Many students exiting high school and preparing for college report that they were good students, successful in a range of classes, and that it mostly came easy for them. But, what many students come to find is that high school and college are not very similar. And, one of the chief differences is that having an awareness of who you are as a learner plays a significant role in your college success. Further, you likely had little, if any, teaching or training on how to think of yourself as a learner. Not ‘what’ you learn, but, ‘how’ you learn. This form of reflection can set a powerful foundation to have repeated success one college term after another. So, let’s explore three ideas to discover and reflect on who you are as a learner.
Idea #1 - When was learning at its best for you
Our goal in college is to be successful as a learner; class after class, term after term. We want steady, replicable success. One of the most important factors is for you to be able to accurately recognize when your learning is going well and when it needs adjusting. To be able to ‘read’ this in real time it is necessary to understand who you are as a learner.
Reflection 1 - Think back to a time that was your best experience as a learner. Think about why this was such an impactful experience. Take a moment and drift back to that time in your life and remember the people, how you felt, and the things you did.
[Note: The “Crush Your First Year of College” blogs ask the reader/learner to have a notebook available to record responses.]
Now, ask yourself: “Why was this experience the best?” Make a few notes in your notebook as you respond to these follow-up questions: What made this learning experience so impactful? Was it the content of what you learned? Was it the tasks you performed? Your answers likely revolve around the feeling of connection that you had to the course, the subject matter, the teacher, the tasks, or a combination of some or all of these may have resonated deeply with you. It is also very likely that you didn’t mind or even notice whether or not the learning or tasks were difficult. You certainly felt a high level of confidence that you could master the new material or tackle a new task. How did this confidence make you feel? And, more importantly, how did you know you had learned the material well and at a high level?
Action 1 - There were several prompts and questions in the paragraph above. Take a few moments to record in your notebook the answers to these questions.
Idea #2 - Connections to my current state of learning
The work done above in Idea 1/Reflection 1 helped you recognize what good learning looked like and felt like for you. This also helped identify for you what made the learning best for you. The goal is for us to help you ‘read’ and ‘discover’ with speed and efficiency the characteristics of a class that works best for you as a learner. This also means that you are able to discover and recognize the characteristics and elements that may cause you to struggle. By discovering these characteristics you can take action to mitigate areas that cause challenge and conversely, do things to work toward your strengths.
Reflection 2 - Again, think about a current class that you are taking (or have recently taken) to serve as a point of focus. Is there anything about this current class that has common elements to your best learning experience from Idea 1/Reflection 1 above? What are these commonalities? What are the notable differences? Take a moment and record your reflections in your notebook. Continue your thinking with this question: What is your current level of motivation to learn in this class? When you think of this question this isn’t a superficial one. Meaning, it isn’t about ‘graduation’ or ‘requirements for my major.’ It is about the subject matter or professor. Do you really find a connection to these elements? These things provide a powerful motivator. ‘Wanting’ to be there helps a great deal. But, equally important is being able to reflect and connect to situations that aren’t so effortless. Learn to tap into and identify classes that ask more from you because the motivators are not as prevalent.
Practice identifying the reasons. What are the concerns you have about the subject matter and content? What are the concerns you have about your confidence to tackle this class? What concerns do you have about the professor? Be as specific as you can. By identifying these concerns it allows us to put strategies in place to mitigate the effects. Meaning, we can do more of the things that are strengths to offset the feelings that make this class less of a connection.
Action 2 - There were several prompts and questions in the paragraphs above. Take a few moments to record in your notebook the answers to these questions.
Idea #3 - Recognize your strengths and apply them
So, with the work done above you have reflected on a time when learning was best for you and also comparing and contrasting a current class. Now we want to put these ideas together and think about your strength as a learner.
Reflection 3 - When are you at your best? Think about Idea #1 and the class where you really felt connected. What did you do well as a learner? What made it work for you? Be specific. Was it organizational things? Was it attitude and perseverance? Was it strategies and techniques? Was it working with partners? Was it curiosity in the subject matter? Write these reflections in your notebook. And, most importantly, write down the ‘delivery methods’ that help you as a learner. Is it visuals? Diagrams? Examples? Models? Video? Audio? Reading passages? Lectures/discussions? What are your preferred methods of connecting to learning? Write these down in your notebook.
In your current class, especially if you have some challenges connecting, what can you do to access learning in your preferred delivery methods? Where can you look? Where or what web searches can you use? Do you need to find people or things to help you? What solutions can you find? Write these in your notebook.
Lastly, with the work done above, how will you put these things into action and when will you do it. This is the final step. Consider the reflections above - make a list of the first and most important three things you will do to take your selected class and make it a more successful experience for you and your learning. Be clear and be specific. Use the Action Organizer below.
Note: I included an example of a Chemistry class. Space for your work is below the example.
Reason I’m Doing This (goal/target)
Start by When
Complete by When
(author example) Find 3 videos online that explain thermodynamic reactions
(author example) I don’t feel that the professor explained this deeply enough for me. Videos are one of my preferred ways to add to my learning
(author example) Begin search for videos on October 23rd
(author example) Select and watch 3 videos before lecture on October 29th
Your work here
Your work here
Your work here
Your work here
About the Author: Dr. David Horton is a national presenter, consultant, coach and professor. He has been involved in education (teaching & learning and leadership) for over 20 years.
If you are looking for support in your current or future college terms, please refer to and use this link: “Coaching to Crush Your First Year of College”
Other Resources: www.davidhortonwriter.com