I would like to thank everyone who responded to my question. I found the comments very insightful! There was some discussion over what I meant by "managing" learning. Please allow me to clarify:
When say "manage learning," I am thinking of students' approaching learning in a similar fashion as a manager approaches their work. Managers' mindsets, expectations and objective are entirely different from regular workers. Mangers are focused on a process. They understand that tasks are mere means to an end.
So I raise the questions: Do students know how to use their textbook, not as mere reading material, but as way to gauge learning? When reading textbooks, do they know how to formulate questions (based on the course, syllabus, etc) from the onset of each chapter that help them gauge their learning? Do they understand how the various task that they perform to prepare for test (commonly called studying) are not ending point, but parts of a larger process called learning? Do they know how to manage this process? Filter class or reading material through this process to achieve their desired outcome? Do students know how studying differs from learning, but yet studying is a component of learning?
The following material is something that I have been working on for a few years with the students at my institutions, and have had some success. I have also had the opportunity to present on the topic at a few conferences. The information was well received, and to my surprise follow up emails from students and faculty (attending these workshops) confirmed that folks on other campuses found the information useful as well.
Please look it over, I am interested in your comments. For brevity sake, I am only including the information that specifically deals with the discussion at hand, so please excuse the hard break at the end. Also, this is a rough draft so please excuse any typos. Thanks,
What is the Managed Learning Approach (MLA)?
The late English actor and playwright, Peter Ustinov, succinctly articulated the purpose of education when he asked (and answered) the following question: "What is education but a process by which a person begins to learn how to learn?" Learning is an intangible production of a tangible product. The tangible portion being a good exam grade of course. However, learning, like all production processes, requires someone who knows how to manage the process in order to achieve the desired result.
In academia, each student is a manager. They are responsible and capable of successfully managing their own learning. However, most are unaware of their responsibility and capability, therefore they rarely achieve their desired result of excellent grades. My experience in working with students has convinced me that most students (aside from a few exceptions) already possess the intellectual skill set necessary to excel in collegiate academics. What they lack, however, is the ability to recognize these skills and to use them in an organized, effective fashion. It is no secret that to those who work with under-performing students that there is a tremendous correlation between students' academic success and their level of organization. Generally, better organized students perform better in college than those who are less organized. I can count the number of organized, yet poorly-performing students that I've encountered on my hands. I would estimate that, of the students that I work with, ninety percent of their academic problems are a result of an inability to manage their learning, not an inability to learn. Thus the primary goal of the managed learning approach is to develop students who know how to manage their learning!
In the recent publication Learning Reconsidered, college officials challenged the traditional "study three hours for every one hour" approach taken towards college education, and set forth new expectations regarding our perspective of student learning. Two key questions addressed in the booklet affirmed my attitude of empowering students to be successful collegiate learners:
Do students know how to learn?
Can they manage their own learning?
If the answers to these questions were yes, then I would be out of a job. Well, part of a job since I run two offices. My response to the first question is "yes, students know how to learn in different contexts." They seem able to learn everything other than their academic subjects. My response to the second question is "no." In my experience, very - and I mean very - few students are able to manage their learning.
The authors go on to state that students should become "managers of their own learning processes and goals" and should be able to "guide their own learning." The authors propose that a "new map" is needed that describes "how learning occurs, where it occurs, how we can confirm that it is occurring, and what the outcomes of learning are." In essence, they are calling for a new approach that demystifies and systematizes collegiate learning - an approach that helps empower students to take charge of their own learning. The managed learning approach is, in many ways, a response to their call.
The Managed Learning Approach applies managerial qualities and skills to collegiate learning, thus transforming learning from a list of loosely-related activities to a systematic, manageable process. It delves deeper than merely changing students' study habits and aims to change their basic approach to academics. It presumes that most students take a "workers" approach to collegiate success, which leaves them unsuccessful. With this approach, they view tasks such as going to class, reading their textbook, taking notes, etc as separate objectives with little or no relation. They are totally unaware that learning is a process, and that these activities are not endpoints, but are designed to facilitate the learning process. As a result of this faulty perspective, they are unable to gauge where they are on their learning process, manage this process to reach its intended objectives, set proper learning expectations or detect and fix problems in their learning. Instead, they measure their learning by the amount of time spent on each task, a widely-held, yet faulty indicator of learning.
The Worker's Approach vs. The Manager's Approach
In the workplace, workers and managers are hired to achieve entirely different objectives. Thus their perspectives, responsibilities, skill sets, expectations and desired outcomes are entirely different from one another. For clarity purposes, let's define workers as folks hired to do a specific task (or tasks). (Think of an assembly line worker, for example.) The worker is responsible to complete whatever task they are assigned. That's it. They're not responsible for considering the bigger picture, overall outcomes, productivity, etc. The pay structure is also indicative of the different responsibilities. The worker is paid by the hour; they clock in, do their job and clock out. Going beyond that merits overtime pay.
Application to college: Students who bring a worker's approach to college have the following perspectives:
They equate studying with learning.
They see individual tasks such as going over notes, reading the textbook, highlighting the textbook, etc as endpoints. These students "study" - a word that I have come to hate! I say this because by studying, they invariably mean: "I am going to do task ____ (you fill in the blank) and expect that by doing this very act I will learn what I need to learn."
They gauge learning by the amount of time spent on tasks. In other words, they expect to clock in, spend a little time on a task and clock out. Having put in a "full day's work," they now automatically expect to be paid (or receive a good exam grade). If you were to approach such students immediately after they have studied, as I have, and ask them what they've learned as a result of studying, they would give you a blank stare.
