ABC of Learning

Words used to make theories about how we learn

Learning - Assessment - Autonomy - Befriending - Class - Flexible Education - Indexes - Keys - Knowledge and skils - Life Long Learning - Lectures - Library - Museum - Open Learning - Page - Resources - Seminars - Student Centred Learning - Subjects - Text - User friendly


Learning is gaining knowledge or skill

  • by experience,
  • by study,
  • by being taught,
  • by creative thought
Which of these ways would you think is the most important, and why?
splashing about on the
surface of learning
splashing about on the surface of learning

Recent theories put more emphasis on student activity than on teachers teaching. That is, they argue that the student's own experience and study are where learning starts.

This has been related to a change of psychological theories of learning from behaviourism to constructivism. This is how Anthony Basiel distinguishes the two:

Passive learning is where the student just takes in what the tutor teaches. This is said to be less effective than
active learning, where the student seeks out what he or she wants to understand.

Read about a student
learnung to swim
I was splashing about
on the surface
of learning
Passive learning is said to encourage surface learning rather than deep learning.

Deep learning looks for the meaning of what is being learnt, it is

Surface learning concentrates on the words rather than the meanings of what is being studied.

Surface learning may be like rote learning. Harry Maddox says that: "Rote learning means learning isolated and meaningless bits of knowledge".


Derek Rowntree in Learn How to Study, chapter 2: "Studying and Learning" shows with examples the differences between these approaches to learning and discusses what difference they could make to the value of your studies. (Rowntree, D. 1988 pp 19-22)

It has been suggested, above, that the learning theories of Behaviourism put the emphasis on active teaching and passive learning. The teacher is active devising ways to alter the learner's behaviour. A change in the behaviour is the evidence of learning.

Constructivism, on the other hand, puts the emphasis on active learning. The learner is busy "constructing" his or her knowledge out of the materials that are around. At best, the teacher provides an environment that is rich in materials for learning.

Charles Crook suggests a third approach, in which the emphasis is on both teachers and learners being active. He calls this cultural theory

Cultural theory argues that learners actively seek to construct meanings in a dialogue with their culture.

I will try to explain this with an example:

An adult gives a small girl a simple jigsaw puzzle. The child is active, she wants to play with the pieces and see what she can do with them. If the adult leaves her alone to play, she might discover that the pieces can be arranged together to make a picture. On the other hand, she may discover that she can pull the coloured paper off the wood with her teeth. What actually happens is that the adult lets her play with the pieces and then intervenes. The adult says "look" and puts two pieces together in a way that shows a piece of the picture (a duck's head, for example). Now the child is interested in why the adult thinks it is interesting to join two pieces together like this. In trying to make sense of what the adult has done, she may construct for herself the knowledge and skill that are jigsaw making.

Active Learning

The term active learning can be applied to a student's attitude, or to teaching methods that may force a student to be active.

  • A student can take an active or passive attitude to any learning situation. The reasons for being an active learner are discussed in the Be in control of your study article.

  • As a term to distinguish teaching that requires student activity, active learning is where a learner speaks, writes, performs experiments, plans, send emails, or even makes choices between web links. Interactive or Open Learning resources encourage their users to be active.

    It is argued that reading, listening to lectures, watching films or television or browsing the web do not require student activity and (more controversially) that they tend to be passive learning.


    To assess is to estimate the worth of something. One way of assessing academic work is to mark it with a number, a letter or even a star. When work is assessed this way, we need to know which end of the scale is good and which end poor. No stars may be poor and three stars very good. But if the star is a penalty (a bad mark) then no stars is good and three stars may be very bad.

    The purpose of assessment may be grading people to decide their suitability or readiness for something (such as a job, or the award of a qualification) or it may be to give feedback on their development. Often, it is a bit of both.

    Assessment as a means of feedback is called formative assessment. It helps to form or shape us. Assessment as a means of grading is called summative assessment. It sums up our work.

    Formative assessment is part of the process of learning and students can learn to apply grading systems to their self- assessment as a means of improving their work. The Self-Marking Guide for Essays is an example of how this can be done.

    autonomous learner read about being in control

    Autonomous means self-governing; acting independently or having the freedom to do so.

    Auto is Greek for self. Hetero is Greek for other. Opposites of autonomous are: heteronomous (subject to another's law or rule) and dependent.

