Growing up in Los Angeles, I saw that there was a right way and a wrong way for a college student to learn. From my experience, it was clear that knowledge had to be gained in a linear fashion, which came from a college student spending extended time reading and writing about a particular topic or assignment.
Many people learned through the cramming method, spending several hours powering through a topic. Instead of taking a couple of hours per day to methodical learning a subject, many students felt that they could jam a semester of learning into one night.
I am unsure if all this way of thinking and learning worked well. However, there were not a lot of people giving alternative advice at the time.
I earned my undergraduate degree in this manner, so there is something to be said for this method of learning. It worked, but I would not call it the best way for a college student.
When I finally returned to academia after a 10-year hiatus to earn my master’s degree, I had to think about how I would get my studying done. Instead of being a typical, fun-loving undergraduate, I had a career, a wife, a young daughter and two spunky cats.
The thought that I would have extended time to study and work on assignments seemed to be a reach. Upon reflection, I realized that I needed a different strategy to succeed as a working college student with multiple responsibilities.
Using a Different Learning Approach to Become a More Productive College Student
Given my situation as a graduate student, my biggest challenges were my available time and effective time management. But by adopting a non-linear approach to learning, I was able to enhance my productivity and learning outcomes.
Traditional linear approaches to learning, such as rigid schedules and step-by-step processes, may not always align with every individual’s natural learning patterns and preferences. But it’s possible to incorporate a non-linear approach to studying, tailoring your study techniques to suit your unique learning styles and optimizing your productivity.
I admit that this way of learning does not always work for everyone. However, there are some potential benefits to using a non-linear working strategy.
A non-linear approach to learning allows college students to have more flexibility in organizing their study sessions. For instance, they can prioritize school-related tasks based on their interests, energy levels or urgency, rather than following a predefined order. This flexibility can help students to avoid academic burnout and maintain their motivation.
For example, I would turn in my discussion posts by the first or second day of a week, which put me ahead of other students. If I knew the material for the next week, sometimes I would even work ahead.
A non-linear approach to learning enables students to focus on areas where they need the most improvement. They can allocate more time to challenging subjects or topics, providing an opportunity for deeper understanding and mastery.
This personalized approach can also enhance learning outcomes. I would review class material, figure out what I didn’t know and work on learning that first. I could ask questions and get the needed answers by reading the material that was more difficult.
Rather than waiting until an assignment was due, I would look at the material I could not answer and pose that to the professor. Getting answers early will help you understand the work later.
Non-linear thinking encourages creativity and innovation. You can explore different paths, connections and perspectives when you’re approaching complex problems.
This approach to learning can lead to more holistic and comprehensive solutions, as they are not restricted to a single linear train of thought. With a job, a family and a life, students have to maneuver through all the pressures that occupy their time.
Finding solutions to manage my time would often result in creative problem-solving. I also made sure not to allow myself to live in the lie of academic productivity that people get over the holidays.
For instance, holidays appear on the surface as a great time to get a lot done. However, it never works out that way. Holidays should be enjoyed with family and friends, so it’s best to figure out a solution to get schoolwork done during a holiday week.
Efficient Time Management
Using a non-linear approach to learning can help students optimize their time and productivity. For instance, they can identify and focus on high-priority tasks or areas of weakness, rather than strictly adhering to a predetermined schedule. This approach can maximize the use of study time and resources.
As a student, I would get up early or work late after everyone was asleep. It is not that there was no time; it was a manner of making and using the time.
It’s also useful to create a reasonable schedule because getting up early every day and staying up late every day will catch up to you. More than a few times, I would wake up in the dead of night asleep in front of my computer. I would drag myself to bed and wake up tired the next day. Pushing yourself too much is not going to help you.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of using a non-linear approach to learning depends on your ability to manage time effectively, set clear goals, maintain self-discipline and adapt your study techniques accordingly. Experimentation, self-reflection, and regular adjustments can help you refine your approach and optimize your productivity.
