By Leanne Goodall

We’ve all been there: staring at the books with no clue as to what the previous few pages mean. It’s perfectly normal, I’m certain of that now! There have been times when I’ve read the same part again and again but I still don’t understand much. Despite this, I’ve (almost always) managed to gain a good understanding in the end. I put this down to several things and thought it might be really handy to share with others.

What follows are my top tips, things that have helped me get my head around a tricky subject and think in a different way:

1 – Have some thinking timeaway from the books. Do something different and then sit and think. Try and remember what you can and think about what the main points could be. Often a little thinking time can aid perspective and just make things ‘click’. Sometimes by reading over and over our brain stops processing the information and we do ourselves no good. Thinking time might be just what you need.

2 – Look at the learning outcomes. Every module book comes with a set of learning outcomes. These are the things that the module team aims to teach us. Everything that is then in the book has been chosen to aid that process of learning. Try to see how this material might fit in with those outcomes. What might the module team be aiming to teach you in this section? Does it fit into a wider concept of your studies? Looking at the learning outcomes just might help you slot things into place, so it’s worth a try.

3 Talk it out. Chat about the subject matter with your friends and family. OK you may find that they don’t share your interest or don’t know anything about it but you might also find yourself explaining things to them and realising that you know more than you thought – I’ve been there myself. You could also try online and get involved with other students. You can’t ask too directly but you can join in with subject forums which are designed to aid your thought processes. You can read what others are saying and perhaps see things from a different angle. This can sometimes be very helpful.

And my TOP TIP is…

4 – YouTube! If you’ve tried all the obvious ways but something still doesn’t quite click then get yourself over to YouTube. I was introduced to these during my recent exam preparation (Thank you Victoria, my Twitter study buddy!) and they really did save me! It won’t take long for you to find some of the great tutorials out there; I came across several YouTube channels which were so helpful! One of my favourites was the lectures by Yale University (Yes, real lectures by the real university). They were fairly detailed but so informative and helpful.

Another favourite for me was the discovery of Hip Hughes and his History channel. (Find him on Twitter @HipHughes). He posts brilliant 15-20 minute long videos which are fresh and funny. They’re packed with crucial information which is complimented by little jokes and images which add to the understanding. These history videos helped me enormously and I intend on using them more in future.

I guess the key point here is not to look elsewhere to learn the information for your Open University degree. It’s to find things to compliment the module materials and to get creative with your learning.

The learning process goes far deeper than the text books. Podcasts, DVDs and illustrations can all be just as useful so don’t be afraid to explore different ideas and do whatever works for you. The more you understand, the more you will get from the material all round.

Now you have a few tips to aid your studies you can go and give them a try. Or maybe you’ve got some other ideas that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear what you do to aid your understanding!

Leanne is half way through a BA (Hons) in History with the Open University and enjoys writing as a freelancer as well as on her blog. Find out more here. You can catch up on all of Leanne’s excellent contributions on STOU here.

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