Mentor Advice: How Learning is a Lot like Love

By Jennie Aguirre
WGU Mentor, Business College

Jennie Aguirre WGU Mentor, Teachers College

At WGU, each student is assigned a personal faculty member to work with them as a mentor throughout their time at WGU. Additionally, each course has its own course instructors, subject-matter experts who are available to help students get through course material. Advice from your mentors and instructors is invaluable as you make your way through your online degree program. But we also want you to benefit from the wisdom of faculty not necessarily assigned to you, so occasionally, The Night Owl features advice from WGU faculty in colleges throughout the university.

February is the month for love, so I felt it would be fitting to talk about something I love (other than shoes).

I love learning. There, I said it.

It may sound corny but nothing lights me up like learning something new. Now I know you may be reading this as a student and think, Oh, sure, learning about stuff you are interested in is fun, but what about having to learn something because it is part of your degree plan?

Listen, I feel your pain.

I was a student for many years and didn’t always get to choose what I was learning either. I can say that I wish I knew then what I know now because if I had, I would have approached my studies in a different way and would have spared my family a lot of unnecessary whining and complaining (sound familiar?).

What I have learned about learning is that anytime you learn something new, it changes your brain. How cool is that?

Learning (like love) is about making connections, think about prior learning as a big Velcro wall: When you learn something new it needs a place to stick. The more you learn the more places you have created for new information to connect. So when you have to complete a course that you may not be that into, try and think about how this information will change your brain.

Some points to ponder…

  • Learning is about connecting, so when you start something new and unfamiliar, ask yourself this question: What is this like that I already know? It may be completely unrelated. For example, I had a chemistry student compare cooking to the different elements in the periodic table. She realized when one part is changed it was a different element, just like a recipe. This is why great teachers talk about making learning meaningful to their students; they want students to find the connection to their prior knowledge.

  • I thought I learned this. Where did it go? Your working memory is like a scratch pad and can hold about five to seven items for a short amount of time. If you are going to move the information into long-term memory you need to invest some time. Start with a few concepts, vocabulary words, or equations and then repeat, repeat, repeat in order to really learn it. Once the connection is made, you have to strengthen it (this is the repeating part).

  • Multi-tasking is so last season. This is one of the biggest barriers to learning. You have to pay attention to learn. Your attention is like a spotlight and you cannot shine your spotlight on what you need to learn and on your Facebook page at the same time. Deliberate practice is completely focusing on what you are learning. Try studying for a shorter amount of time but do more sessions. It is easier to stay engaged if you know you are only going to have to do so for 30 minutes. Try fitting in four or five study sessions for 30 minutes each, instead of one or two sessions that last 60 to 120 minutes.

  • Set learning goals, not performance goals. I know this is not usually what we think about when we talk about doing well in school. We typically talk a lot about getting the grade or passing the class, so how is a learning goal different? You focus on the learning not just the passing. When you study, think about what you want to learn by the end of the study time, not just how many chapters you want to have read or that you just want the pass. What does it mean when you pass? It means you have done the learning. What does it mean when you don’t pass? There is still some learning to be done.

I hope you will take the plunge and become a lifelong learner. If that seems like more of a commitment than you are ready to make—no worries, take it slow. You can’t rush love; after all, serious relationships take time…

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