Just as I was ending my medical degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in Joburg, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) was all the rage throughout the medical education establishment. It led to the establishment of the Graduate-Entry Medical Programme at Wits, which was modeled on the same program at the University of Sydney.I just wanted to give a brief overview as to what PBL is.
New semester series part threeHow do you get yourself back up and running again in the new semester? Your exams were good, bad, indifferent or a mixture. You're happy, sad, or an unusually complex combination of both. Here are seven keys to help motivate yourself to get back into study mode again.
Start smallStart with baby steps. Don’t expect yourself to be able to dive right back into maximum study mode and volume. Plan a gradual build up of your study program in terms of time and effort. But don’t use this as an excuse to stay walking like a baby.
Work in batches of 15 to 20 minutesTake 5 to 10 minute breaks. Study for 15 to 20 minutes. Learn in batches of between 3 and 9 facts. Take a half hour break every 3 hours.
Keep yourself well hydratedIt doesn’t matter if you need to run to the bathroom fairly regularly. Keep yourself hydrated. Only use coffee if your system is used to coffee (long-winded medical explanation forgone again). Use fruit as part of keeping yourself hydrated. This includes citrus, mangoes, pineapples, and watermelon.
Don’t study on a full stomachMost of your blood will be re-directed to your gastro-intestinal tract in order to digest your food, especially if the meal was rich. Rather eat light meals such as salads with low-fat dressings, and tuna.
Make your study habits consistentDo something every day for thirty days and it will stick for life. Well, almost. There is a truism in this. Be consistent. Discipline in study will serve you well in the real world in any case.
Try deal with emotions before you studyI know this sound may sound a tad unrealistic, but the more emotional baggage you bring to your study desk, the less you effectively you will study. Find your study “Zen”, whatever that might be - go and rake some Japanese garden sand or something.
But use emotions in your studyingNo, I’m not contradicting myself. What I mean is you must try bring emotion into the actual material you are studying to make it memorable. The difference is that the previous point was made to prevent you from letting outside emotion interrupt your studying. Do these help you focus? Please let me know if you have any others.... Some related articles 88 Surefire Tips for Succeeding in College 50 Tips for College Students College Dorm Checklist & More
New Semester Series Part Two.One of the hardest things about getting back to university or college is having to deal with failed exams. How on earth can they help you? Fortunately, they can, and if you attack them with the right attitude, they will help you. I'm going to show you three ways that you can use failed exams to help you improve your grades.
It forces you to be honest with yourselfI know, this one sucks and you are going to hate me for saying it! Sorry to hurt your feelings, but, a failed exam does force you to start asking questions of yourself. And this is a good thing! Don't view this as a bad thing! The only way you can improve is by learning from errors and correcting them. You will need to start asking yourself questions like "Were my study techniques for that particular exam and subject-type correct?" For example, I wouldn't be using pictures to memorize information when you are preparing for a practical Accounting exam where there are going to be doing a lot of calculations and formulae-application. So, ask yourself questions about your preparation for that exam. This includes an excellent revision timetable correctly formulated right from the start!
Take advantage of your professorsContrary to what you may believe, your professors and lecturers (with a few exceptions) actually want you to pass and do well. And when a student shows up at their door genuinely asking for help, and showing diligence, they will be more than willing to help. You will be amazed at how few students do this, and you will also be amazed at how willing your professors are to help you out. Remember, they were once students just like you. They DO remember the stresses involved in studying and taking exams. Approach them. I can almost guarantee you they will be very glad to help you. BUT, don't expect them to just give you quick solutions - you are still going to need to work hard - but their help will be invaluable
Take advantage of the "boffins" in your classThis has to be done very diplomatically. Identify those in your class who have done very well. Depending on how well you know them, see if you can glean any information from them about how they were able to do well in their exam. Some of the really clever student tend to down-play their marks, others deliberately hide their techniques because of their own insecurities and desire to be top of the class, so you need to "walk on egg-shells"! But try make head-way and see if any of them can help you. You never know! These are also the people that often don't think in the normal pattern of thinking. They truly do think "outside the box" and their approach will stretch you beyond what you thought possible. Go with the flow! It is well worth it! I hope these help you.I've got some more coming up in the next post. Any more suggestions?
