Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > How Students Learn > Help Students Learn to Learn

Help Students Learn How to Learn

​It is easy to assume that our students already know how to learn, because they have been in school for so long. But attending school does not necessarily translate into being effective, self-directed learners. Helping students improve their learning and study skills is an excellent way to help them succeed not only in your course but as lifelong learners.

Be a Role Model

Consider demonstrating your own learning, research and study practices for your students. This approach has the added benefit of providing an opportunity to connect with your students. (For more on connecting with your students, see The First Day​).

Relate With Your Own Process

  • Model how to read a text that is common in your field. You could do this by annotating the text or recording a screencast as you talk through the text.
  • Describe and provide examples of how you typically approach your scientific, creative, or other projects. As an expert, you may take for granted the helpful routines or "hidden" strategies that you have developed to be successful over time.
  • Explain what learning strategies and methods worked or did not work for you in your own academic career.
  • Communicate the most difficult concepts, topics, or tasks that you’ve encountered as a student or professional. Describe how you handled these challenges. 
  • Share what organizational methods, time management practices, and other practical tips and tricks you rely on to stay productive.

Encourage Students to Reflect on Their Own Processes

  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own processes. For example, ask students to complete "process reports" where they describe how they approach projects, including  revisions completed and lessons learned. See a process report template that you can modify and use with your own students. 
  • Encourage students to engage in thinking about their own thinking, i.e. metacognition. For examples on how to do this with your students, see Activities for Metacognition.

Help Learners' Develop Executive Functioning

  • Explicitly share strategies like skim reading, an important skills for research and writing.
  • Provide "scaffolding" to large projects by including benchmarks, deadlines and specific suggestions  for planning.
  • Point students to additional training opportunities for apps, technology, or tools used in your course (e.g., LinkedIn Learning)
  • Help students ask "meta" questions like, "What do I know already? What do I still need to learn?"

Remember Resources Provided by the University

Remind students of the wonderful resources provided to help them modify and improve their learning habits. DePaul’s Student Success website is a great place to start.

Transferable Study Methods

Some methods are found to improve test performance and long-term retention across domains and disciplines. Dunloski et al., writing in Scientific American Mind, provides a few salient points on how to maximize study-retention and efficacy:

  1. Self-testing:  Students may use flashcards to test their recall. They can also try answering the sample questions at the end of a textbook chapter or study guide. Quizlet is a great platform to create non-physical flashcards for this activity.
  2. Distributed Practice: Encourage students to spread out their study sessions over a period of time in lieu of a “cram session.” Gentle reminders throughout the quarter and via Pulse may help students manage this term-long approach. 
  3. Elaborative Interrogation: Consider the interrogative nature of a four-year-old and ask the question, Why? Students produce explanations for facts, such as “Why does it make sense that…?” or “Why is this true?” 
  4. Self-Explanation: Students explain what they’ve learned, reviewing their mental processing. Posing questions such as “What new information does the sentence provide?” and “How does it relate to what is already known?” help students integrate new information with their prior knowledge.

References and Resources

These tips are adapted from suggestions in the following texts:
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Full Ebook available through DePaul Library 
Armbruster, P., Patel, M., Johnson, E., & Weiss, M. (2009). Active Learning and Student-centered Pedagogy Improve Student Attitudes and Performance in Introductory Biology. CBELife Sciences Education, 8(3), 203–213. 
Boekaerts, Monique., Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe. Zeidner. Handbook of Self-Regulation. Burlington: Elsevier Science, 2005. Print. Full Ebook available through DePaul Library 
Dunlosky, John, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, and Daniel T. Willingham. (2013). What Works, What Doesn’t. Scientific American Mind (PDF).