    "The word autonomous comes from the Greek word eautos which means self. It is therefore understood that autonomous learning is related to self directed studies and the learning process. I believe that a good autonomous learner must have very good planning skills in order to plan times for reading and research. I also believe that he/she should be able to prioritise and be committed to the learning process. Autonomous learning also allows the learner to direct his reading and research towards subjects that he/she feels need improvement. (George Aloumpis, October 2005)"

    Can you relate the theories of dependence and self-dependence, discussed by Mill and Taylor in the Future of the Labouring Classes essay to the idea of autonomy in learning theory?

    [Heteronomy usually means other-directed, but it can also mean that more than one law or priciple is operating.]

    Autonomous Learner
    Someone who controls his or her learning is an autonomous learner. If you are an autonomous learner you work under your own direction.

    Everyone controls his or her learning to some extent, but when children start school most of what they learn, how they learn, and the pace they learn at, is set by the teachers. We become more autonomous learners as we make more of our own choices of what we learn and how we learn it.

    Autonomous Learning

    Autonomous learning is self-managed learning.

    It means that the learner has much of the responsibility for planning and organising their learning, for doing it, for assessing its value to him or herself and even for suggesting the mark that the work produced should get.

    Sometimes the term is used for learning with only a small amount of teacher support. A university document, for example, defined autonomous learning as "learning requiring no more than 12 hours lecturer contact" in a course.

    If autonomy is about self-direction, does that mean an autonomous person will engage in more or less interaction with other people?

    autonomous learner - take control

    Befriend - befriender - befriending

    Befriend is a warm sixteenth century English word that means exactly what it says: to be a friend. To befriend people is to act as a friend and to help them. When some new university students were asked in what way they might be helped to learn by other students, this was at the top of their list.

    Another student can introduce you to your study environment and share information and skills with you in a way that a professional tutor cannot. With another student, you have the added advantage that is easier to believe that you have skills, knowledge and friendliness that you to can share


    Any group of people or things is a class. To classify is to put into meaningful groups. Class also has connections with grading in an order of merit.

    social class.

    Two distinct uses of the word in education are:

     class as a group of students
     class as a level of degree

    Groups of students:

    In the USA and Canada a class is all the college or school students at the same level, or who graduate in the same year (e.g. the class of 1998).

    In Britain it is a group who are taught together. At school a class meets in a classroom. At University the term is not used much because the activities that schools do in classes, Universities divide between lectures and seminars or other groups.

    Levels of degree: Degrees in Britain are graded as third class, lower second class, upper second class and first class.
    Marking guide

    Classroom education
    Campus education

    Classroom education is a system of teaching and learning, developed in schools in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which a class of students with similar characteristics (age and ability, for example) meet regularly in the same place (room) under the direction of a teacher, who teaches the whole class the same subject in the same way at the same pace. One of the many strengths of this system is that it provides strong, frequent external discipline for each student's education. Student's have much less freedom not to learn than they do in flexible systems of education. In Britain, the classroom system was universal in the education of children between five and sixteen.

    Classroom education has never been the model for University education, but elements of it (classroom settings) have often been used - as in compulsory lectures, seminars, workshops or laboratory sessions. University education is often described as "reading for a degree", which highlights its use of autonomous learning and resource based learning. It has, however, been located in one place. The term Campus Education can be used to describe the traditional University mixture of autonomous, resource based learning, with on-campus tutorial and classroom support.

    Distance learning:
    Distance learning is learning that the student can do at a distance from the tutor and the classroom. Reading a book at home is distance learning. Teaching today involves more distance learning than it did in the past. This is partly to economise on tutors, but it is also because the development of
    electronic communication makes being together in one place less important, and also because distance learning can be used to encourage self-directed or autonomous learning.

    Electronic Education

    Teaching and learning that uses electronic communications such as the telephone, email and the world wide web.

    An electronic device uses transistors, silicon chips, or valves to control the flow of electricity (electrons) through it in such a way that it becomes a processor of information. Electronic devices include telephones, wireless, television, video and computers.

    Electronic communication in its simplest forms, by telephone or email for example, communicates language by sound (telephone) or letters (email).