Social MediaCathy Davidson and David Goldberg in their book The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age suggest that social media is deeply embedded into our culture now that "participatory learning as a practice is no longer exotic or new but a commonplace way of socializing and learning". So, social media is going to be an integral part of future learning. Homework assignments, websites to research amongst other uses.
InternetWe all know Al Gore did not "invent" the internet, and his fanatical adherence to his very own religion of Global Warming (despite definitive proof that the mean temperature in Antarctica has been dropping by 0.7 degrees Celsius per year over the past 15 years and that the glaciers in the Himalayas are growing, not shrinking - but I'm going off on a tangent!) is questionable. The internet is going to affect learning in two significant ways. First, increasingly, knowledge is becoming more and more freely available. And not just any type of information, reputable information. Reputable universities such as Yale have made many introductory courses available free of charge, but not for course credit......yet. edX is a collaboration between M.I.T. and Harvard, and in their own description they say
An open-source online learning platform that will feature teaching designed specifically for the web. Features will include: self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories. The platform will also serve as a laboratory from which data will be gathered to better understand how students learn. Because it is open source, the platform will be continuously improved.Interestingly enough, in 2009, Davidson and Goldberg in The Future of Learning said
The future of conventional learning institutional is past - it's over - unless those direction the course of our learning institutions realize, now and urgently, the necessity of fundamental and foundational change.The second reason the internet is going to change education as we know it is because the internet has changed the way we think. We assume that if we don't know something, we can "Google it", or check it up on Wikipedia". As a result, we are losing our ability to integrate knowledge to solve problems in real life. This is where circumspection and care needs to be taken in the way that online courses are introduced, and we need to be given in depth instruction in how to integrate knowledge properly. This is where collaboration and participation comes in in the form of social media.
Global ReachI like to believe in the philanthropic side of people, and when I read through the reasons for the creation of programs like edX, it warms my heart to think that Harvard and M.I.T. are wanting to reach the world with their quality education. Never before has such accessibility been possible. In Christian circles, we already have instant access to tens of thousands of sermons, thousands of books and manuscripts. Dr John Piper at Desiring God Ministries has made almost all of his books free of charge at his website here. One of Christianities deepest contemporary thinkers has made literally thousands of hours of hard labor of writing freely available. His ability to reach a global readership for the glory of Jesus Christ is unparalleled. The same can be said for people such as Dr John MacArthur, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, and my own pastor, Dr Clint Archer, amongst many others. around the world.
Shifting working environmentsWe are moving from a predominantly industrialized economy in the West to an information-driven working environment. In the USA, the industries used to be the main driving forces behind the economy, but now the information and education fields are set to take center-stage. The expectations of these changing working environments are set to change as well. Experience and less formal "qualifications" will carry more weight than they currently do. The certificates received from courses done through edX, for example, will become far more valuable than they will be initially. Formal degrees will still be valuable, but continuing education will be emphasized more and more.
CostsThe costs of formal education at the major universities and colleges are rising drastically. I have been a qualified medical doctor for almost ten years now and I am still paying off my student loan - I still have about 30% of it to pay off. Our Obstetrician was chatting to us about a month ago and he was saying that here in South Africa it is so expensive for a newly qualified O and G set up a private practice. They need to buy at least one Ultrasound machine costing around R1.5 - 2 million ($250-300,000); a more detailed ultrasound scanner for high-definition scanning at double that price; office equipment including computers, chairs, desks, examination couches, instruments etc; hiring staff; sometimes buying into rooms at a hospital; and their malpractice insurance here in South Africa is in the region of R250,000 per year! They have to pay staff salaries. And they have their own student loans to pay off as well. Compare that to someone who can start an online business while in high school, save money from that, expand that into creating multiple online businesses, and then take free online courses in linguistics, writing etc, and by the age of 25 have published a book, written thirty apps, three of which have sold more than 50,000 and become a millionaire. Brendon Burchard is an example of something like this. He went from being flat broke to making $4 million in 24 months. I highly recommend his book Millionaire Messenger.
HOWEVERI'm going to give you a twist in the tail. Personally, I think that universities and colleges will adapt rapidly and that they will continue to be centres of academic excellence. Already schools are starting to implement experimental changes and coming up with very good results. One such example is Flex Academy in San Francisco. True, this is high school and not university, but things are already under way. The school structure is still there. There are still teachers, "classrooms", assignments, tests, grades, assessments, and the parents can follow their children's progress much better than in a conventional schooling environment. But they are adapting to the future. Perhaps one day I shall write a post describing my ideal university................
