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7 Key Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Course

Students working at a computer

From the moment you receive your course outline, to the days leading up to your final exam, your focus is on learning. Rightly so, your main concern is about acquiring the latest information, understanding new concepts and accumulating skills that will enhance your career.

However, there are several key things you need to know right from the outset that will make your study more rewarding and guarantee your success now and into the future. It’s not just what you study that counts, it also matters how you study:

  1. Stay in contact with other course participants. Even if you have a job and busy schedule outside of college, believe it or not this is key to maximising your learning. Set up a group Facebook page and invite the other course members along so that you can ask questions and discuss topics outside of official forums – especially if you are being assessed on online forums. Facebook also gives you the opportunity to private message individuals if you don’t feel confident sharing your ideas publicly yet. Staying in touch with classmates also allows you to share assessment details, changes in scheduling, catch-up notes, and information and ideas. College is a learning community.
  2. Be your own advocate. Realise from the very beginning that, while you have a course instructor to guide you through your learning, you are the one driving it. Stay up to date with your studies – a step ahead if possible. Take the initiative: introduce yourself to the teacher and stay in communication throughout the program; make it your mission to suss out college facilities, resources and services; and be prepared to seek help when you need it.
  3. Know your strengths and why you’re good at them. This doesn’t mean that you should oversell yourself, but in an environment where you’re constantly being assessed it’s very easy to lose your confidence altogether. To avoid this, make a point of identifying what it is that you bring to your learning already. You may have valuable prior knowledge from previous work or personal experience; you may have good intuition and empathy for certain areas of study; you may have communication and multi-media skills that will prove very useful throughout your course.
  4. Get involved in college community life. This is harder if you are doing a distance or online course from a remote location, but make sure that you make a social visit to the college at least once during your course. Being there, and being involved instantly makes you feel more ownership of your course and your college. Social and cultural events at college allow you to see your learning centre in a different light and often brings to the foreground services that you didn’t know existed. Socialising also provides vital opportunities for professional networking with people working in your field, or related fields.
  5. Don’t be afraid to defend your opinion. Debate is one of the most dynamic things about college life. When people come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds there are bound to be conflicting ideologies in the same room, but this can lead to increases in understanding. Share, but handle your arguments with respect, sensitivity and integrity, and listen to what others have to say. Become part of an open culture where differences are appreciated. If you find that you are wrong, admit it – this only earns respect in the rigorous college environment.
  6. Employ critical thinking. It’s useful inside and outside of the classroom. This is about putting ideas to the test or ‘under the microscope’ to evaluate whether they have merit. It’s about open-mindedness. Making informed, deliberate choices requires critical thinking, rather than falling into patterns of thought and behaviour that are convenient or traditional. College is a place to explore ideas.
  7. Keep trying because true failure comes from not trying. Most people like to at least look like they’re in control, but studying is a venture that requires you to become comfortable with what you don’t know – and then changing it. What truly matters is persistence, practice and patience. In other words, achievement is often a process of try/fail, try/fail, try/fail, before you finally succeed. Albert Einstein rated persistence as the most important factor in success and attributed his own great achievements to it: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

The right mind-set and a smart approach will make all the difference to your studies and the career opportunities that come from it. You don’t have to be at the start of a course to employ these approaches today.

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