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There are many reasons why you might have a need to improve your qualifications upgrade your skills: You may want to qualify for promotion, consider making a career change, or maybe you just want to be sure that you stay abreast of new developments in your industry.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to improve your qualifications, part-time study will always be challenging. Developing efficient study skills, or learning strategies, become very important. ‘Study skills’ are the strategies and methods to manage learning efficiently and also make up an important set of transferable life skills.
Retrieving what you know
One of the often overlooked strategies is retrieval practice. This is a strategy in which calling information to mind subsequently enhances and boosts our learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull knowledge “out” and examine what we already know.
We often think we’ve learned a piece of information, only to realise that we struggle when we try to recall the answer.
It’s precisely this “struggle” or challenge that improves our memory and learning – by trying to recall information, we exercise and strengthen our memory, and we can also identify gaps in our learning.
Most of us are probably already using retrieval practice. For example, you might ask questions aloud or use flashcards and complete quizzes and exams as a way to “practice” what was learned – these are all examples of retrieval practice. The difference, however, is that retrieval should be used as an active learning strategy, not just as an assessment tool.
How does it work?
When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information into our heads. And it does feel like these methods work: if I cram, and reread, and study my notes, I feel fairly confident that I know the information.
The problem is that these methods only lead to short-term learning. Have you ever thought about material covered earlier in the semester, only to find that you’ve forgotten most everything? We assume that when information comes to mind easily we’ve learned successfully!
However, memory researchers have demonstrated that the opposite is true: when information comes to mind easily and feels fluent, it’s easy to forget. In other words, just because we learn something quickly and easily does not guarantee we’ll remember it.
Challenging learning, on the other hand, leads to long-term learning. Retrieval practice makes learning effortful and challenging. Because retrieving information requires mental effort, we often think we are doing poorly if we cannot remember something. It feels like progress is slow, but that’s when our best learning takes place. The more difficult the retrieval practice, the better it is for long-term learning!
Are you ready to take on the challenge of combining work and study in 2018, and practice new learning strategies?