Welcome to the final part of learning. What you should have now is a
working model of how to do this thing called "study" which
is based on accomplishing "tasks" rather than occupying "time"
and which allows you to deal with each task in a logical way and at
an appropriate time. This isn't meant to be easy, I never promised it
would be. It requires work but what I hope you have discovered is that
by becoming task-oriented, this work has meaning and it produces results
which you can measure by continually applying the mum-test.
There is a refinement to this model which I would like to address which
will help you take your learning one further step. Working in isolation
is fine, as far as it goes, but it can only take you so far. This
is Ok because it will take you a long way but not as quickly or
quite as far as working in groups can achieve. I know this sounds
a bit naff but organising yourself into a study group with 3-4 like-minded
friends can be a real asset.
What groups can achieve
Study groups can achieve a lot. Use them to:
1. Talk through topics
2. Divide up work
3. Make work fun
Let's take each in turn.
Talk through topics
Try to get into the habit of talking about your subject or at least
about the stuff you are trying to learn. This way you familiarise
yourself with information and complicated terms and remember it
more easily than simply reading and rereading the written word.
By talking through the information you learn to use it in the correct
context and in a way which is grammatically correct. Examiners reading
written answers get a great deal of information about the competence
of a student from the way in which terms are used or, more importantly,
misused. Incorrect use of a word tells an examiner far more about
your lack of ability than you might think, or hope. We have a collection
of misuses called "Exam Howlers" and some of it is very
So talking about stuff within a study group familiarises you with information
and aids memory.
Divvy up the work
The shear volume of work expected in some course can be intimidating.
Once you have produced your task-lists try dividing up the work among
the members of the group then meet at an agreed time later in the same
day or the next day and exchange information.
By exchanging the information I mean do it by talking. See my
point above. Exchanging information is the best means to start the process.
Next thing you know you'll be explaining the information as well. It's
a good job you have applied the mum-test otherwise you wouldn't be able
to do this.
Make work fun
Working on your own can be tough. In fact it can be downright soul-destroying
especially if you're finding the going hard. Working in groups can be
fun so make sure that it is by using study-group meetings as social
events but avoid alcohol until the work's done. If you think a meal
drops your concentration level you should see what even a single glass
of wine or half a beer can do to it.
Set clear "targets" for each meeting. You can do this by
having an agenda.
1. Anna .......... Anatomy of the masseter
2. Jeff ............ Muscle spindles
3. Zahida ........ Essential anatomy of the TMJ
4. Baaba ......... The jaw unloading reflex
During the discussion, previously unknown connections between different
elements of the subject will become quite apparent. When these connections
are made pieces of a large and unfathomable jigsaw can fall into
place. Realisation can suddenly dawn and difficult topics can become
so obvious you will wonder why you had such trouble in the first
Setting an agenda is very important because if you do not have a clear
idea of what you are going to do in your group you will end up wasting
your time and just fooling around or chatting.
Don't make the meetings too long or they can become a burden. An hour
is plenty long enough but meet frequently, at least twice a week and
do it regularly. When the work's done then do something that's sociable,
fun and relaxing. You choose.
Practice your explanations
If you are not sure about the strength of your explanation after applying
the mum-test try it out on the group. Ask for comments and help. In
other words, use the group for "peer review". This final point
brings us to the concept of the "Learning Cycle".
Learning is not simply a matter of staring at some stuff until
you are so comfortable with it you could bore the hind leg off a
donkey. Learning is all about progress. You will never reach the
point where you know too much because the more you know about a
topic the more you realise how much you do not know about it. Do
not get disheartened by this, it's just a fact of life. Instead,
embrace it and recognise that by practicing what you know, using
a peer group to review your knowledge then reassessing your position
you are in a position to improve your knowledge and understanding.
You could think of this process as a kind of "Learning Cycle"
such as the one shown here.
In fact this cycle is not a particularly good model because it
doesn't incorporate any sense of progress.
A better model is shown here where after learning a topic and revisiting
it at a later date your depth of knowledge and understanding has
improved beyond your original starting point. Nevertheless this
new understanding represents a new starting point in your quest
for even deeper understanding. This can be achieved by incorporating
more data (facts) or reordering or making different connections
between them to alter this thing we call information. This refines
the information into something more valuable and useful and allows
you to progress.
Study groups are useful but they can be hard to set up and use effectively.
This should not be used as an excuse not to try because their value
is inestimable. However, do not think that you can not learn without
them. Apply the test, do the studying and reevaluate yourself. If
you have problems then you could always ask a tutor after all that's
what they are there for.
And that's it.
Study groups are an efficient way of studying.
Study goups enable you to talk through a difficult topic.
Study groups can be used to divide up the work.
Study groups can be entertaining.
Study groups can be used to rehearse explanations and receive