    More complex forms include video conferencing and the virtual classroom, where sound and vision are both transmitted and there is an attempt to make participants in different places feel as if they are communicating in the same place.

    Electronic sources

    Computers and the Collaborative Experience of Learning: An analysis of Charles Crook's technical vocabulary.



    In the 19th century, papers were kept in order by threading them on string or pronging them on a stiff wire. A collection of papers, threaded like this, was called a file. (From the Latin for thread). More elaborate means are now used for keeping records - many of which are still called files. The two that students use most are paper files and computer files. Paper files are folders or loose leaf books in which loose papers can be arranged for reference.

    Flexible Learning
    Flexible Education

    Flexible learning systems are ones that allow students to make some choices about the time, pace and nature of their learning activities. This implies encouragement of autonomous learning.

    The National Extension College developed mail based learning (the earliest form of distance learning) in the 1960s. It describes this as "pioneering flexible learning for adults". But the term is used for a broader range of activities than open and distance learning. It includes, for example, approaches which involve some compulsory classroom education (possibly at times more convenient for some students, such as evenings) and systems that support open learning by voluntary classroom education.

    In the early 1990s the UK government described the aim of flexible learning as "to meet the learning needs of students as individuals and in groups ... and to give the student increasing responsibility for his/her own learning within a framework of support."

    As flexible education covers such a range of systems, it can be helpful to state the main parts of a system in its name. For example, a system that combines voluntary classroom education, on campus, with compulsory internet communication, could be described as a flexible internet/campus system.


    An index is an alphabetical list of names, subjects etc with references. Indexes are often found at the end of books where the references are usually page numbers. Indexes are also found on web sites (like this one) where the references are usually links that are clicked on to go straight to the information. This web page has an index at the top. There is also a general index to the whole of the Study Guide, and indexes for computing and mathematics

    Libraries stocks books called Abstracts and Indexes which list the contents of many journals by subject. Abstracts differ from indexes in that they contain brief summaries of the content of articles.

    Nowadays, Abstracts and Indexes are often available in libraries on computerized sources, like CDROMS disks, as well as in books.

    keys to learning Keys:
    Key words
    Key concepts
    Key skills

    A key unlocks doors.
    The key to something puzzling is the way to solve it.
    The key to something desirable is the way to obtain it.

    The idea of a key is often applied to something small that unlocks something much bigger.

    key words:
    A book on keys to successful learning says:

      "Key words are the ones which are the most loaded with meaning, the ones that unlock your memory."
    The authors suggest that in lectures:
      "The ability to pick out key words for your notes is very valuable." (Good and Smith 1998 p.99).
    When you are reading they suggest you note keywords and then try to write a brief summary using them.

    Choosing keywords for each idea you want to cover in an exam can be helpful. You can jot the key words down at the start of the exam and use them to trigger your memory.

    Keywords in essay titles
    Keyword searches

    Key words - concepts - are also used in generating ideas

    key concepts:
    Some writers argue that certain concepts are the key to unlocking a subject or a culture.

    Raymond Williams wrote a book called
    Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.

    Diana Coole says that:

      "Western thought is fundamentally dualistic...debates are possible...because they accept a series of binary oppositions which structure their horizons"
    These binary oppositions are what other writers might call pairs of key concepts. The ones she lists are:
    • mind and body;
    • subject and object;
    • reason and passion (or appetite);
    • form and content;
    • culture and nature;
    • order and chaos
      (Coole, D.H. 1988 p.1).


    In everyday English, knowledge is what you know. If you know something, it is in your mind and you do not need to learn about it. If someone is knowledgeable about a subject, he or she can correctly answer lots of questions about it.

    In academic life, knowledge means more than just the information one has learnt about something. It is the understanding one has of the theory and practice of the subject.

    Knowledge and Skill

    In education, today, there is a tendency to contrast knowledge with skill.

    Skill is the ability to do something, an ability that is gained through practice.

    See art in the sense of the art of being able to do something

    In each academic subject, skill and knowledge are intricately involved with one another. If we learn well, we do not just learn mathematics or engineering, we learn to be mathematicians or engineers. We acquire the ability (skill) to apply mathematical or engineering thinking to new situations.