However, it’s important to note that while a non-linear approach to learning can be effective for some students, it may not work equally well for everyone. Some students thrive in structured environments, and a non-linear approach to learning might cause disorganization or a lack of focus. Individual students must find a balance that suits their learning style and preferences.
What Happens If You Don’t Prefer a Non-Linear Approach to Learning?
Consider spaced repetition if using a non-linear approach to learning does not work for you. This strategy, also known as distributed practice, is the method of creating short study times throughout the day, rather than just one study session.
Distributed practice or spaced repetition can be more effective for learning and retaining information than trying to cram information into your brain during one long study session. This approach allows for better memory consolidation and improves your overall knowledge retention.
As a doctoral student, I read a book called “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis.” But for a college student, writing a dissertation takes a lot more time than 15 minutes a day. However, that book taught me that shorter study sessions could be useful when I took a class or wrote a thesis or dissertation.
The Advantages of Short Study Sessions
In my experience, there are several reasons why shorter study sessions can be more effective and might work for you.
Improved Focus and Attention
Shorter study sessions help you maintain high levels of focus and attention. Our concentration tends to wane after a certain period of time, and prolonged study sessions can lead to diminishing returns.
However, you can stay more engaged and productive throughout each session by breaking study time into shorter intervals. When I wrote my dissertation, I would allocate a certain amount of time to it and develop a specific goal.
For instance, I would write for an hour and expect to complete at least one page of writing. One page of writing may not seem a lot, but writing one page daily for eight weeks equates to 56 pages. An eight-week class will likely have less than 56 pages in assignments, so it makes for a good goal in school.
Enhanced Memory Consolidation
Spacing out study sessions over time allows for better memory consolidation. The brain needs time to process and solidify information; shorter study sessions with intervals in between provide the necessary opportunity for this consolidation. This approach reinforces the learning process.
At home, I would set aside certain times throughout the week for reading. An hour here or there can make a huge difference. It does not have to be on a regular schedule; commit to making the time to study.
Mitigation of Fatigue and Overload
Lengthy study sessions can lead to mental fatigue and reduced efficiency. You can prevent exhaustion and cognitive overload by breaking your study time into shorter chunks. Regular breaks between sessions allow your brain to rest and recharge.
As a student, I would set goals and times for reading my course materials. At the time, I was doing a lot of traveling, so I would always carry my textbooks and read them on the plane.
You might think you can get seven hours of reading done on a seven-hour flight, but that was not the case.. I always figured that half of my flight time would be productive. The rest will be taken up by other activities such as eating or drinking.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Shorter study sessions offer more flexibility for a college student. You can fit them into various parts of your day, making integrating studying into your daily routine more manageable. This flexibility also allows you to take advantage of small pockets of time that may otherwise go unused, such as work breaks or commutes.
I would often keep a book near me to get some reading done. Reading in 15-minute spurts can add up over a week.
At work, I would take a book and read it during lunch. I didn’t read during lunch all of the time, but I kept that option open to get something done.
It’s important to note that the effectiveness of shorter study sessions also depends on the quality of your study techniques, active engagement and effective learning strategies. To maximize the benefits, use active learning methods like summarizing, self-quizzing and collaborating with other students during your study sessions. Overall, incorporating shorter study sessions throughout the day can be a highly effective approach to learning and improving academic performance.
Being a College Student Involves Time Management, Dedication and Sacrifice
Academic success comes from hard work, and hard work needs to be done over a long period of time. You cannot expect to become an expert after reading one book, just as you cannot expect to be successful in school after one class.
Ideally, you need to use your strengths to accomplish assignments quickly and then schedule time for the material that needs further study. In the end, being a college student – especially an online student – involves a lot of time management, dedication and sacrifice. While you might miss some little things in life, you should earn a degree without sacrificing your family, friends and work responsibilities.