I was panicking. My notebook was blank, as well as my mind. My textbook was underused. The final exam was coming in a few weeks. I had never been in this situation before.
This was six years ago in my Business Research Methods class. The teacher taught nothing from the textbook. He divided the class into groups and assigned each group a mini-research project. We met once a week to answer questions we had. We asked him to focus on the chapters that would be in the exam.
He replied: "I'm not teaching you for tests, and you are not learning just to pass exams."
What I learned in this class has stayed with me throughout my career while the lessons from other courses have faded away.
This experience taught me the true meaning of real learning.
With this story in mind, I interviewed four current scholarship students at RMITVN to see what they think about learning and what makes them good learners.
Learning for learning's sake
Real learning means learning skills that are not just for school they can help professionally and personally as well. This does not happen when you focus entirely on tests.
"I don't actually learn for grades, but to acquire new knowledge," said Tran Huyen Hai, a scholarship student at RMITVN. "I find it interesting and know it will be useful somewhere in the future. Maybe that is what really helped me earn good marks in the end."
Her learning skills not just her school skills have played pivotal role in her academic success.
She always questions what she is told or reads, she always digs for new answers, and she takes the personal initiative to learn and reflect on her experiences. This makes her a powerful thinker, a great learner and a determined professional.
Learn all the time
When you look at someone successful in any area, whether it is singing, writing, or anything else, you will find that the number of hours they have put in is a huge determinant of that success.
Learning Matters is a monthly column aiming to provide useful thoughts on learning and education in the hope of informing the broader discussion of educational development in Vietnam. The column is written by the Learning Skills Unit at RMIT International University Vietnam (www.lsuvietnam.com).
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"I often read textbooks and do exercises before a semester starts in order to get ahead," said Dang Vu Ha.
"I stay up late to finish an exercise, a chapter or a question that I'm still confused about. In my free time, I think about what I've learnt and discuss it with my friends."
For Ha, learning outside the classroom is just as important as what's taught in class.
Hai is also known for putting in extra work after school her lecturers know she's the one who will be asking the questions know one else asks, even outside of class.
Nguyen Thi Bao Khanh's said that conversations with her father and co-workers at her internship program are just as valuable as her schooling. She talks with them about global economics, the Vietnamese economy, banking, and government policies. These people have helped her understand complex economic models and have given her extra books to read on various subjects.
This is the kind of support that anyone can access and approaching potential learning sources outside of school is just as important as putting in extra hours of practice.
Plug the gaps, make the connections
Successful students think that they have the right to learn beyond what they are taught, the right to think differently apart from the crowd, and the right to question and challenge knowledge or even make new knowledge.
"Keeping a critical and questioning mind is key," said Doan Tuan Vu.
"I don't trust everything lecturers say. That's why I rebut them all the time during lectures with questions," another student added.
"Sometimes I'm right and I'm always very happy to point out where the teacher might have missed something or made a mistake. Sometimes I'm wrong, which is awesome because it helps me understand my knowledge gap and fill it quickly before it gets bigger."
Connecting the dots
Vu Ha said good learners make the connection between the things they study and the "real world."
"I try to relate different topics to each other or expand on the problems raised in the classes to real-world cases."
Through this process, your mind is open and your learning is no longer limited to an unemotional question booklet.
So if you are used to sitting quietly and listening to others talk, start asking questions when watching TV or talking with friends. You will be taking a step towards becoming a more successful learner.
By Truong Thuy Van
The writer is an administrative assistant with the Learning Skills Unit, RMIT International University Vietnam