1. Strategic ObjectiveOperation Overlord was the largest amphibious operation ever launched in the history of warfare. It was the invasion by the Western Allies of Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Without an overall Strategic Objective, it would have been pointless to even begin trying to defeat the Nazis. Translating that into your studying is simple : if you don't have an end-point, or a goal in mind, then you are already defeated.
2. OffensiveSeize, retain and exploit the initiative. Start the year how you want to finish it. Implement the types of study strategies and lecture strategies that you want to carry on throughout the year. Seize the initiative in terms of your time, your energy, and your resources. And do so right from the start. Don't let the first few weeks take control of you, but rather take controlof those first few weeks, and use them to your best advantage.
3. ManeuverThe flexible application of combat power. We continue our analogy and apply this to studying by saying that you need to learn how to maneuver your social life strategically. You don't want to end up being lonely and isolated, but you also need to be very selective about who you befriend, and what type of social life you are prepared to lead. If you want to do the all-weekend partying with every second week-night pub-crawl, your college life-span will not be very long. By the same token, you can become so involved in so many "worthy" causes (such as Chairman of the Tree-Hugging Society) that your studies suffer equally. You need to find a happy medium where you are not a recluse, but you are still maneuvering to achieve your overall Objective.
4. Unity of CommandYou make your decisions. Whilst you take other people's advice, you need to take responsibility for your own actions now. You aren't a child anymore. You are maturing and you need to realize that your new found freedom comes much greater responsibility, and thus you need to start making decisions yourself. If you are far away from home, lots of decisions that used to be made by your parents are going to have to be made by you now. When you realize that you are responsible for you own actions, you will start being able to identify and defeat those things that are distracting you from your studies.
5. LogisticsSupply lines, and management of resources are essential to the functioning of armies. Like-wise, to cope with distractions, you will need to have the resources to be able to do it. Sometimes you won't be able to do it on your own. Maintain strong links with your family, even if they are far away. Find fellow students with similar goals in mind and with similar morals and ethics, spend time with them and even try get into digs with them. In his world-famous Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki says that it is critical to surround yourself with people who excel in their specific field in order to make your business flourish. You can easily apply this in your studies. Surround yourself with friends who are diligent and committed to academic and moral excellence.
6. SimplicityThis military doctrine talks about keeping plans and orders short, clear and simple. You can directly apply this to your studies by simplifying your study environment. Switch off all your devices, unless you are typing or researching. If you have to use a device, be ruthless with yourself and shut down everything that you don't need. Close ALL the tabs in your browser you don't need. Turn off you iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, sound system (unless you want to play some gentle Baroque music, which has been shown to enhance your brain waves during studying). Keep It Simple Stupid. (No offense) Are there any other suggestions that you can think of that you have employed to defeat study distraction? Please share so we can all benefit.
1. Social networkingWe live in an age where checking Facebook, Twitter, and all the others is a deeply ingrained habit. It is so deeply ingrained that people can get withdrawal symptoms from not using them. It is now being called Information Deprivation Disorder. And this social networking can be a huge challenge to students while they are studying. It is an extremely common sight to see students studying with their iPhone or iPad or Blackberry right next to their textbooks, and every minute or two they check Facebook. Social networking is a huge distraction to your studying.
2. Social LifeThose new-found freedoms I was talking about above? Yip, they can be a terrible distraction. Imagine a police dog that has just been released from its leash and it blasts off towards its target. That's what it is like for freshmen as they embark on their first academic year after school. They have immense new liberties, and the social life can be an incredible temptation. Parties, gatherings, pub-crawls. The list is endless. But one big aspect that often suffers is academics.
3. "Romance"The reason I put this title in parentheses is because I really meant to say "sex". I had to say it because, as a doctor, all too often I have seen the aftermath of the combination of number 2 and number 3. Usually, when there is lots of number 2 above, there is little preparation and little precaution, and I have young adults, barely out of school, sitting in my office terrified either of two lines on a urine test or of a few positive blood tests. Unwanted pregnancies and Sexually-transmitted Diseases happen. A lot. A lot more than you realize. If you think they are uncommon, either you are being naive, or deliberately ignorant. These can not just ruin your academics, but they can seriously alter your life-course. Be warned.