    When people separate skills and knowledge, they are not usually thinking about the skills that are an intricate part of learning a subject, but of skills which are necessary to let people study a subject (basic skills). For example, a certain level of mathematics is required before you start an engineering degree. In many other subjects, you are expected to already know how to write essays.

    In 1994 a group of Middlesex University staff were asked to write a report on "literacy, numeracy and academic skills", because the University wants its students to have the skills needed to study effectively, and to pursue successful careers. In this sense, the group thought that:

      Skills are the knowledge, abilities and attitudes a student must have to allow him or her to study effectively, and (on graduation) to work effectively.

    Different kinds of skill
        Many Universities try to ensure that all students have certain Core skills and Key skills; and that they start their degree level studies, and later graduate, with relevant Basic skills

    academic skills
    Academic skills are skills valued by the
    academic community. One list of these included:
    • the ability to interpret and analyse information
    • comprehension and reasoning powers
    • general awareness of the social, cultural and political context of issues
    • being able to argue a case.
    (1994 Report section 3.2)

    basic skills
    Basic skills will often refer to skills that you need before you start something. In education, basic skills will be different for different levels. A university might expect its new students to learn certain basic skills in their first year, which will enable them to study effectively in their following years. Employers may expect students to leave university with a different set of basic skills (
    graduate skills).

    core skills:

    Core skills will often refer to skills that everyone needs, as distinct from specialist skills. In education, core skills are the skills relevant to all students, whatever subjects they are studying. Different levels of education, and different stages in life, require different levels of the same core skills. (Click the apple's core for a core skills syllabus)

    This is one effort to list core skills:

    • communication skills: the ability to communicate ideas in speech and writing.
    • numeracy: being able to use and understand numbers and information that is presented as numbers (like statistical tables). Understanding the concepts used to think about quantities, and knowing how to talk or write about them.
    • information technology skills: being able to use computers for tasks like wordprocessing and calculating, for printing and presenting work, for finding out information and for communicating over the internet.
    • problem skills: being able to analyse and solve problems, to make good decisions, to innovate and to see ahead.
    • personal skills: the ability to organise your time, set priorities, learn, review and evaluate your achievements and take responsibility for yourself.
    • team skills: the ability to work with others, to assert oneself without offending, to be open to suggestions and able to make suggestions, to participate usefully as a member of a group, a team or a network.
    • study skills

    (1994 Report section 3)

    Syllabus for Core Skills with links to relevant parts of the ABC Study Guide
    Learning ABC of Learning
    Group Work Be in Control
    Reading and notetaking Reading and notetaking
    Essays ABC Essays and Academic Writing
    Careers Careers
    Seminars Be in Control
    Numeracy ABC Mathematics
    Exams Exams
    Exam tips
    Computer Skills - Information Technology Skills
    Computer Basics
    Logging in
    On most computers you do not log in, you just switch on. If you are sharing a computer with many others, however, you will probably need a username and password before you start.
    Using My Computer to copy files
    The Start button runs programs
    Internet and Email
    Using a browser to surf the web
    Using search engines
    Bookmarking pages
    Reading email
    Sending email
    Word Processing using Word
    Format text - bold and italic
    Font style and size
    Using clipart
    cut, copy and paste
    margins, layout and columns
    word count
    search and replace
    Presentations using PowerPoint
    create a slide
    use clipart
    create and use slide transition
    run a slide show
    Spreadsheets using Excel
    make a spreadsheet & enter data
    use a function (SUM) to make calculations
    make graphs/charts

    key skills:
    Key skills may be the skills that you need to unlock the door to the career you want. Universities are looking at the skills that their education provides in areas such as:

    graduate skills

    study skills:
    The practical skills need to be student learner. Such as: knowing how to write an
    essay or a report, understanding seminars and other groups, making useful notes, finding information, managing your time and organising yourself. (1994 Report definition)

    The Transfer of
    Knowledge and Skills

    Knowledge learnt at school or college is generally intended to be applied to work and other everyday activities. Similarly, knowledge learnt at work and other non-academic activities, should help us with our academic work. Learning transfer means using ideas and knowledge learnt in one context in another. Some skills are particularly valued as transferable skills that should be of value in many contexts.

    All learning involves doing tasks in context. We learn to divide numbers by other numbers in our mathematics exercise books. We should be able to separate these tasks from the learning context, and apply them in another. Our skill at division should help us work out if a large jar of jam in the supermarket is cheaper ( gram for gram) than a jar half its size.

