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MOOC reflection: Improving Your Study Techniques

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personal goal/motto: write reflections as quickly as possible and leave them unpolished. sorry for the grammar.

Week 1

I was initially planning to take the course on Design Thinking for Leading and Learning but when I realised I would likely end up the only one taking that course, I decided to change my direction towards this one, which happends to be shorter and features topics that are closer to my experience. This way I should be able to empathize with my peers who study same course and also pick the second course more quickly.

Just to sum up this weeks impressions: the week was introductio to the MOOC, so it presented course structure and showed some motivation for studying. I noticed that the lectures in the first week went from short through more detailed, longer part and ended up quick again. Another realisation is that it was partly concipied as a show. I love it when course authors think about learners attention span and vary the course contents reasonably, especially when it comes to casual learning. Its something I really needed as Im currently ill and find much more difficult to focus on things.

When it comes to content, the course stresses three phases of studying: preview, study, revise (they call it three step mode). This week focused on the first step: preview + it added some tips to actually get studying keep doing it, lets reflect them.

The preview part says that we should split the studying and previewing of the material. Previewing that means taking look at the table of contents, looking at pictures, jotting down important keetc, which will help us to understand its structure. It not only helps to understand the structure but also helps to put the study material in the context. It basically requires sort of metacognition before actually studying so one stops and remembers to do the preview phase first. I found the previewing part very similar to what skimming phase means in How to Read a Book by Doren and Adler. Its a practical guide to reading that divides reading 4 levels:

  1. elementary - the most basic, mechanical part of reading,
  2. overview or inspection level - to gain quick overview quickly,
  3. analytical level - understanding the book as a whole,
  4. syntopical - reading and synthesizing multiple books.

The preview phase of the 3 step learning model in the course reminds me of the level 3) from this book.

I study and work according to the provided productivity tips most of the time. So it was funny to see how I planned my study session and then learn about the exact same steps I did. However, since the course enforces reflection, I found some pitfalls in my workflow. I would like to share few points that make difference for me and I noticed in the long term.

  1. My productivity is highly increased when I work or study in a specific place that must different than room in which I sleep. I have to attend that place regularly, there should be no distractors or changes if possible. To be honest, I hate it when someone takes my favourite seat at the library or coworking space :-).
  2. It almost never works to do „quick fun and relaxing things“ before doing the work I need to do. When I keep first doing work and studying and then relax, its just ok. However I think that I naturally tend to work at night, so its tricky for me. Another thing is that sometimes the work doesnt feel like work even though its something I dont know or havent done yet and sometimes there are things that seem tremendously difficult even though they are very simple - this is where time tracking helps, because it eventually leads to realisation that the task that will take 3 hours took just 5 minutes.
  3. Sometimes making a plan and sticking to it is more important than its outcomes just for the sake of the habit and sometimes its not.

My closing impression is that I dont think the MOOC is going to be big deal regarding of what tips and tricks it teaches. Rather I see that its reflection parts and actually writing the reflections to share it in the university with peers and tutor will be definitely valuable for me.

This week took me exactly 2:16.

Week 2

This week was devoted to writing summaries of materials and study planning. This time, I will try to describe my impression of the week more concisely.

I loved that they promoted finding our own structure when it comes to writing summaries. There was good advice to avoid using bullet points because we may forget the need to think about the structure of the topic. I personally like bullet points because they are easy to use and many applications support additional features on them. But it's true that I need to be extra focused on the structure to make the learning meaningful. When I personally want to learn something, I often try to create concept/mind maps or write summaries by hand because it's more time-consuming to edit handwritten text or map and it forces me to think about the topic more. I remember Andrew Ng once cited some papers that studied the difference between making notes by hand vs digitally. People tend to copy the original text and think less deeply about it when using the keyboard. There's nothing wrong with using a keyboard but there is an additional metacognitive cost that using pencil and paper erases.

The part about planning was about finding motivation from realising common trends in time management and how to prepare a study plan. I do more or less recognise the trends mentioned in the course. And I definitely see there is space for me to use my time more effectively. Lately, I'm trying to practice doing things as quickly as possible. I would like to get better at recognising when should I put my ego aside when it comes to some tasks in which I wish to perform well, but I'm not ready yet. It's always traumatizing when I realise I misestimated something :D.

Another thing that I'm trying to do lately is to couple similar tasks on similar days so I don't switch between different tasks as much. Planning is tough with some assignments. Especially in writing essays, for me, the time given on such tasks is not linear to the outcome. One piece of advice given in the course is to create a detailed plan that allows for making estimations. I would love to agree on it, but how does one estimate tasks in which the making of a detailed plan is actually the same as doing the task? I'm still figuring out what is the right degree of detail and how to approach different tasks. I am definitely getting better at it though, I usually fail in some way throughout the semester or work.

