Starting your Surrey learning journey

To start your university journey, it is helpful to reflect on what inspired you to come to university and what you would now like to achieve – your aspirations. 

Becoming a more independent, confident learner

Many students often focus narrowly on ‘getting the grades’ to gain a good degree. While grades are important, it should be understood that your time at university offers broader opportunities to develop yourself, which should include learning from feedback on assignments and applying this to future work (which of course can also benefit grades). 

It can also include developing personal attributes, such as resourcefulness, decision-making abilities and self-awareness. These will be beneficial during your time at Surrey and in your life beyond.

Owning your learning

Related to this is that you recognise that significant aspects of your learning experience are things that you can, and should, personally manage, allowing you to choose your learning direction to best suit your aspirations. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘owning your learning’.

As you progress in your studies, you will realise there are various aspects to owning your learning, many of which will be based on your own informed decisions and actions. However, a key aspect is the importance of continuously learning from feedback and identifying, at different stages of your journey, when you need to seek advice and support:

  • Reflect on your progress
  • Identify learning areas you wish to develop
  • Use available feedback, support and resources
  • Apply your learning to other assignments
  • Recognise your achievements.

So, once you start university, take advantage of feedback and advice from your lecturers as this will help your development and allow you to progress on your journey.

You can also form support networks with your fellow students and/or seek advice and support for your learning from our University services such as the Library’s Academic Skills and Development and Maths and Statistics Advice teams; if English is not your native language, you may wish to connect with the University’s English Language Support Programme.

If you are new to studying in the UK, you may notice differences in the educational culture and expectations of you as a learner. Adapting to these will take a little time, but you will quickly find that the University is an international environment where diversity is valued. Finding out about the cultural expectations of your new learning context is important, so be sure to attend induction events on your course, consult module guidance, and always ask if you are unsure.

Focus on what you want to achieve

Whatever your prior learning experiences, to help you to take control of your learning, start thinking about what you wish to develop and learn. Studying at university will allow you to shape and evolve your identity as a learner, so focussing on what you wish to achieve will help you identify traits and habits you would like to develop during your studies. These could include:

  • Building confidence in working with and speaking to groups of people
  • Enhancing your academic writing style
  • Independent learning and decision-making.

Use the information in this guide to start exploring ideas that you may wish to develop once you commence your studies.

How will university be different?

You will already have knowledge and experiences of learning from school, college or the workplace. The main difference at university is that you will be expected to develop as an independent learner and a critical thinker (explored below). This will be an ongoing process, as you will need to develop and refine these skills throughout the duration of your course.

As your course will be made up of component modules, it is always worth looking beyond each individual module experience to perceive the ‘bigger picture’, that is, your course programme overall. By doing so, your progress on your learning journey will be clearer, as you will be able to see connections between all the individual modules you have taken. This doesn’t just include gradually expanding your subject knowledge, but reflecting on the skills, techniques and experiences you are gaining, for application in future modules.

Your unique learning journey

Recognising that your learning journey is unique to you will help you to adapt to new learning environments, enabling you to study more effectively, learn more about your subject and develop transferable skills for your future career.

To shape your journey you will need to reflect on all your learning experiences, for example: how you managed your assignment, whether you could improve your planning and time management, or ways in which you could contribute more effectively when working on team projects.

In developing your unique journey, learning from feedback, as suggested above, is a valuable asset: whilst some aspects of feedback you receive will be specific to the individual assignment in question, there will always be advice on areas to develop for the future. How you respond to the feedback will impact on how you progress on your learning journey.

Developing as a learner on your learning journey

To help you make a positive start on your journey, this section explores four key personal and learning attributes you can seek to evolve. While there are other areas you will need to be thinking about in terms of your development as a learner, these are cornerstones on which you can build other skills, attributes and capabilities as appropriate. You will need to think about and revisit them periodically to review your progress, to help you stay motivated during your course. 

This begins with the importance of being a self-aware learner (such as, how you respond to feedback), as this will allow you to identify ways to develop as a critical (independent) thinker. This in turn will enable you to become an effective problem-solver. All of these considerations will help you to evolve as a self-assured, independent learner who is able to meaningfully progress along your unique learning journey.

Self-awareness is a good starting point as developing a greater understanding of yourself as a learner can offer valuable insights to help you to navigate your unique learning journey. Being self-aware is an aspect of taking ownership of your learning, as you are responsible for honestly recognising and reflecting on your successes and strengths, while identifying areas you wish to enhance to help you achieve your learning aspirations.

It’s important not to focus only on negatives, as your reflections should provide a well-rounded picture of your authentic ‘learning self’.