4. Loneliness and isolationThis is especially true if you have had to move to a city far from home and don't know anybody. I really struggled when I moved to Johannesburg to study medicine, and it really did affect my studies quite drastically. These can easily lead down the road to anxiety and depression.
5. Poor living conditionsSharing a house with well-motivated, neat, helpful students is great. But, all too often you end up with one or two slackers who don't pull their weight. They don't cook. They don't do the washing. They don't do the cleaning. They leave the place a mess. Their portion of the rent is always late. Trying to study while dealing with difficult digs-mates can be incredibly distracting.
Defeating DistractionsI'm going to defer this til the next post! Ha! Sorry!
Use your mind to trick yourself
VisualizationI don't want to get all pop-psychology on you, but there is some evidence to show that visualization does have some value when we need it. Try to imagine yourself at your graduation, and in your dream job afterwards. Picture your family and significant other congratulating you and surrounding you with love and affection.
Become an Incremental TheoristSay what?! An Incremental Theorist believes that their abilities are malleable and can improve (which research shows is the case, by the way). This is opposite of Entity Theorists who believe their abilities are fixed and can't be improved (which has been shown to be false by research). You can improve. You can get better at your studies. You can develop newer skills. These are the central themes of an excellent book called Mindset : How you can fulfil your potential by Dr Carol Dweck. So how do you become an Incremental Theorist? Essentially, instead of accepting something bad happening to you as being the end of the world, rather ask yourself, "What can I learn from this experience?". Those who are Entity Theorists think that "risk and effort are two things that might reveal your inadequacies and show that you were not up to the task." How sad it would be if you let that type of mindset control your studying!
Turn it into a GameThanks to the book Mindhacker Location 3721 and following on Kindle for this reminder. See also my post How I Conquered Russia. This was one of my favorite ways of keeping myself going. I created a wargame out of my studies. Each town I conquered correlated with a section studied. Mindhacker : 60 tips, tricks and games to take your mind to the next level has some really good ideas.
FirstThe website www.stickk.com allows you to bet against yourself failing at doing certain tasks.
SecondA game called Metaphorming allows you to create your own reality around you, essentially to make your whole environment a game of your own creation by creating your own experience of life your own metaphor. You can read the original article here. So, you can become your very own Salvador Dali, weird mustache and all (except you ladies).
ThirdAnother game is called Oulipo Groceries. This originates from the French literary collective that is short for "Ouvroir de litterature potentielle" or "Workshop of Potential Literature". This means writing a short novel without, for example, the letter E. The application here would be to photocopy a chapter of your textbook, then blank out an often repeated keyword, and then try study from those pages. Sounds crazy huh? But you would be amazed at how your brain will fill in those blanks and stimulate you to make extra special note of their importance!
FourthDo not think about the story of the tortoise and the hare. I told you don't think about it! Sorry, it was impossible for you not to after I had mentioned it. But this is a bit of a game. There was a moral to this story that was taught us when we were kids that was supposedly noble. We must be noble and plod like the tortoise. But, come on! Who wants to plod like a tortoise? No, you need to be a strategic hare. Another game to play. Develop strategies in your study plans that allow you to be a plodder at times, and also allows you the freedom to do a hundred metre dash in 9.8 seconds if need be.
FiveCreate a study group and act out skits that teach the sections you are studying to yourself and others. Make it fun! See Surprise Yourself!
RationaleSo, what is my reason in this first post in this series for suggesting you help yourself keep the end in mind by turning your studies into games? Quite simple. We need to mix pleasure with business. By doing this you are reducing your overall stress levels, which in turn increases your Serotonin and Dopamine (your "happy hormones") in your brain. This also causes your Amygdalae to function better because their neurotransmitters are being replenished quicker, thus increasing your ability to learn. And, Voila'!
Why Twenty Minutes?I'm not actually making 20 minutes an exact number here for you. It will vary from one person to another, but the average length will be 20 minutes. These are the steps to follow in the 20 minutes.
1. Gather your chunk of information.This will be the chunk of information of between 5 and 9 facts. Make sure that they flow in the grand scheme of your studying progress. They mustn't be isolated. If they are isolated they are doomed.
2. Connect the information with previous information.Make obvious connections before learning and memorizing the information.
3. Make sure you understand the information.It's pointless learning the information if you do not even understand it. Memorizing something for the sake of rote learning makes your brain a simple USB flash-drive. It stores information. It doesn't make it a fully-functional integrating, thinking and solving, living entity it was made to be.
