What’s the Best Way to Write Your Essay? That Depends on You. – TUB-Thump 027


Do you like to plan ahead before you work, or do you like to crack on with a clean canvas?

I hadn’t really considered this so much until I’d seen a presentation by Tristram Hooley with various writing tips.

A couple of Hooley’s slides look at two different types of working that resonate with me, because they have a similar outlook to one of the ways I look at learning new things.

For learning, I like to look at the bigger picture and drill down to the details from there. But some people start with some choice details and work outward to uncover that big picture.

In many ways, how you choose to write may have similarities in that learning choice too. And that’s what I talk about in Episode 027 of TUB-Thump.

I wonder if you’ve read this plan of the episode first, or if you’ve jumped straight into listening. I guess that depends on how you like to do things!

What’s your choice?

Here are the show notes for the 5-min episode:

  • 01:00 – Tristram Hooley’s presentation: Writing. How, why, when and what?
  • 01:20 – Planning writers versus generative writers.
  • 01:55 – Make a plan and then write a first draft or write a first draft and make a plan off the back of it?
  • 02:30 – One of these ways of working is likely to work better for you than the other. But it’s always worth trying the other way of working to see what you can learn about your process.
    I’ve talked about that before. Hear more on Episode 023 of TUB-Thump, How to Change Your Perspective and Why That Change is Good.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

How To Be the Student You Deserve To Be – TUB-Thump 015


We don’t operate on a level playing field.

Some things are up to you, while other things are outside your control.

On today’s TUB-Thump, I look at adopting the mindset to be the student you deserve to be.

University is about so many things. I like to think of it as a springboard to taking action.

That doesn’t make life at university easy. So how do you act in the most effective way?

If you want to do more than jump through a few hoops, listen to today’s TUB-Thump, get exploring, and reclaim the word “learning”. It’s a gateway to keep being awesome…

Here are the show notes for the 9-min episode:

  • 01:00 – To be the student you deserve to be, it’s about thinking how you can use everything as a springboard to further action.
  • 02:20 – The easier it is, and the more opportunities there are, the more likely you could end up procrastinating. It’s a strange situation, so keep a careful eye on it.
  • 02:50 – Not everything is laid out for you. And even if they are, that doesn’t mean you should blindly jump through the hoops without any real understanding or context as to why you’re doing it. I did some of this “hoop jumping” without question when I was younger. And since I didn’t know why I was doing it, I ended up making decisions that didn’t make sense. I had to pivot further down the line.
  • 03:50 – Not everyone gets the opportunities to correct their course or find their context. That’s part of the reason why I want to help open things up through TheUniversityBlog, TUB-Thump and so on. If one person can be inspired or can find context, that’s a worthwhile achievement.
  • 05:30 – It’s never too late to explore more. We’re always learning.
  • 06:10 – Reclaim the word “learning”. And check out another one of my shows, Learning Always.
  • 07:25 – Allow yourself flexibility, so long as you don’t blame others. Take on responsibility where it counts and where you do have control over it.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

Why You Should Develop More Ways of Learning (Even When You Think You Don’t Need To)


What’s your favourite way of learning?

Reading text? Mind maps? Lots of images? Listening to lectures and audio content?

Would you rather take in knowledge through a one-to-one discussion, or within a group seminar?

Over time, you get used to certain ways of learning. You’ve built up an appreciation of those styles.

But what does the term ‘learning style’ REALLY mean?

It doesn’t mean you’re a visual learner, kinaesthetic learner, or similar. It simply means that you’re more practised in some areas than you are in others.

In short, you’ve become a bit of a specialist in one or two learning methods, at the expense of other techniques.

Experience is good. That’s why you’re probably more confident working the way you’re used to.

But it’s good to mix things up. With a bit of practice, you can develop other styles of learning. And that means you’ll get a bigger range of tools to use as you work.

Thomas Frank of College Info Geek says you need to use different tools for different subjects:

“…math and science aren’t subjects reserved for some upper-echelon group of students. Rather, they simply require some different study methods.”

Okay, so perhaps you’re focused on one subject and you know it well. You may think it’s pointless to develop new ways of learning when you’re already succeeding with your current approach. Why push yourself further?

I’ll put it another way. You may be able to improve in ways you didn’t realise. For instance, the learning may be enough to ace the tests and craft excellent essays. How would you feel if you could reach the same quality, but much quicker?

Or what if you’re doing well on the academic work, but feel overwhelmed about taking on other activities? How would you feel if you could separate the workloads and take on more challenges with ease?

These are a couple of reasons to develop your learning, even when things are looking good.

The more techniques you can rely on, the more you can build up the learning possibilities.

Armed with several techniques, you’re:

  • more likely to remember the content;
  • more likely to make useful links;
  • more likely to develop associations in new ways.