    Language Centres:
    Language Centres are
    resource centres, or parts of resource centres, that specialise in resources for learning languages. They usually have people and materials to help you improve the use of your own language and to help you learn other languages.

    Learning Agreement

    A learning agreement may be a written agreement between you and your university or school about how you are going to behave and what the university or school will do for you.

    It can be an agreement about the courses that you will study.

    It can be an agreement about what you will seek to learn and how other people will assist you in that learning. It is this meaning that I discuss here.

    An agreement about what you will seek to learn must start by your setting yourself aims or objectives. It is an active, not a passive, process. You may want to discuss aims with other students or your tutors, to form an idea of what aims you could have, but your aims are your decision.

    What then, makes it an agreement? You need to set out what you need to achieve the aims, and to negotiate with the other people what can be provided. Discussing your aims and how you might achieve them within the organisation will help you to develop your aims by rooting them in the practical reality of what the organisation has to offer, by refining them and defining them more precisely, and by adding to them aspects that you may not have thought of before you discussed them.

    One of the useful aspects of this type of learning agreement is that it can be used outside the university or school. You learning agreement could, for example, be between you, an employer, and your university or school. This enables you to use work experience as a formal learning experience.

    Life Long Learning

    Life long learning seems to mean that education is needed throughout everyone's life, and is not just something that one has in the first part of life. Often linked to this is the idea of a learning society. This seems to mean that the nature of the world's economic and technical base has changed from one in which education in the first part of life only was sufficient, to one where changes are happening so fast that everyone needs to be learning something new all the time.


    A lecture is a talk given to an audience on a subject.

    Talks by school teachers are part of the class. At universities many talks are given separately as lectures to large groups of students who meet in a lecture room or theatre. Often the lecturer speaks for most of the time and students take notes.

    click on the mad hatter
for some ideas about how you 
can get the most out of lectures

    Lecture Periods:

    Lecture periods may contain more than the traditional lecture. For example, there may be opportunities to meet staff and other students, to have group meetings, or to have study skills sessions.


    A lecturer is either:


    A library is a collection of books. It can refer to your personal collection or to a general collection used by several people. Many general libraries nowadays also stock journals, videos, sound recordings and other sources of information.

    The library is the oldest learning resource centre. Ancient libraries of clay tablets and papyrus must have existed in Babylonia and Egypt over 3,000 years ago. The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal (over 30,000 clay tablets) dates from 2,600 years ago. Aristotle formed his own library in Athens in the fourth century BC and a library was established at Alexandria.

    The old libraries were for reference only. Libraries that lend books developed in the 18th century and free public libraries developed in the 19th century. Open access to library shelves developed in the 20th century.

    Open access could be thought of as an aspect of open learning.

    Personal and public libraries of books have been the basic resource of adult education since the invention of printing made the mass production of books possible. Universities, television, radio, computers and the internet now supplement them and extend their influence. Open access to scholarly resources via the internet is developing in the 21st century.

    A library has to be organised and, to do this, many use the Dewey Decimal System   external links:   UK (archive)   USA (archive)

    A modular course is one that allows individual learners to select the course
    programme that suits them from a structured hierarchy of modules, some of which are compulsory and some optional.

    A module is an independent unit used in construction. In education modules are self-contained units of study that can be fitted together in different patterns to make different course
    Module resources:
    Learning resources produced by modules.

    Module resource sharing: A modular structure in which modules produce learning resources in a form that can be used by other modules. This study guide is an example. Many other examples are likely to appear on the web.


    A museum is a collection of objects.

    The word refers to the Muses, or goddeses of learning. Like libraries, we can think of museums as learning resource centres.

    Like the books in a library, the objects in a museum have to be organised. The process of organising museums sometimes plays an important part in the history of science. This can be seen in the relation of Scandinavian museums to archaeology.

    See dinosaurs - prehistory - pictographic writing - Balawat Gates - Ashurbanipal - Alexandria - 11th Century - slavery - Capitoline - London Penny Post - British Museum - Lund, Sweden - Denmark - Stockholm, Sweden - biscuits - cooperation - Warrington - Ethnographical (Denmark) - Crystal Palace - South Kensington - Frederick Pond - Ethnographie (France) - shelf appeal - mass observation - Musée de l'homme, Paris - Freud - Vespa - death of the Thames - art museums - computer history - Geodiversitas -

    A museum of survivor history?