This week took me about 2:10. I skipped the part about making a plan and updated my current plan instead.

Week 3

This week added few tips on revision and study planning. It continued on the topics from former weeks. In the part about revision, they showed how forgetting and revising works by making analogy of learning to walking out a path in a forest - its same as brain that straightens neural paths. I could quote some cognitive science on how learning works (on this particular level of course). I was also quite surprised that they managed not to use the keyword “ space repetition “ while talking about forgetting and revising. The part about study planning was mostly about SMART goals. I was introduced to SMART goals in the course of psychology of online education and I find it useful for any sorts of planning if we know what we want to accomplish in advance. Its not something I would think of every time I plan something, I am moreof developing the gut feeling to know if I can accomplish something over time.

I loved the scaffolding questions the authors provided for our reflection of the material, namely: “How to get most of my lectures?” and “Do I spend enough time on revision?” I tried to answer them bellow:

Busying myself with the course topics is what I tend to do most when I face tasks in which I am uncertain. I often make an analogy of "tuning myself to the content of the course" which basically means really thinking about its contents, googling related stuff that I find interesting and so on. What I like about it is that I begin to see connections between studied material and my life. It has one disadvantage though, because it doesn't always align with the course objectives. Sometimes the way the course is set and evaluates my understanding of the material requires slightly different attitude and then my way of learning fails. So perhaps, what I should do more is to really revise the material and give all the material equal weight, instead of valuing only what I see connections to. I believe this attitude towards learning is my advantage as well as disadvantage compared to students who perhaps revise course content more religiously, but maybe lack personal relationship to it. My procedure doesnt lead to steady results. Maybe its just a way to rationalize that I dont want to make myself study regularly the topics I dont really like, or that Im lazy.

I must admit though, that it gets easier for me to study these topics regularly as time passes because I sort of learned to asume that they are interesting and useful, but Im not ready yet to see how. So its sort of a game to find and unlock these interesting points while learning. Its very playful to appreciate some topics. This, what I described is, I guess, the biggest thing I learned about my personall learning to this point.

When I do study regularly, I dont revise rigorously as I should according to the course. I usually still revise how it comes naturally, sometimes I realise I forgot some information, sometimes I ask myself new follow up questions that I can think about or search for new anwers to eventually build on top of my understanding. Perhaps I will begin to revise more carefully and see how it works.

This week took me about 1:45.

Week 4

The last week of the MOOC was about procrastination, dealing with stress and study motivation. In this week I found two things highly relevant for me: 1) thinking about triggers and excuses of procrastination and 2) analogies to dealing with stress and fear. Again, recommended questions for reflection helped me a lot. Here are my notes:

My simplest procrastination trigger is looking for music, or being desperate if I dont see any progress after long time on a task. And my top excuse in avoiding tasks is “Let me first finish... fill in anything ... then I‘ll start”. I would say it fits into what they call black and white thinking in the course, because its a way to stick with what I already know I can work on without much pain of getting into new task. A better thought would be to start ASAP to learn about the task as much, so I can derive the next steps easily.

The authors of the course mentioned self-handicapping behavior and fear of failure. One of the reasons for these are unproductive expectations in which I often see myself. I would personally love to have my assignments perfect and I know that it leads to this kind of self-handicapping thinking as well. Its funny that Im able to think about the task differently if its something I know well and therefore dont come across the fear of failure as often. I once thought whether this is a personality trait and Im not sure about it because its easier to target perfection in shool that somehow values meeting assignment requirements and so on as opposed to eg. more beta-version thinking about work. There is no agile way of working on university assignments…

I really like the analogies for dealing with stress and fear, just to note them down: they propose looking at stressful tasks from an outer view in order to perceive us as their owners so we can asses them without being biased. And fear should be perceived as a visitor that is not helpful at the moment, a dog to be trained. I think I will remember those. I personally experience strong link between anxiety/stress and having difficulty sleeping. The course recommended what I already incorporated into my life. I do have few very small “rituals” for getting the sleep I need. One of the most important is to consider my work done for that day, so I don‘t think about it as much. Another is sort of breathing exercise that helps me relax and fall asleep quickly.

Thats it. I am happy that I could go through this course quickly and Im looking forward studying the next one.

I finished this one in 1:45. I had funny time with the relaxation exercise because I was in a room that was full of people, lol.