As a volunteer leader attending seminary online I sometimes feel out of place. I don’t have the experience or skills of many of my classmates. But as an ex-professor and someone with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, there is one thing I do fairly well… I love learning! God made me a learner, so I want to share some of the top things I’ve found helpful in my studies. The professor in my very first class at Rockbridge said something I still remember with a smile: “You really maximized your learning experience!”
Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Learning Experience
10) Your professor is your friend! Don’t be afraid to ask your prof for help. Get to know him or her. In grad school they’re no longer parent figures, they’re your peers. Nothing gets them more fired up than seeing a student develop a passion for what they’re learning. What breaks their heart is to see a student struggle in silence or just plain give up. They’re there to make a difference in someone’s live.
9) Read the “optional” recommended books in the syllabus. Bright minds with tremendous experience and wisdom have hand picked a cream-of-the-crop list of resources to help you learn. Don’t be dissuaded by the few extra hours or dollars it will cost you. It’s a great investment of time and money, small in comparison to your years at school.
8) Choose electives that will stretch you. Don’t pick all the ones in major or the easy ones. Choose several to hone existing strengths and but also pick a few way outside your main area, one that you think will be fun or just offer a different perspective.
7) Constantly ask “so what?” The goal of your education is not to cram your head with knowledge, it’s to seek wisdom and to be transformed as a discipleship. Don’t complain something doesn’t seem relevant, dig deeper until you find a principle or practice you can apply. Get something on your calendar or to-do list. Application of what you’re studying will either cement learning of truth or reveal your understanding to be false when you try to put it into practice.
6) Share what you’re learning with your team or some other outsider. Talk about it with a friend over lunch, discuss things within your small group, or teach a class. Blog about what you’re learning if you don’t have the opportunity to do this! Nothing helps you learn better than having to teach someone else. This also fosters a learning culture in your own church and within your team that will pay dividends in the long run.
5) Read your textbooks in multiple passes. First pass, skim it fairly quickly, even if you just read headings and call-outs. Do this before your class starts or in first week for a high-level overview of the book. Second, read it in full, taking notes and/or highlighting according to the syllabus/assignment schedule. Third time, when the class is done with that book, write summary notes by reviewing headings, your notes and highlights. As you do this, look once more for concrete items to add to your to-do list, someday list, or calendar.
4) Have an open mind when you read. You do not have to agree with everything you read, but you should definitely be humble enough to learn all you can any book or person. Do not dismiss an author or classmate just because you feel they’re wrong about something or don’t like them. You’re going to have to serve and get along with people who disagree strongly with you on some issues for the rest of your life, why not get some practice handling that well now?!
3) Interact often with your classmates. Ask them tons of questions, challenge and encourage them. Give them permission to ask you tough questions and push you. Especially in seminary, talk about things not in the curriculum, share dreams, pray for one another. Seminary should not be a place where ministry is put on pause – seminary is a place where you continue to minister as you learn.
2) Start your homework assignments early. I know, I know, there’s no way you can do this. You can, and here’s why you should: i) it will take the same amount of time to do a good job whether you do it now or later; ii) you’ll thank yourself profusely when things hit the fan on the eve of a huge assignment, that you finished a few days early; iii) good study and work habits developed out of a sense of discipline now will serve you well naturally later; iv) this is THE best way to reduce stress about school and homework. It takes effort, and you need to be committed to this approach from day one of classes, but it really pays off.
1) Find a good mentor who has the time and interest to meet with you. This is really a big deal where I’m now going to school. It’s a fully online seminary which requires students to find such a mentor before the end of the first week of each class. Make sure they know it’s for a limited duration. When you can discuss what you’re learning – whether things that are exciting or confusing – you’ll learn so much more from your class. When it’s someone who cares about you and has experience related to the class, that’s pure gold!
I know some of these may sound challenging or idealistic, but trust me, these are not pie-in-the-sky ideal things to ponder, they’re very practical tips that will truly help you maximize your learning experience – whether online or in the classroom, seminary or grad school. Got other tips? Share them in the comments!