Effective Learning Strategies for College Students & Adult Learners (With or Without Disabilities)


Whether online or in-person, going to college and taking college courses can be a stressful undertaking, especially if you have difficulties related to learning and retaining information. As a first-generation college student, I was not prepared for college, as my family had no real idea about the college experience. As I progressed, I got better and learned strategies along the way. At some point, I became a good student. I hope the strategies in this document will help you save some time and allow you to delve into college courses headfirst, wholeheartedly ready to take them on.


Study Strategies:

  • Have a regular place for studying or learning where all necessary supplies are kept nearby (i.e., pens, books, paper, computer, etc.)

  • Know where you study/learn best

  • For example, many people learn best in a quiet environment without distractions, so you may want to remove distractions when possible by turning off the tv, turning off the radio, and/or turning off your phone

  • Use study or learning strategies that enlist more than one learning modality (i.e., visual kinesthetic, auditory)

  • Consider using drawings, charts, flashcards, and note-taking to help organize your learning/study materials

  • Create new study tools whenever needed, especially when taking on brand new material

  • Incorporate self-testing to ensure you are retaining what you are trying to learn

Concentration Strategies:

  • Determine what distracts you and minimize those distractions as much as possible

  • Use a system to let people know you are studying or trying to learn something so that they are less likely to interrupt you

  • Be aware of how long you can concentrate effectively during a task

  • Allow yourself to take breaks when needed

  • Consider using a more structured approach to taking breaks such as the Pomodoro technique

  • Study breaks can include some sort of physical activity including activities as simple as going to get water, going outside briefly, or going for a walk

  • Try to actively monitor your concentration level to determine when you may need a break

  • Know when you are typically most mentally alert throughout the day and try to do more challenging tasks then

Study Music Can Help Boost Memory & Concentration

Memory Strategies:

  • Re-read and rehearse material to get it into long term memory

  • This can be done by using self-talk or making flashcards

  • Consider using organizational charts and mnemonics to aid in the retention of studied/learned materials

  • Ensure you understand the material not just memorize it

  • Review material that needs to be memorized frequently (at least at 2-week intervals)

  • Seek feedback from others when appropriate to ensure you are learning and memorizing the appropriate material

  • Have a specific strategy for learning new terms in textbooks and across other learning materials

Learning from Textbooks - Strategies:

  • Know the reading requirements of more formal courses and set plans in place to ensure you’re reading enough regularly to learn the information presented in the course

  • Ensure what you read matches up with other course material including homework, projects, and lectures

  • Use notes and summarization to facilitate easier review and better memorization of key information

  • As you read, try to express what the author is saying in your own words

  • Highlight and write in the margins of books when/where appropriate to facilitate learning and retention

  • Think about questions you want to be answered when reading a specific chapter of a textbook

  • Prioritize readings based on need and practicality

  • Ask for support when you feel like you are having difficulty with reading material

  • Consider using other tools for reading including reading guides, finger tracking, and underlining

  • Pre-read material before really reading it by looking at the table of contents, headings, first paragraphs, etc.


Learning from Lectures - Strategies:

  • Be present for all lectures

  • Ensure when you miss a lecture or lesson you have a way of getting that information and/or obtaining effective notes taken by a fellow student/learner

  • Actively participate in class by actually asking and answering questions and participating in discussions

  • Have a set note-taking strategy you use during lectures

  • Develop notes that are legible, accurate, and complete

  • Look for key information that is emphasized by the educator, especially as it pertains to important information for testing and practical applications for future work life

  • Use your own words as much as possible when taking notes

  • Review notes to identify key information and determine where follow-up may be needed to ensure a full understanding of the material


Essays & Assignments - Strategies:

  • Develop an effective outline

  • Ensure you know how to use available resources

  • Break writing apart into small parts and complete apart at a time

  • Seek advice when appropriate for writing and editing needs

  • Have a strategy for proofreading your written assignments to avoid unnecessary errors

Exams - Strategies:

  • Ensure you know what will be covered and what the format will be

  • Incorporate practice exam questions when able

  • Ensure you have all appropriate materials before leaving for an exam

  • Know the most effective way for you to work through exam questions including reading questions more than once, underlining key words, and phrasing the questions in your own words

  • Read over the entire exam before starting

  • Consider working from the easiest questions to the hardest questions

  • Skip questions you don’t know the answers to and come back to them after completing the questions you do know the answers to

  • Look out for modifiers in questions that change the meaning of questions including “none”. “not”, “never”, “some” or “always”

  • Never leave a question blank unless answering it will cause you to lose points

  • Know how to manage your anxiety and stress during an exam

  • Do an error analysis immediately after completing exams and use that analysis to determine how to perform better next time including the development of new strategies


Organization & Time Management Strategies:

  • Have a regular schedule for learning/studying

  • Write assignments down as soon as they are assigned to ensure you don’t forget about them

  • Have a clear idea about how you manage your time

  • Have a system for planning each day

  • Prepare weekly and semester schedules and goals to organize activities and ensure tasks are completed on time

  • Use timelines when appropriate to ensure completion of tasks

Student Time Management Tips

Self-Advocacy Skills:

  • Be able to talk about your strengths and weakness and why you may need additional support in taking exams or functioning in classrooms

  • Advocate for yourself with all of your instructors to ensure that your needs as a student are properly understood

  • Talk to instructors about specific accommodations you may need


Disability Specific Strategies:

  • Meet with your advisor to discuss specific needs relative to your difficulties (if appropriate)

  • Ensure you select courses that are manageable for you so that you are not overloading yourself

  • Try to arrange for exams to take place on different days if you feel multiple exams in a day will be too challenging

  • Know the resources that are available for your course relative to support and accommodations

  • Have alternative plans for note-taking (if appropriate)

  • Consider recording lectures if you learn better from audio and/or audio and video


Why adopt these learning strategies at all? Whether you have a learning disability or not, advanced learning and college courses can be challenging. These strategies can help you to be more purposeful about how you prepare for college courses and how you manage your workload throughout courses and the semester. Consider trialing at least one of these strategies and strive to incorporate it readily into the learning process.

Thanks for reading and I hope you get some benefit out of using these strategies. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy Best Free Online Learning Tools, Apps, and Websites for Adults.


Author:

Devin Fisher

M.S., CCC-SLP

devinf@sfstx.com



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