Making the most of your learning experience

Key to making the most of your time at university is being an active learner, which means taking opportunities to participate in and engage as much as possible with your course and other learning experiences at Surrey.

Active learning

Becoming an active learner at university may include:

  • Taking part in class discussions
  • Contributing to team projects
  • Forming informal study groups
  • Joining university clubs/societies.

However, being active also means how you approach your studies, as the guides to planning and organising your time and secrets of university success: active note-making strategies have shown.

It is important to recognise that there are multiple ways in which you can actively engage with your studies. While you can be active through communicating in class, you can also be active by thinking about and reflecting on course content and taking part in course activities. For example, solving maths equations in a tutorial, or critically analysing information, also means that you are being an active learner.

It’s important to understand that university is a place where you can choose how you develop not only your knowledge of the subject and your academic skills, but where you can also choose to develop your social, personal and professional skills. Being an active, independent learner at university enables you to decide the extent to which you wish to engage with university life, including learning opportunities beyond your course.

Being an active learner will be easier by recognising that, at Surrey, you will be part of a ‘learning community’.

Your learning community

Being part of a learning community will mean working with others on your course (who will have shared academic goals and interests) and could also involve connecting with others across the wider university. Seeing and making these connections will help you to feel fully part of university life as you start and progress on your course, helping you to explore all the opportunities that are available to you.

Your community will evolve as you become more confident as a learner. This could include knowing when and where to seek study advice or developing other interests by joining clubs and societies.

Key elements of your university learning community

Possible opportunities for you to actively connect with the wider Surrey learning community are: 

  • Online or on-campus learning activities
  • Peer learning and supporting other students
  • Course/university roles, for example, your course rep
  • Your personal tutor
  • Module tutors and faculty staff
  • Clubs/societies/volunteering
  • Professional support staff and services.

Consider how you will become an active learner


Communicating, networking, team working and digital engagement


Become an active learner and participate in your learning community


Confidence, resilience, resourcefulness and your university identity and sense of belonging

Four key areas to focus on

Below we explore:

  • What addressing the four areas could look like
  • How this will help you to actively engage with your learning community
  • Why it’s beneficial to develop these skills.

In effect, “the more you put in, the more you get out!”

Developing communication skills is important as this will enable you to connect effectively with many areas of university life.

It is key to learning activities such as group work and can help you to build strong relationships with a wider network of students and staff.

Communication is not just about speaking and writing. It is also about active listening, and being able to communicate successfully in varied settings, whether face-to-face or online. Developing as an effective communicator means being clear in your message, being open to others’ opinions and showing respect in all your communications.

Effective engagement will not only help you maintain concentration, thereby enhancing your knowledge and understanding of a topic, but also allow you to learn from others: university life provides an opportunity to share in everyone’s unique experiences, which is helpful for understanding different perspectives, so embrace listening to other students and staff.

What you can do

  • Written: Chat functions in web conferencing software
  • Listening to: Others (staff/students), live sessions (face-to-face or online)
  • Speaking: Asking questions

How you can participate

  • Be respectful in discussions
  • Interact with other students and staff
  • Practise by contributing regularly to sessions.

What you'll develop

  • Strong supportive networks
  • Knowledge and understanding of subject
  • Understanding of diverse backgrounds and experiences of others.

Creating networks can often be challenging, especially when you are in a new environment, but being aware of how you can start to build your learning network will help you to better assimilate to, and shape your, university life.

You may find it easier to start with making a few key contacts on your course, for example, the team you are working with on an assignment. From there you can build, extending your network by engaging with other students on your course, with staff within your faculty such as your personal tutor, seeking advice from university support services to clarify anything you are unsure about, or joining university societies.

Creating and maintaining your networks naturally requires you to actively engage, but this can be beneficial from a wellbeing perspective as you will feel connected to your course and your Surrey learning community.

Having a learning network will also help you to develop your resourcefulness, resilience and confidence, as a supportive network will help you to deal with challenges and become more adaptable and flexible to changing circumstances.

What you can do

  • Group or teamwork
  • Informal study groups
  • Connecting with staff
  • Seeking advice from university support services.

How you can participate

  • Maintain contacts from group/team working to form a supportive network
  • Join a university club/society
  • Try volunteering.

What you'll develop

  • Interpersonal skills and cultural awareness
  • Ability to collaborate effectively on projects
  • Employability skills
  • Motivation
  • Adaptability and flexibility.

Working on group assignments is a common feature of many courses and this can be a cause for concern for some students. This could be because they are unsure how to contribute ideas or approach a team member who is not fully engaged.

However, being part of a team can help you build your learning community, so approaching this as an active learner can help to alleviate these concerns. Actively contributing to your team can help you to develop valuable skills and capabilities such as decision-making, problem-solving and leadership and negotiation skills.

Before you start university, consider the strengths and experiences you might be able to bring to team working.

Once you’ve started university, use these strengths to actively make a unique contribution to your team. Reflect on how you can contribute to the group dynamic by meeting your responsibilities in good time, promote team cohesion and provide a lead when necessary, for example, setting realistic goals and supporting others.

Use the opportunity team working affords to understand different viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences.

By actively contributing within a group in these ways, you have an opportunity to develop invaluable workplace skills that employers look for in graduates.

What you can do

  • Team working on an assignment
  • Forming a study group (peer-to-peer learning)
  • Contribution to a university club/society or learning scheme.

How you can participate

  • Be supportive of others by staying connected with your team
  • Be aware of the strengths you (and others) can bring to the task and identify your role
  • Complete tasks and manage deadlines.

What you'll develop

  • Negotiation and persuasion skills
  • Decision-making, leadership and problem-solving abilities.

Developing your digital capabilities will help you to stay connected with your learning community, as, at times, you may need to communicate via web conferencing software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, platforms you will have access to as a Surrey student.

Using technology will help you to develop your digital confidence and capabilities as you progress on your course, but don’t worry if you feel unsure at this stage: Plenty of guidance is provided which you will be able to access when you start your studies.

As an active learner, ‘netiquette’ (network and etiquette) is your responsibility, which means respecting other people’s opinions and creating posts and messages that are appropriate for any audience.

It is also essential to look after your ‘digital wellbeing’, so make sure you maintain healthy study habits, which should include blocking out time away from technology.

What you can do

  • Using web conferencing software for your learning
  • Team working
  • Connecting with others online.

How you can participate

  • Familiarising yourself with SurreyLearn
  • Create digital support networks for yourself and others
  • Create a positive environment in which everyone feels included.

What you'll develop

  • Digital capabilities
  • Digital wellbeing by maintaining an online and off-line balance
  • Online communication skills
  • Digital collaboration skills.

Key takeaways

Using the suggestions in this guide:

  • Consider how you aim to actively engage and participate within your learning community, in whichever ways you are comfortable, to make the most of your university experience
  • Reflect upon and revisit all the other guides in this series, to see how the information there can help you think about how you can make the most out of your time at Surrey.

If you have read all six guides and contemplated all the suggestions therein, you have already taken some significant steps in what will become for you a unique, valuable and transformative learning journey.

Remember, the more actively you engage with your studies, the more personally rewarding your experience will be!

What next?

We look forward to welcoming you to Surrey and wish you every success in your studies. Visit Academic Skills and Development to see the support for your learning available to you once you start at Surrey.