To do this, consider how you learn. For example, what times of the day do you study best, do you prefer to work in the morning or afternoon? You may also feel that you are more confident in one area which can help you to develop skills in another setting. For example, appreciating that you feel at ease when sharing ideas with people you know can help you to develop your confidence when contributing to larger group discussions where you feel less assured.

Being a self-aware learner will also help you to connect with, and support, other students. Having a better understanding of your own developmental needs will enable you to not only share your story but to understand and learn from others’ experiences. Meeting new people may feel a little daunting at first, so to help you overcome these concerns, you may wish to explore opportunities to become a more active learner when networking or team working (see our guide on making the most of your university learning experience).

Becoming a self-aware learner will help you to:

  • Contribute to your own and others’ learning development by making connections with others
  • Develop a positive and optimistic mindset about the possibilities and opportunities for change or enhancement
  • See your progress towards your learning aspirations on your journey.

Becoming a critical thinker is a key aspect of developing your learning self. Like self-awareness, it does not mean focussing on the negative aspects of a piece of research or point of view. Instead, positively questioning your thinking about a topic or text, exploring more deeply your understanding of subject, and challenging your own ideas and your knowledge of yourself, will allow you to be open to and embrace different perspectives, become a creative problem solver and be able to confidently express your opinions once you have critiqued and analysed the evidence. It can help you to think more creatively about a topic and where you stand (your viewpoint) in relation to the different perspectives.

In essence, critical thinking means not taking things at ‘face value’ but asking questions such as, ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and, most importantly, ‘why’. Critical thinking can help you to navigate through the evidence you will be expected to engage with as part of your studies, so it is important to think critically when you research, read, make notes, write and reflect on your learning.

Employing critical thinking in your learning means:

  • Developing a deeper and more meaningful understanding of your subject or a topic
  • Being open to different viewpoints and being willing to change your own perspective
  • Gauging the reliability of information by questioning the content.

The ability to draw on your experiences and critically think about and analyse a situation will help you to be more effective when problem solving. Problems can often be seen as difficulties, but, as a learner, the challenge of finding solutions on how to answer an assignment question, knowing when to seek advice, or even deciding what would be the best way to achieve your study-life balance, can be motivating.

It’s always good to challenge your thinking about a topic by undertaking some further research, where you could discover different perspectives about an issue, theory or concept. Discussing ideas with other students, perhaps as part of a group you are working with, or with your tutor, or staff in teams such as Academic Skills and Development, can help develop your thinking and approach to finding a solution.

Taking a positive approach to problem solving will enable you to adapt quickly to new situations, as you will be able to build on your experiences as you become a more confident learner. This is again about taking control of, and responsibility for, your own learning and is thus integral to your progress on your journey. It is always worth setting aside some time to think about an issue, so scheduling independent study time (or thinking time) is always beneficial (see our guide on planning and organising your time).

To develop your problem-solving abilities:

  • Think about how you have adapted and succeeded in the past and how you can apply this to new situations
  • Connect with others to explore how they have been successful in similar situations. Could you adopt the same strategies?
  • Set aside time to think through the problem to find an effective solution.

Finally, taking ownership and responsibility for your development will increase your confidence as an independent learner. By regularly reviewing and reflecting on your progress (self-awareness), you will increasingly find that you are directing and taking control of your learning journey. As you adjust to university life, you may find that you need to re-evaluate how you approach your studies as being in control of your learning means you can design your own work patterns.

The onus will be on you to organise the times you chose to study independently, whilst also regulating this, ensuring you maintain a healthy study balance with your other life commitments. It also means taking the initiative to ask questions and clarify anything you are unsure about. By increasingly looking at ways to become a self-directed independent learner, the more your confidence will grow in your new learning environment.

However, it is only natural that at times you may question your ability to be successful when working independently. Being self-aware will mean you are better able to recognise when this happens, so you can identify when you need to reach out for advice.

To become a more independent learner:

  • Consider how you can best organise your workload effectively to balance your study and life commitments
  • Recognise when you need some advice or guidance, and actively reach out for support
  • Reflect and review your unique learning journey frequently to recognise your progress and achievements.

What next?

You have made the first step on your university learning journey!

Your learning journey will progress by making the most of, and engaging in, the different learning settings you will experience at University. To become familiar with University learning expectations, see guide 2. What will learning at Surrey be like?

Remember, your learning journey will be unique to you; you will develop not only your subject knowledge but also yourself, as a learner and as an individual. To do this, keep reflecting on your decisions, be confident and considered when solving problems, don’t hesitate to seek advice, and always reflect on how far you have travelled on your journey: what you have learned and how you might be able to apply this in the future.

And good luck!