    On Wednesday 27.7.2016 the London meeting of the Survivors History Group discussed what a survivor history museum might contain?. Should a museum be focused on objects like ECT machines, asylum notices, bath fittings, and picture postcards of asylums, or should it be focused on the work of survivors - art - poetry - politics - expression of experience - individual and collective action? Or can environmental objects be combined with survivors' views?

    These issues were raised by Sarah Chaney and Peter Campbell in a workshop exploring the implications of the terms survivor and service user for today's real life survivors and users and others. How can survivor history penetrate our culture and be meaningful to the lives of new generations? What role do or can museums and collections play in this debate?

    This workshop took place at the "radical histories and histories of radicalism" conference organised by the History Workshop Journal and others in London in June 2016. The conference helped to put survivor history and culture in context with other movements and raised many questions about how we pass our heritage on.

    The Survivor History Group will continue the discussion and your contribution, by email or at meetings, will be very welcome.

    Open Learning The word open in "Open Learning" is used with a variety of meanings, all of which are intended.

    Open Learning Materials
    University of the Air could have failed because its students became passive, couch potatoes - seeing and hearing everything, but learning nothing. To make sure this did not happen, the Open University developed printed course materials that require students to be active. A good example is the Mathematics Diagnostic and Developmental Booklet (1977) which starts with self tests for students to work out what they need to learn from the booklet.

    Open Learning Materials now refers to resources that allow substantial space for student input, that require student input, or that start from student input. Such resources were important in ensuring that distance learners did not become passive. They were also developed to promote active learning by students in on-campus Universities.

    Because Open Learning Materials require students to chose, they can be designed to let more students benefit from education. At Middlesex University the production of Open Learning Materials was developed from the 1960s onwards to let students from a wide range of backgrounds work on areas they needed to catch up on. Later, this provided a model for the Open University. (See Enfield Programmed Instruction Centre )

    Open Learning Systems
    Systems where conventional barriers to educational opportunity have been removed, so that a potential student can be of any age or background, and can study in places, and at times, which suit the individual rather than the institution. (Percival and Ellington 1984)

    Open University Prime Minister Harold Wilson's "University of the Air" that allows students to study at home, by listening to the wireless, watching television and working on open learning materials. Harold Wilson proposed the University in 1963, it was established in 1969, and began teaching students in 1971. No formal educational qualifications are required for admission to an undergraduate programme.


    page and sheet and leaf: A sheet of paper is one piece of the paper and includes both sides. A book is made of folded sheets of paper, which fan out as leaves. A page in a book is just one side of a leaf.

    web pages: Page is also used for web pages. If you are reading this on screen, you are looking at a web page now. Everything from the top to the bottom is a page. If you have printed this out, it will have used many sheets of printed pages.

    (I also use page for what Windows Help calls topics).

    bookmarks: A bookmark is a strip of leather, paper, cardboard, etc which you use to mark your place in a book. A supply of paper strips will be very helpful to you if you are studying as effective academic reading means you have to move backwards and forwards between different parts of a book. (See reading)

    A bookmark is also a way of keeping a record of web pages that you visit so that you can return easily to them. (See Finding and remembering web pages)

    The American spelling, program, is used for computer programs.

    Programmes: A programme is an organised sequence of learning or other activity.

    At Middlesex University a programme is an approved combination of modules normally taken over several years to obtain an award.

    Resources: Also see Sources

    Literally, a resource is something that lets you rise again. To re-source yourself. Your greatest learning resources are within you. They are what you have already learnt and you willingness to carry on learning. Here we consider external resources: materials you draw on for your learning.

    Learning resources are materials that students use to learn. It particularly refers to materials the student can use as an individual.

    Books are the traditional learning resource. These are now supplemented by computer files, videos, audio tapes and other non-printed resources, like this web site.

    See Resources for Study
    See Resource Based Learning

    Resources can also include human resources: people that students can call upon for assistance.

    Resource Centres:

    A Resource Centre is a place where resources are kept for people to use as they need them. In a Learning Resource Centre the resources are materials for education. Some of these are printed, so the Resource Centre is partly a library. Others are non-printed.