You can tackle one area of content with one learning experience, another area in a different way, and so on. Or you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

It’s like when you work in several different areas. If you do all your work at your desk, you’ve only got one area to associate the learning with. So imagine working in a study room, in the library, in a park, in a quiet area on campus, in a coffee shop, and so on. You associate different parts of your learning with the different places you did the work in.

Your goal is to have as many systems and approaches to learning as you can.

And perhaps it’s best to start with the visuals. Hank Green explains on SciShow that we all seem to be pretty good at learning with pictures:

Instead of thinking about your preferred learning style, think about owning a learning toolbox. A toolbox that you can keep upgrading and improving.

With a traditional toolbox, you don’t always use the same tools. You know when one tool will work better than another. And when you pick the tool, you swap one size or shape bit with another, so it’s the right fit for the job.

You can’t do every job with a screwdriver, so why limit your experience to just that one tool?

The same can be said for how you learn. As you expand your repertoire, you get a better choice of tools. And your fully-complemented toolbox will let you do the best job each time.

You still need to master those tools. And that’s perfectly possible. After all, that’s exactly what you did to find the methods you currently prefer to use.

There’s no limit to how you can develop and how far you can take the methods. But you don’t need to visit a DIY store, overwhelmed and without a clue where to start. You just take your learning journey one step at a time, and in your own time.

Sure, this isn’t about making quick fixes. But the more you master the tools, the quicker you’ll get and the easier you’ll find each problem that arises.

Ask yourself every day: How can I upgrade and improve my learning toolbox today?

When You Ask The Question, “Are Learning Technologies Fit For Purpose?” #digifest15

“Asking the question is probably the most important thing.”

Lawrie Phipps made the point as he finished chairing a debate over, “Are learning technologies fit for purpose?”

It may sound dull, but his point was the best way to sum up the session between Dave White and Donna Lanclos at the Jisc Digifest 2015.

Earlier in the day, Anna Notaro told me that she doesn’t like either/or questions. While it does help me write short and punchy tweets, I do agree.

So, are learning technologies fit for purpose?

It’s an impossible question, as it involves individual decisions as much as it does group decisions. It involves education providers and administrators as much as it does learners.

Do learning technologies fit YOUR purpose? Can these tools give you what you want? And if you don’t know what you want, is this method working for you?

Dave White said that learning technologists and other professionals forget how experienced and confident they are. He suggested that if you could go back to when you were 18–just starting out at university–you would be far less likely to have the same drive to make your point. The nervewracking experience of speaking in a lecture or seminar consisted mainly of trying not to make a fool out of yourself. Newbies to the system don’t want to fall at the first hurdle. There’s so much at stake, or so it feels anyway.

One solution is to provide safe spaces so that students can build their confidence. This requires a somewhat locked-in approach using internal systems, rather than pointing toward online services that can publish work for all the world to see.


Use a VLE or use WordPress? Donna Lanclos explained that institutions have made a promise to educate their students. Learning and subsequent application of publicly used resources will provide the best opportunity for students to develop worthwhile skills. Using a VLE, she argued, doesn’t provide the same learning opportunity. Lanclos expressed difficulty in seeing why it’s so difficult to assist students in confident use of open web tools and to invest money saved from ditching VLEs on hiring more staff instead.

Questions from the audience were useful, as they looked at the flaws in the either/or questioning:

  • Something isn’t fit for purpose, but what is it? Is it the technology, is it the institution, is it something else? This needs assessing.
  • Why are we talking about a choice? You can have both a VLE and an open web.
  • We need to equip people to be competent in the open web. This requires a continuum model. Not just about knowledge in terms of content, but which technologies to use and when?
  • The reason we have VLEs is due to standards issues. Until you can bring diversity together in a reasonable format, a VLE is a practical necessity.
  • What IS the purpose of learning technologies? They are fit for purpose only if you identify what their purpose is.
  • You may want to use a social service for personal reasons, but that doesn’t mean you wish to use it as part of your course.

Lanclos said that it’s important to take responsibility for students’ learning when they do not have the understanding or experience of necessary tools. So, she continued, why is that different via the open web than through a VLE? Her closing argument stated that university is a much more holistic project than VLEs allow for. The fact they are locked in ends up sheltering students from the outside world and more practical learning.

White closed by explaining that learning technologies reflect the purpose our institutions have chosen to take. They provide a platform to frame learning around the course, rather than the individual. People can be helped through the process of education.

This takes us back to the remark Lawrie Phipps made to close the session:

“Asking the question is probably the most important thing.”

I saw neither Lanclos nor White as particularly wrong in their assertions. Such an ambiguous and open question is important because it shows how diverse the student population has become over the decades. And yet, as one audience member remarked, pedagogy over the last 20 years hasn’t been particularly transformed.

Asking the question, “Are learning technologies fit for purpose?” is a great way to continue exploring transformation that requires technology. But rather than focus on the technology at the centre, focus on the learner, on society, and on the future.