tools for reflection are
Maggie and Gill describe students' differing responses to distance learning.Sign in to view these videos
The use of a reflective learning journal is a common and valuable approach. You can adopt a structure for each journal entry, which could include the setting and date, what you did, and key critical notes on your reflections about the activity and what you think you learned. You could use a diary with a day to a page for your journal, or try your own creation - a note book in which you've stuck your study timetable at the front, and your favourite postcards here and there to inspire you.
But whatever you choose to write, do let go of judgements - remember that there are no right or wrong answers. And be honest, open and direct - reflection is most effective when you can be yourself.