    The learning resource centre on the Enfield Campus (now closed) Middlesex University included computers to use when you wanted (open access), a room to study languages (including English), staff to advise about finding books and other materials, staff to help you use computers and staff to help with language and essay writing skills.

    See Library, Computer Centre and Language Centre.

    Resource Based Learning:

    Resource based learning is learning based more on the use of resources than on listening to classroom lectures.

    Good resource based education provides a well structured learning system that individual learners can adapt to their own needs. It is student centred, and uses a variety of resources, material and human, as appropriate.

    Students and teachers must organise themselves in different way for Resource Based Learning than for Class Based Learning.

    Seminars, workshops, groups and tutorials:

     Seminars and workshops are study groups that are run with a tutor present. A seminar is a group of students meeting for discussion with a tutor. The term workshop is used for meetings that have a more varied content.

    The word seminar has the same origin as seed. It is somewhere that growth is supposed to begin.

     Groups and group work are terms often used for study groups that have a degree of autonomy. They can be small groups meeting within a larger workshop or seminar, or groups that meet separately without a tutor.

     A tutorial is a period of tuition given by a tutor to an individual or small group, but we often call meetings with groups: seminars, and one-to-one meetings: tutorials. Any meeting or communication with a tutor can be called a tutorial. You might, for example, have email tutorials or telephone tutorials.

    Advice about working in groups

    Student centred learning:

    Student-centred learning is centred on the needs and activities of individual students. Tutors and classes are supportive of students' efforts, rather than the tutor being the centre of attention and the class the centre for learning.

    Student-centred learning usually involves special attention to
    resources which the student can use away from the class. See distance learning.

    Middlesex University Vice Chancellor, Michael Driscoll, argued that the staff of a University need to look at its services from the point of view of students and potential students. (January 1998)

    Middlesex University's mission is to be a student-centred university. However, many students find it difficult to explain what Student Centred Education means.

    Student Tutoring
    Peer Assisted Learning

    Student Tutoring and Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) are terms used about ways in which learners help one another. (Our peers are our equals)

    To distinguish different types of peer assisted learning, people use terms like:

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Peer Tutoring
  • Peer Monitoring
  • Peer Assessment
  • Paired Collaborative Writing
  • Mentoring
  • Peer Counselling

    Click here for some definitions of these different terms

    To teach is to show or to point out the way. A teacher helps people learn. Other words for teach are educate, instruct and tutor. In Britain, teacher is usually used for someone who teaches children or adolescents in a school, tutor for someone who teaches in a college or university. A university tutor was originally someone who supervised the general conduct of students, but now it refers to a teacher who supervises their academic work.

    "In Peer Tutoring, one person assumes the specific role of tutor, while the other(s) are tutees. The work has a high focus on curriculum content and is specifically aimed at tutors helping tutees to master a subject, or some particular aspect of it. There are considerable benefits for the tutor to be gained from this as well... Tutors are able to maximise their own knowledge through learning by teaching. This is particularly true where the roles of tutor and tutee are reversed, and they work together in Reciprocal Peer Tutoring" ( Donaldson and Topping 1996 page 31)

    A mentor is also another word for guide, teacher or tutor. It comes from the real name of a tutor in ancient Greece. However, it has been used with special meanings. For example, in business a mentor may be an experienced employee appointed to help and guide a junior employee. Sometimes mentor is matched with protégé so that a mentor is an older person who guides and helps a younger person (the protégé) in his or her career.

    "In ... mentoring you provide a positive role model... and act as an informal guide. Normally this is done across different years of study; older students or those with more experience of ... education may assume the role. It does not focus on subject content, more on the hidden curriculum of how to go about things. It is rather like an apprenticeship where the learner shadows the old hand and copies their example... A lot of what you do as a peer mentor will be concerned with building the self-confidence of your peer." ( Donaldson and Topping 1996 pages 55-56)

    To counsel is to give advice. But counselling is used both for giving advice on practical problems and for supporting someone in a non-judgemental way to help them deal more effectively with psychological or emotional problems.

