Success in work-based study requires the development of effective personal study strategies (Lee, 2008) to enhance independence, confidence, ability to manage complex projects or tasks and to maximise the integration of learning in the workplace.
So how can work based learners develop effective study strategies?
1. Make time to understand the expectations of the level of study at which you are working. This can help you align your expectations.
2. Understand that uncertainty is ok. There will be times when disorientation kicks in, but this period of difficulty between meeting new ideas and engaging with them is perfectly natural. It is important for deep learning. A break can help when this kicks in.
3. Get it written, don’t aim to get everything perfect. As a work based learner there is inevitable trade off between getting the job done and perfection. Heed Wellington et al’s. (2005) advice get it written rather than striving to get it absolutely right.
4. Take control of managing time. Make dedicated diary time. When you are not in those slots avoid preoccupation with study and immerse fully in other activities. When slots are short be realistic about what can be achieved (take a task or part thereof, that fits the time available). Be realistic and proactive with planning. Planning should account for the schedule of study but also, for sustainability, wider work and life commitments (see Lee, 2008; Vitae, 2010; Wellington et al., 2005).
5. Negotiate support. Family and friends can be really essential to work based learners. Support will not magically appear. Be proactive in asking for help. Be pro active in explaining the demands of study and negotiate what support each party may helpfully give. In a similar vain it may be important to recognise that supporters too may also require a channel to ‘let off steam’.
6. Negotiate work based support. Colleagues may provide support by respecting study time, actively exchanging ideas in an overlapping community of practice, providing financial support or time and providing access to material and situations to provide an effective work based context for study.
7. Get organised. In the early firefighting period of adjustment to a new course it is easy to neglect steps that will help ongoing ease of study. The use of filing, labelling and referencing lists or data bases can be valuable. An investment at the beginning is hugely valuable.
8. Keep a learning journal. The learning journal can be a place to have a conversation with yourself. It enables you to work through challenges and difficulties and to plan next steps. It can be very levelling especially at times of uncertainty.
9. Use others in the group. Beyond the formal group activities that may form part of a course make time to engage with others on the course to share stories, understanding others are on the same journey can be very comforting.
10. Have goal and break this down in to smaller goals. Modules, assignments even activities. Celebrate each achievement and recognise progress. Map out your milestones.
Alongside good planning and time management skills are the attributes needed to execute the plan. The role of personal attributes for study cannot be underplayed. Qualities such as persistence, an acceptance of uncertainty as well as a thirst for knowledge with personal determination (or as Lee calls it, a zest) are all concomitant with success.
Each step in the learning journey will look and feel different. It can be valuable to take an active role in meta-learning, the process by which learners develop an awareness of their own learning process (Biggs, 1985) and become expert learners (Ertmer & Newby, 1996). This is an ongoing approach to be adopted throughout the learning journey to help navigate current and future unforeseen challenges.
Biggs, J. B. (1985) The role of meta‐learning in study processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology. 55 pp. 185‐212.
Ertmer, P. A. & Newby, T. J. (1996) The expert learner: strategic, self‐regulated, and reflective’ Instructional Science. 24 pp. 1‐24.
Lee, N. J. (2008). Achieving your professional doctorate. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Wellington, J., Bathmaker, A., Hunt, C., McCulloch, G., & Sikes, P. (2005). Succeeding with your doctorate. London: Sage
Vitae. (2008). Start off a new year with a healthy mind in a healthy body. PGR Tips, (15). Retrieved June 2 2011 from http://www.vitae.ac.uk/cms/files/PGR-Tips-issue15.pdf