Chapter 5: Self-Directed and Active Learning

“In my Learning Community class, I learned about a five-day study plan I decided to try to prepare for my first midterm. Five days before my political science exam, I started to study. I only studied an hour or two every night for five days leading up to the exam. This way, I wasn’t cramming the night before or stressing over the material. I got an A! That’s the way I’ve studied for all of my exams, and I’ve been doing really well.”

— Caitlyn Rhodes, Public Relations major who lives on campus 

The most significant difference between high school and college is no doubt the amount of time spent learning in the classroom as compared to outside of the classroom. In high school on average, students attend class 6 hours a day, totaling 30 hours per week in class. Students are often given class time to read chapters, complete homework, and work on projects, leaving an estimated 5+ hours per week of studying outside of class to successfully “make the grade.” However, in college, students are only in class on the average of 12–15 hours per week, but it is recommended that they study 2–3 hours outside of class for every hour in class, translating to 24–36 hours of studying (including preparing for class, reviewing past material, completing projects, etc.) outside of class. Very simply, it is the responsibility of the student to learn the information and skills needed to be successful outside of class.

However, it is not as simple as logging in the right number of study hours that will lead students to success; what students do with the information that they are learning is important as well. Students who actively process the information they need to learn will be more successful in college. Dewey (1997) reflected on students in class that would say things like, “I studied six hours, but I still got a D! What am I doing wrong?” Dewey advocated that students who engage in active learning techniques like self-testing their comprehension of information rather than simply passively reviewing material are more successful in college classes. Plant, Anders Ericsson, Hill, & Asberg (2005) suggested that the level of processing of information was much more of a predictor of good grades. They found that overall college students who engaged in self-regulatory behaviors such as attending class and studying in a quiet environment with few distractions (maximizing concentration and focus on the material) were more likely to earn good grades, while working more than 24 hours a week and spending more time partying was correlated with lower grades in college.

Students who maximize the use of their study time with the proper environment and active learning techniques will be more successful college students.


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