    "In Peer Counselling, the counsellor is available to help a peer ... reflect on personal problems and work towards solving them. These usually stem from the stressful aspect of meeting the requirements of a busy schedule within the academic year. Simple problems may be handled by the peer counsellor, but perhaps more importantly, they will be able to refer the other student to an appropriate person for help." ( Donaldson and Topping 1996 page 56)

    Louise Warriar discusses the different elements of tutoring, mentoring and counselling in her role as a student tutor.

    sources and texts Also see Resources

    Like the source of a river where the water of life flows out of the ground. A source of learning is something (often a book or some other text) or someone who supplies you with the information you use. You need to remember your sources. They are evidence for what you learn. They are what you cite when people want to know why you believe something.

    primary sources or primary text:

    A primary text is one written by the writer one is talking about

    secondary sources or secondary text:

    A secondary text is one that is written about the writer one is talking about

    Required, recommended and relevant sources:

    Different courses require or recommend different sources to be used. This is related to the nature of the subject being studied.

    On some courses, students are required to use
    primary sources.

    Where particular sources are not specifically required or recommended, students should take care that the ones they use are relevant. Some books about utilitarian thought, for example, may not be directly relevant to essays on Bentham. Or, conversely, a book about Bentham's home life would probably not be directly relevant to his utilitarianism.

    Subjects of study: See also subjects in sentences and subject as self

    In its general sense, subjects are matters, themes etc to be discussed, described, or whatever.

  • academic subjects, which are discussed here. A department or field of study is called a subject.

    Branches of knowledge and learning are also known as academic disciplines, because of the rules that those who study them follow. This idea of established rules to disciplines is part of Thomas Khun's concept of scientific paradigms.

    Sometimes distinctions are made between subjects with an internal consistency and others that are mixtures of disciplines. For example, one writer identifies forms of thought, like mathematics, science, history, aesthetics and ethics, which he says have clear rules of conduct, including appropriate ways of discovering new information and methods of assessing truth. He distinguishes these from fields of study, like geography, engineering and gender studies, which apply a number of forms of thought to a particular area. Geography applies mathematical, scientific and historical thinking. Many science subjects (especially social science subjects) have names ending ology. "When you've got an ology you're a scientist" (BT advert). This ending comes from logos, Greek for a word, speech, reckoning, calculation or thought. It is just added to the subject matter to describe the science: biology (life science), sociology (society science), psychology (mind science), gerontology (old people science), criminology (crime science).

    But, whatever the lady in the BT advert says, not every subject ending in ology is a science. The word theology describes one of the oldest subjects. It means the study of God. Many modern dictionaries define theology as the study of ideas about God. Presumably this change is because many people do not think God exists. Behaviourists who denied the existence of mind still called themselves psychologists (mind scientists) and people who think society is just an abstraction still call themselves sociologists - so we should not take the titles of subjects (or those who teach them) too seriously!.

    Subjects at Middlesex University are groups of related modules covering the same area. [Now out of date]


    Text is a little word with a multitude of meanings and shades of meaning, especially in academic writing.

    In one sense text is just any written material. You can speak of printed text or handwritten text.

    Plain text means the words without any attributes. Attributes are elements that determine the appearance of the text, like bold and italics, font and size of print.

    Plain text in a computer file, is not a text file unless it is saved as a text file.

    The word text is not just used for the writing itself. It is also used for books and essays. The course texts are the books you are told to use to study it. The text of a book is its main body, as distinct from any notes, appendices, bibliography, index or pictures it may have.

    If someone speaks of the text of an essay you will need to work out what they mean from what they are contrasting text with. For example, they may mean:
    Text can also mean the original words of an author or document, as distinct from a commentary on them or the way someone has rewritten them. Here, however, it is sensible to speak of original text, or primary text.

    User friendly: Computer software, books or other material written by someone who wants to be understood by new users and readers.

    User nasty: Computer software, books or other material which is very difficult to start using.

    Sometimes the difficulty is because there are real advantages to starting the hard way. The books, for example may communicate more sophisticated thought than is possible in plain English and the software may give you more control over what you are doing than simpler software.

    Often it is because no one can be bothered to do the hard work necessary to make the material user friendly.

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    © Andrew Roberts 3.1999 - 3.2001 Written by Andrew Roberts, but drawing on material written by Barry Jackson, Chris Osborne, Lisa Crivello and others. This qualifies the copyright notice.

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