Embedding Learning Strategies in Your Course

by Clare Creighton

In my 12 years at the Academic Success Center (ASC), I’ve enjoyed teaching dozens of sections of ALS 116: Academic Success. This course helps students develop skills and strategies for success in college-level learning environments. The course includes topics like time management, metacognition, and effective study strategies—all topics that students apply to courses they’re taking.

ALS 116 is an absolute delight to teach, but my favorite approach to teaching learning strategies is embedding strategies into the context of a specific course. In fact, I would argue that every course has the opportunity to help students make connections between learning strategies and what it means to be successful in that particular course or discipline.

With 5-10 minutes here or there early in the term, instructors can help students identify and apply strategies to support their success throughout the term. This is an easy way to help flatten the learning curve around college expectations and create an on-ramp for what is already a rapid 10-week term.

How to Get Started

One entry point for embedding learning strategies would be to ask yourself, “What learning strategies and skills would help students be successful in my course?” You could then follow that up with, “Where in my course do students learn those strategies and skills?”

Another entry point could be to review the list of strategies below and consider which activities might be relevant to students in your course.

Model Reading Strategies

Reading is used differently across courses, and students may not know how approach reading differently for each course. You can help by naming the role reading plays in your course. Does it precede lecture? Exist primarily as a reference? Support homework or exam prep? During the first week of the term, talking through how readings are used in your course and explaining and modeling reading strategies can make reading more manageable and effective for students.

Plan Out Long-Term Projects

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a long-term project. Students who haven’t had a chance to build project management skills may benefit from learning about a tool like the backwards planning worksheet.  Working together to apply this tool to a project gives students the opportunity to practice organizational skills like breaking a large task into smaller tasks and scheduling work over time.

Support Note-Taking for Online Lectures

We’ve heard from students that note-taking for a live online lecture or a video is different from previous approaches. We also know that there are many note-taking variations. Follow an early lecture with discussion. Ask about note-taking approaches and main points folks captured in notes. Share an example of how you (or a TA) took notes on the same content. Invite students to upload their notes and try different note-taking approaches based on the content and format of your lectures.

Make Study Groups a Lighter Lift

Students are looking for connection and community and ways to replace their typical in-person study groups. Talk about how remote study groups might work in your course and encourage use of tools to get started.

Encourage Test-Prep Strategies

Like reading, test prep looks different for each course. Direct students to Learning Corner resources on test prep or encourage students to attend an ASC workshop on test prep and the science of learning. Creating a brief assignment or extra credit opportunity where students reflect on and apply takeaways can help students tailor their test prep strategies to the course and content.

Deconstruct Assignment Expectations

Interpreting assignment expectations can be a source of stress for students. You can help by giving time during class or in online discussions for students to analyze an assignment, practice using a rubric, or plan how to approach tasks. This can also be a great time to let students know about resources available to help with their assignment. For example, a Writing Center virtual tour can make students aware of ways to get feedback at any stage of the writing process.

Scaffold Independence

With any of these techniques, you can scaffold to move relatively quickly to independent learning. For example, you could guide students through creating a study plan in advance of the first midterm, debrief the process post-midterm, then give students time to create their own study plan for the second midterm or final exam.

Embedding learning strategies early in the term can be a great way to encourage students’ use of strategies all term long. If you find yourself looking for tools and resources to support students in your course – reach out! Email me or Marjorie, and we’ll help you navigate  resources from the Academic Success Center and Writing Center.

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