Many of us here at digiLab are former academics, myself included. So, we’ve spent a lot of time educating university students on a range of technical topics. Along the way, we’ve made some observations and picked up some tips that we think you might find helpful. In this lesson, I want to give you some general tips and advice to help you get the most out of completing an Academy course.
Slow and steady wins the race
The first one is fairly obvious - take your time! Don’t be tempted to rush through any course simply so you can say you got to the end and completed it. Although we generally try to break new concepts up to make them as digestible as possible, you will still encounter some quite dense lessons that cover multiple important concepts.
If you get to the end of a lesson and don‘t feel that you fully grasped everything covered, stop. Don’t be tempted to ignore the problem and push ahead. This is a dangerous juncture in your journey - proceeding without fully grasping what was already covered can quickly derail you down the line!
Reflect honestly at the end of each lesson and consider whether you could explain what you just learned to someone else. If you don’t think you could, you should circle back and review the lesson material again.
It’s quite normal for students to go over lesson material multiple times, supplementing what was covered with additional reading and research. Unpicking something you don’t understand is actually the best way to learn…second only to trying to teach it to someone else!
If it seems hopeless and you just don’t crack the problem or concept, then reach out through the support forum to your tutor. I’ll say more about seeking additional support a little later.
Take notes and build your own map of the landscape
The next tip is to take your own notes! Each Academy lesson has a full set of accompanying notes. But you should also generate your own notes along the way, preferably handwritten and stored in a physical notebook or on a tablet.
Many of the concepts that we cover will be best captured using a diagram, and many of the equations we work with are most efficiently reproduced by hand rather than typing. So getting into the habit of jotting down your own notes and thoughts will be helpful as you consume more course materials.
So, why write your own notes if there’s already a complete set of nicely typed notes for each lesson? Well, the typed notes represent how the lesson author thinks about and structures the material. They’re presented in a style, order and format that best makes sense to the author.
This may not be how you would naturally build up your own understanding of the different concepts and how they relate to each other. We all think about things and perceive new information differently. If you start to take your own notes as you learn and build up a picture of this new area, you can structure the material in a manner that is more intuitive to you.
Your own handwritten notes are also a more powerful roadmap to help you return to and review the material later on. After consuming many hours of new and challenging material, you’ll be very glad you have your own handcrafted breadcrumb trail to re-trace back through what you learned.
Actively consume the material
My next tip is to not slip into the habit of letting the lesson videos wash over you. Anyone who has sat through a university lesson will know that it’s all too easy to let your focus drift. This can happen even quicker when watching a video lesson. If you’re not careful, you can watch an entire video lesson, get to the end and not really have a clue what you just watched!
How do you stop this from happening? To my previous point, writing notes definitely helps to keep you engaged. To write notes, you generally have to have some independent thoughts about what you’re watching. Otherwise, you’d just be transcribing the video…don’t do that!
Working while tired is a false economy
Probably the biggest thing you can do to avoid slipping into passive consumption is not to study when you’re tired. Again, to my first point, don’t be tempted to watch a lesson just to get it done, even though you know you’re probably too tired to effectively digest the content.
Try to set aside time when your brain is fresh. For me, this would be between about 8 am and 12 pm. That’s when I have the least trouble tackling the hard problems. For some folks, they have their windows of clarity late at night. So, whenever it happens to be for you, try to use this time to work on your course.
Do the work
The final piece of advice I have for you is to be proactive. When your tutor suggests that you complete a challenge or thought exercise, the temptation will be to skip ahead, but resist. Pause the lesson and do it.
You will learn far quicker by trying and failing to solve a problem than by never trying at all and just watching someone else solve it. True learning is genuinely hard work and happens most effectively when we’ve battled with a problem or concept ourselves - otherwise, you’re mostly just memorising!