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September 2011

A few wise words from SBID’s Education Panel Chairman, Frazer Macdonald Hay, Director of Big Stone Collective ltd.
Dear Undergraduate students & Post Graduate student,

The summer is almost over and I hope you’re returning with the energy and ambition to start a new year. Before you start however, I thought I would offer some helpful information with regards you, the learner. It is important to realise your strengths and weaknesses, to understand yourselves as learners and to appreciate that not everyone learns in the same way, speed or structure.

Take some time to reflect upon yourself and your characteristics from an academic perspective. If you felt frustrated or disillusioned last year or perhaps under-appreciated then perhaps it’s because your learning style hasn’t been satisfied yet. Take time to understand yourself a little better. If you feel it’s appropriate discuss it with your tutor. Think about tailoring you activities with added confidence, in the knowledge that you are in control of your own specific learning approach. The first step is to understand what kind of learner you are.

Are you…

An Activist
Activists appreciate novelty and will ‘try anything once’. When given a task, you throw yourself wholeheartedly into the work. You like to get on with things but are not so interested in planning what needs to be done or what you are about to do. You will most likely be living life very much in the present. The activist quickly gets fed up with repetition and processes which appear to be going over old ground. Activists are stimulating and vital, open-minded and gregarious.

A Reflector
Reflectors likes to ‘look before they leap’. You like to collect information and sift through it. You are a cautious and thorough learner. You prefer to observe rather than take the lead. You might be slow to make up your mind but once you do, your decisions are soundly based. And not only do you base your decisions on your own knowledge and opinions but also structure in what you learnt from observing and listening to others. You might feel or appear quiet in groups. However this is more related to your ‘Olympian detachment’ rather than from any insecurities.

A Theorist
Theorists occupy the world of ideas. You have a tidy, organised mind. You’re not content until you get to the bottom of things and explained your observations in terms of fundamental principles. You need to know the logic behind actions and observations. You dislike the subjective and the ambiguous. You don’t understand those who take actions which are not underpinned by a logical or theoretical structure. If a tutor uses data to support their opinion, it is most likely that the theorist learner will be the one asking about the validity of the data.

A Pragmatist
The pragmatist, like the theorist learner, is interested in ideas. But you want to try them out to see if they work. You are often less interested in actually developing the idea itself but will happily beg, borrow or steal those ideas you think will facilitate your actions more effectively. You enjoy experimentation but won’t be so interested in drawn out analysis of the results, which would appeal to the ‘reflector type’ learners. You most likely take the opinion that if it works then it works, if it doesn’t work, then there is no point in wasting precious time wondering why. You probably spend the time looking for an alternative solution with more promising aspects and give that a go. You love solving problems!

Now,  just in case you have now classified yourself one way or another and feel that was too easy, you may be surprised to learn that your approach to learning can also be measured. So, are you a Serialist or Holist?

The Serialist’s approach to learning is systematic and linear. You break down a task into bite size ‘sub-tasks’ combining them later to achieve the task’s main objective. Your working pattern might be:

You work systematically, one step at a time
Focus on particular aspects of the brief
Look at details and data evidence
You filter images and data, as too many will frustrate and confuse your process
You need to take ownership of your project rather than just accepting the explanation offered by others
You probably enjoy a tightly scheduled and rigorous teaching style

The Holist’s approach is in complete contrast. You work best by tackling a task in its entirety, right from the very start of the brief. Your general working patterns:

You work impulsively according to mood, interest and inspiration
You look at the whole picture first
Your focus will be on broader issues of context and programme
You really enjoy images, precedents, theories and comments, your motto is ‘the more the merrier’
You probably enjoy giving the evidence your own interpretations
In terms of teaching you will perhaps enjoy a more freer tutoring style

**Just remember you will need to embrace both approaches to successfully approach a design brief and deliver an appropriate and rich solution. Problem solving calls for a combination of both approaches so know your strengths and work on your weaknesses **

Finally there are three fundamental approaches to learning which are known as DEEP, SURFACE & STRATEGIC. It is very likely you have already developed some or all of these approaches from school or higher education.

The approach criteria is something like this:

The Deep approach is all about you taking ownership of the task. This is Learning as Understanding. You make your own sense of your learning and its outcomes. The other key aspect to deep learning is that you reflect on your learning and appreciate the personal changes it has made and the academic journey taken. This is Learning as personal development.

The Surface approach is about learning in the traditional perception of education. Surface is often referred to as ‘passive learning’. You sit back and absorb. It is a method of filling the learner as if he or she were an empty vessel. Another surface type learning approach is memorising the subject content. This is a little more active and requires subject matter to be retained and understood.

Finally there is the aspect of learning which require an understanding of not just the facts given by the tutors but the methods and theories too. Learning as acquiring facts, procedures and skills.

The Strategic approach is all about achievement. It is driven by higher grades, based of feedback and criteria and weighting of material learnt. You approach learning intending to gain the highest possible grades, You focus your time and effort and make the most of these. This approach is often seen in mature students. They already have efficient, well-organised and manageable study methods.

I hope this information is useful and goes a little way to making your academic years more enjoyable and productive. Good luck in the coming years and remember you will be taking your learning skills with you after higher education. It is probably good practice to work on those weaker aspects within your learning portfolio as you will require rounded, balanced and robust learning skills and methods in professional practice too.