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Learning about HE Study online

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Creative writing student Lauren Hellen, completed OCA’s freely available online induction course: An Introduction to Studying HE earlier in the year and has blogged about it in her online learning log. We are re-posting her review here, in the hope that it will encourage more OCA students to make use of it, and share their experiences by commenting below.
‘As part of assessment and for me to document my own learning, the OCA requires me to keep a “Learning Log” – a record of my thoughts, feelings and experiences whilst on the course, as well as comments on my own exploration of topics.
Since I have not studied at HE level for a couple of years, I felt it would be best to complete the voluntary induction course. I wanted to grasp a better understanding of how distance-learning will work for me, but I was also looking to have a few questions answered during completion. The course was made to introduce study skills and techniques, so that new students will be able to see how they can best manage their studies. Although after looking through my main course materials after they arrived in the post, I was still a bit puzzled about how learning logs worked and how much time I should spend on different sections of the course.
As I started the induction I was pleased to find that it allowed me to address my motivations for studying as well as my concerns. I was surprised to discover that I had already set myself some clear and achievable goals, and listing my worries made me realise that I do have issues that will need to be addressed before I start the course.
However, I felt that some solutions for my worries were given as I progressed through the induction. One of my main fears is finding my own source of motivation and staying focussed, but the section on time management was reassuring and offered practical solutions. I learnt that time management and organisation are skills which can be gained through practise and routine. Some of the suggestions, such as being aware of what times I learn best, were very useful in particular.
Since starting the induction, I have gotten used to a new routine and have arranged my work space so I can concentrate fully. After analysing what times of the day I am most active, I have worked out that I tend to work better in the evenings in a quiet space. Although the induction suggested having a distraction-free workspace, I often find that having a plain area discourages me from working as it can look uninviting. I am used to sticking inspirational pieces of art, photos, notes, lists and calendars on the walls surrounding my desk and often find that having a nicely decorated space around me allows me to think more creatively. However, I have taken some of the suggestions to heart and have gained a sense of discipline – keeping food, drink and distracting objects away from my desk when I am working for example.
I was also impressed with the inclusion of the “Managing Stress” section. Through previous experience I am aware that stress can play a big part in whether studying goes successfully or not, and I found it reassuring that the OCA recognises this and gave tips on how to manage studying when under pressure. They offered further time management techniques and highlighted the importance of staying in touch with tutors and fellow students when feeling overwhelmed. I felt as though they dealt with this problem with sensitivity, reassurance and clarity. I know who to contact and what I should do if I ever feel too stressed.
The induction also allowed me to learn a lot about how I learn. I found the “Kolb Learning Cycle” to be especially useful, as it clearly showed the right stages I should take when reflecting on new information. I particularly enjoyed taking the learning styles test, and discovered that I fall into the Philosophy category. Now I know that I learn best by watching and thinking, I feel like I can find the right kind of techniques to use when researching that will work best for me.
The next sections covered collecting information and note-taking. Since I have studied A levels, some of the techniques and facts in these sections were already familiar to me. Plagiarism, primary and secondary sources, and the difference between fact and opinion were topics I covered briefly during English Language A level. Regardless, these sections proved to be very useful at re-establishing the right ways in which to collect a wide range of unbiased information, and I did pick up a few new tips such as how to reference work online, and how note cards can be used.
I was looking forward to the next section on Learning Logs. As I am already used to blogging, I find the concept of keeping a Learning Log to be interesting and a great way to document my studies. After reading the OCA’s guide to Learning Logs, which was included in my course materials, I still had a lot of questions on how to go about reflective writing. Fortunately, this section of the induction covered most if not all of my concerns. The brief section on the nature of reflective learning was especially useful, and will allow me to thoroughly express how and what I learn on my course. I also found it interesting to read about the different forms a Learning Log could take. The idea of mixing traditional paper-based notes with online commentary was an especially interesting idea that I may put into practise in future. After evalutating the pros and cons, I have chosen to incorporate my Learning Log within my own online blog. As I already intend to post writing strategies and articles I find useful, it links in very well with my studies, and blog articles about my other creative interests might also link in. After studying the OCA’s example blog, I am confident that this format will work best so long as I keep a clear blog structure.
The next sections covered sketchbooks, assessment and research. I found some of the information here to be a bit irrelevant to Creative Writing, but decided to read some parts in order to get an idea of how the OCA functions as a whole. I have made a note to revisit the assessment section when needed – it was very informative and I found it reassuring to gain  knowledge of how my work will be assessed in future. The research assignment also seemed to be more visual arts-based and offered only one example I could have used. I chose to leave this section out as I feel I would need a better understanding of my subject before trying to research anything, and felt it would be more beneficial for me to practise posting a general reflection on what I have learnt as a whole. However I will keep the research tips and techniques in mind when I come across my first research task.
Overall, the introduction to studying has been immensely helpful and has allowed me to better prepare myself for what is to come. I now have a much clearer idea as to how to work through my course and what to do if the techniques I try do not work for me, as the induction gave lots of different ideas and examples. With this in mind, I am looking forward to now starting the first part of the Writing Skills module with more confidence than if I had chosen to forego the induction.’

Posted by author: Jane Parry
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2 thoughts on “Learning about HE Study online

  • I have found reading this article useful, as I am of an age when one studied for exams, took them, and that was it! I have found it something of a struggle with all the new learning /studying methods and my brain is well and truly in the former style of studying. When I started out (Music student) 3 years ago, there wasn’t the online help there is now, and I too have been working my way through the induction course. Thank you for your thoughts, Jane.

  • I also went through the induction course and found it invaluable. I was quite worried about the learning log in particular and doing the reflective exercises in the induction showed me that it is not as hard as I thought. It was also useful to follow the clear practical advice in how to set it up, particularly how to structure it. I still have not found the time or courage to tidy up my study. But, it did prompt me to plan out when I can work and to improve my online access so I can do bits like the learning log during my commute. I also skipped the research exercise but I do research for my job so I was already confident in this area. Thanks for writing this review.

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