Learning to Learn
Mark F. Griffin
Georgia Perimeter College

Among the many topics of interest to psychology is that of how students can improve their academic performance.   Educational psychologists have been searching for and refining the answers to this question for many years.  Their research along with the experience of many educators has resulted in numerous findings and the development of many strategies based on these findings.  One thing is clear, students are usually able to improve their educational performance by better understanding the factors that promote learning and by taking an active role in learning to learn.  The findings of memory researchers are directly relevant to improving academic performance.  These findings along with other research by educational psychologists form the foundation for the guidelines which follow.

Weiten & Lloyd (2000) summarize many of the strategies that have been demonstrated to make a difference in the classroom performance of college students.  Their summary indicates that success in college is most often a result of  several different factors which work together to enhance academic outcomes.  The first of these is developing sound study habits.  They suggest that the first hurdle which many students must leap is realizing that studying effectively involves hard work . A student doesn't have to look forward to studying but a successful student does have to accept that he or she must make an effort to put in the necessary time and energy.  Based on the research that they have reviewed Weiten & Lloyd make the following suggestions regarding study habits:

Good Study Habits:

Improving Your Reading:

To get the most out of your reading you must read actively.  Reading (even if you do such things as underlining or highlighting) is not useful unless its done selectively and actively.  There are a number of methods for active reading.  One of the most effective is the SQ3R method developed by Francis Robinson, a psychologist at Ohio State University (1970 cited in Weiten & Lloyd, 2000 and Myers, 1999) . The techniques developed by Robinson are designed to facilitate the transfer of information into long-term memory.  SQ3R includes five steps: survey, question, read, recite and review.

You can experiment with this method and adapt it to work for you.  You may find that it works best to apply the method paragraph by paragraph instead of section by section.

Getting More Out of Lectures:

Researchers have produced ample evidence that attendance at class is related to better academic performance.  Even if you find lectures boring and tedious you can benefit from paying attention to them.  If nothing else, you may learn what is important to the instructor and how he or she thinks. This can help you in preparing for exams.  Taking accurate notes has been found to be related to better test scores.  Weiten & Lloyd (2000) summarize the results of research on note-taking strategies and make the following suggestions:

 Use Memory Principles:

Psychologists have been interested in memory since the very early days of the field of psychology.  Weiten and Lloyd (2000) review research on memory principles  The following memory principles based on these research findings may help you perform better in your classes:

The key point to remember is that learning is a purposeful activity which requires not only the necessary investment of time and energy but also the use of effective strategies.  You may have to work hard but it is also important to work smart. The findings of researchers in educational psychology and memory can help you learn to be an effective learner.

The following links will take you to sites where you can learn more about developing effective study skills:

Virginia Tech's Study Skills Self-Help Information  http://www.ucc.vt.edu/stdysk/stdyhlp.html
Columbia University- Study Skills  http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/study/
Las Positas College-Learning Skills  http://www.clpccd.cc.ca.us/lpc/services/learningskills.htm
University of California-Berkeley Student Learning Center  http://slc.berkeley.edu/calrenhp.html


Myers, D.G. (1999). Exploring psychology (4th ed.). New York: Worth.

Weiten, W. & Lloyd, M.A. (2000) Psychology applied to modern life (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.