Managers approach to work is entirely different. They are responsible for ensuring that the various tasks meet the expected outcomes. They understand that the tasks are important only as parts of the production process. They never see tasks as endpoints, but as means to an end. They are ever mindful of the big picture and the overall outcomes, and are constantly weighing the various tasks in light of the process. This is why managers are paid for efficiency (accomplishing a job in the least amount of time, effort and resources) and effectiveness (producing the desired results).
Application to College: Students who learn to manage their leaning have the following understandings:
They understand that learning is a process.
These students understand means from ends; they do not confuse studying with learning. They know how to manage the various studying tasks along their learning process to achieve their desired outcome. In other words, they study to learn, not to merely obtain and retain knowledge.
They understand that their professors are not grading them based on the amount of time spent studying, but what they learned as a result of studying.
These students understand that the outcome (or grade that they are receiving) from the boss (the professor) is based on what they have learned, not the amount of time spent studying.
They supervise their own learning.
These students measure learning by continually assessing what they have learned. This allows them to gauge whether they have learned, what they have learned, what remains to be learned and to detect and correct problems in their learning.
From the "Hope-so" Approach to a "Know-so" Approach
Currently, most students use the "hope-so" approach when it comes to collegiate learning. They hope they understood the correct textbook material; they hope they gathered the important material from the classroom discussion; they hope they took good notes; they hope they prepared enough for the test; and finally, after they've completed the test, they hope (and pray!) that they'll get a good grade.
Unfortunately, far too many of these hope-filled prayers are unanswered, and these students often receive their tests back with a disappointing grade. The problem is that the "hope-so" approach is the only method of "learning" they know, so they continue to employ this method even as their grades spiral downwards, out of control.
The Managed Learning Approach is a "know-so" approach. It helps students move beyond merely hoping that they have learned and adequately prepared for their tests to knowing for certain that they have learned, and are indeed prepared for their tests. Most students are unaware that such an empowering and self-assuring approach exists. But those who adopt the MLA attest to its helpfulness. Here are a few comments from students who have adopted the MLA:
"I wish I had learned these things when I was a freshman" - Upperclassman
"The system [managed learning approach] definitely helped me. Since our meeting I have not failed any tests or quizzes. I made a 90, an 80 and a 98 on my last tests." - Freshman<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
"I usually make 50's on my ethics tests, but [after my appointment] I made an 86 on the last one. I was so excited!" - Freshman
"I have had three assignments since we met, I made an 88 on my bacteriology exam, a B+ on my anatomy exam and a 94 on my physics lab. These new study habits are paying off! - Probationary student
"I was struggling in Chemistry, and after our meeting, I made a 90 on my test. Thanks for all your help!! I appreciate it; it really paid off!!" - Freshman commuter student
I hope including those quotes doesn't make the managed learning approach appear to be some magic learning formula that guarantees success to all students. I am well aware that other variables had some bearing on these students' success. However, they - along with the other emails, letters and correspondence I have had with students (and faculty) - support the MLA's effectiveness.
What makes managing your learning better than living by the "hope so" approach?
To reiterate an earlier point, the student who manages their learning is empowered because they can detect, and then fix problems in their learning process (before the actual test). While the "hope so" student is unable to detect problems in their learning process, and consequently is powerless. They are at the mercy of the "hope-so" god. Thus we are back where we began: The student who manages their learning can study less and perform better than the "hope-so" student. (It's just common sense!)
Convinced? If you are, then perhaps your next question is: What does it take to manage learning? (I'm glad you asked!)
* A clear understanding of your professors' expectations
If you are to be an effective manager, then you must know what the boss (your professor) expects of you. Specifically, you need to know the degree to which your professor expects you to know the subject matter. Most students fail here because their expectations are usually much lower than their professors. How can one meet unknown expectations? I have developed an entire workshop: Professors Are From Mars, Students Are From Venus: understanding your professors' expectations, to address this issue.
* An understanding of, and distinction between, your responsibilities and those of your professors
Again, covered in the Professors Are From Mars...workshop.
Once you have the expectations clear, learning is then a matter of managing the various studying tasks along your learning process. The continuing bullets list what you need to know about this process, and the next section shows what the learning process entails.
* A knowledge of the key factors involved in the learning process (as they relate to collegiate test preparation)
Managing your learning requires you to know your learning process.
* An awareness of when you are actually learning something
* The ability to assess what you have learned and what you may still need to learn
* The ability to adjust learning to meet your goal
This may sound difficult, but it is more natural than you think. In fact, after conducting hours of student interviews and assessments, I am convinced that practically every student possesses these skills and applies them on a daily basis. However, they are unaware because they are being used in different areas of life.
I do not stand alone in my assertion, Dr. Rita Smilkstein, author of We're Born to Learn: Using the Brains Natural Learning Process to Create Today's Curriculum, expounds on this process. I cannot do her work justice here, so I will just highly recommend that you purchase a copy! While Dr. Smilkstein's audience is educators and her aim is to help educators create curriculum that flows with the brain's natural learning process, my audience is primarily students. Therefore my aim is to help students become of aware of their learning process, organize material in ways that are congruent with their natural learning process, and manage their learning accordingly.
Thanks for your time, and your response is welcomed!
Leonard G. Geddes, Jr.
Director of Multicultural Student Services
& Student Success
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