4. Memorize the information in as many ways as possible.Don't use just one way. If you are good at drawing, draw crazy pictures. For example, when I was studying Psychiatry, when I was learning about the medication called Sertraline, I drew a Search-Light : do you see the connection my brain made? Sertraline sounds like Searchlight? At least it did to me. Maybe I'm just crazy. Anyway. Moving along. If you draw good mindmaps, then use those to their maximum potential. Write a quick rap song. Act out the facts in a small skit. Use multiple ways to learn the facts.
5. When your eyes glaze over, stop.Teachers will recognize this point very easily. Eyes become glazed over, bodies change positions and become slumped, people begin looking elsewhere. If you notice your mind start wondering, then stop. If you haven't finished your total number of facts - this has given you an idea as to where to set the bar for how much to learn in one sitting. When this happens, those Amygdala neurotransmitters have been all used up. This whole process usually takes around 20 minutes or so, but can vary widely, depending upon each individual person, subject being learned, and the type of exam being learned for.
Take a BreakThis is essential. If you were to try and carry on learning now, your Amygdalae would simply bounce off all incoming information away from your learning centres. This break should be about 5 to 10 minutes and consist of you physically getting up, moving around, refreshing yourself with something to eat and drink (I personally don't have an aversion to good filter coffee here!). Go outside into the sun, stretching your legs. But don't do this for more than about 4 or 5 minutes.
Do the same again but differentlyNow that you've given your neurotransmitters a chance to rebuild, you now go back and do the exact same section you have just done. The difference now is that you are going to do it in completely different ways to ways that you have done before. If you learned the facts in , let's say 3 different ways previously, I want to now to find 3 or 4 different ways to revise it. They must be crazy, different, and way-out. You must feel out of you depth and you must feel way out of your comfort zone. This is when you will remember your work.
Keep doing this over and overKeep this cycling over and over. Give yourself a 30 minutes break for every two hours of studying you have done. After studying for about six hours, you must give yourself at least one hour's break and you must go out somewhere and do something different.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on DSTV. We've got the whole all the songs memorized by now! One of the episodes that we have recorded on our PVR decoder has a segment where Goofy gets stuck inside Donald Duck's huge Trombone, and they have try and remove him from it. Eventually they do, obviously. But, I know that students can get to a point in their studies where they feel like their bums are stuck inside a trombone and they can't get any further! I received an email from a student just the other day asking me about this very topic. I want to issue a disclaimer before I continue this post - every subject is different. Biochenistry (the subject this student emailed me about) is a very tricky area to deal with and has it's own set of problems. And each subject has its own set of issues. I cannot go into details for each subject so this post is going to be full of generalizations. But I will obviously be helping that student individually. If any of you have specific problems, please feel free to post below or to email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.My little boys are going through a phase of loving to watch
1. Start with your lecture notes. If you have followed my suggestions about taking good lecture notes, then you will probably have a goodinfrastructure with which to begin working with your subject.
2. Read your textbook for understanding. Take the textbook that is prescribed reading for your course and read the relevant section for understanding, not necessarily for memorizing. Read the section with highlighters, pencils and a notebook at hand for you to jot down any questions you have. Remember, you are reading to understand, so memorizing you are going to leave for a later stage. This particular step is fit for a whole series of topics all on its own, and perhaps we can delve into that in the near future.
3. Read other textbooks. Here, find books that simplify the information. A medical example would be Human Anatomy For Dummies. These books will often break down the information into understandable chunks and explain it in such a way that you can immediately grasp and begin to apply.
4. Seek out knowledgeable students.Take note of those in your class who seem to be pretty clued up on what is going on in the course you are struggling with. If you have a good relationship with them, approach them and ask them if they wouldn't mind explaining some of the key concepts to you, and perhaps showing you how they approach studying the subject. You don't need to even find a student on your own class, you could find one who is a year or two ahead of you who you know did well in that particular subject. Again, offer to buy them a cup of coffee, spend time with them and absorb information like a sponge.
5. Speak to your lecturer. Some lecturers are simply on another planet and cannot be reached by any conventional means. In this case, see point number 3! However, fairly frequently, lecturers are quite willing to spend time helping you if they can see you are struggling with their subject. Make an initial appointment, prepare what you are going to ask them, bring all your books and notes along, and then grill them!