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London Metropolitan University

Preparing for your coursework: Learning at university

Preparing for your coursework

Learning @ university

Being an independent learner
All students bring their own life experiences and skills to university.
However, there are a few things about being a student at university, which would be new experiences to most people
Source: Yan Krakau 
  • Flexible timetables – classes are not necessarily 9-4 or everyday
  • Less structured – more working on your own – autonomous working
  • Preparing and planning coursework ahead of seminars and lectures
  • More coursework to submit – essays, reports, assignments
  • Responsible for your own learning – independent learning
  • Ability to read actively, note take and utilise other study skills effectively
  • Working in groups – team work – reflection on working life
  • Multitasking
  • Self-motivating & being reflective
  • Different relationship with lecturers/tutors compared with secondary school or college teachers
  • More is expected from you
What is expected of you at university?
Cottrell (2019, p.13) list these as the most important student characteristics:
Independence • Self-motivation • Openness to working with others • Ability to work things out for yourself • Ability to set goals to improve your work • Ability to organize your time • Ability to work out when and how you learn best
cartoon beanies learning success wisdom and study  
Source: Image by Pintera Studio from Pixabay
Being flexible and able to adapt to new situations will be a great help to you through your university years and beyond.
Reference/Further reading: Read this excellent chapter - it will highlight the key issues you will face studying at university - Cottrell, S. (2019) ‘Success as a student’ in Cottrell, S. The study skills handbook (5th edn.) London: Red Globe Press; Macmillian International, pp. 9-28.

Being Reflective

As part of your self-development and learning, you will be expected to be reflective.It allows the mind to tackle a range of problems and situations.
Being reflective, in our everyday lives is something we do without thinking, such as, learning from your mistakes or errors.
It just happens and we don’t normally follow a structured formula.
However, engaging in a more structured way of reflecting can enhance your learning and problem solving abilities.
This enables you to process and adapt, become resilient, in your ways of thinking and learning.
Reflection can guide you in structuring your thoughts on everyday situations, your lectures, 
your classroom experiences and interactions with others, your assignments,
and your research, in fact, every aspect of your personal, academic and professional life.
 stones on the beach
Source: David Brown
Key elements of Reflection
‘Standing back’ – stepping away allows a better view or perspective and can bring greater Clarity.
Reflection can help at any stage with, planning, carrying out and reviewing activities.
Experiences – analysis using your experiences or actions ‘to make sense’ or ‘find meaning’.
Repetition - reviewing your experience to gain a broad view and ensure that no aspects have been missed.
Honesty – it can be difficult to admit or acknowledge things during the normal course of events.
'Weighing up' an experience by taking everything into account ratherthat than focusing only on the obvious factors.
Reflection involves being impartial, or balanced in judgment.
Understanding - gaining deeper learning, understanding, and insight about an experience that cannot be just ‘taught’.
Making judgments – involves drawing conclusions to enable moving on, making changing or developing a new approach.
Reflection and Learning
Asking yourself these questions about an event or experience, for example after, a group presentation,
a peer assessment, class discussion, an essay, a difficult day etc.
  • How did it go? How do I feel about it?
  • What went well or OK? Why?
  • What was not so good? Why?
  • How could this have been done differently?
  • What should I change or work on for next time?
  • What would be the first step to making that change?
  • Help you to stand back from and acknowledge your feelings about an event or experience
  • Help you to identify what went well and focus on positive in addition to the negative aspects
  • Help you to develop a problem solving approach rather than avoiding difficulties.
  • Help you provide a structure to assist you to record, review, evaluate and plan for your learning and development,
    e.g. help you to reflect when you get feedback from an essay. How can you change or develop your approach.
Keeping a reflective journal or e-portfolio
For assessment – you may be asked to complete a reflective journal of your learning journey, or work placement,
or other tasks, which will inform an essay or be part of an assignment. If your journal is assessed your tutor
and your module handbook will inform you of the requirements.

Please make sure you are clear about the content and format your tutors expect in your journal. For more information on reflective journals & e-portfolios see section Present my information e-portfolios
For yourself – a private reflective journal is useful in helping you to clarify your thoughts and feelings,
and to help you work out dealing with difficulties. This is to assist you in your personal learning journey and development.
Further reading: Williams, K., Woolliams, M. and Spiro, J.  (2020) Reflective writing. 2nd edn. London: Red Globe Press.
It is an e-book available on our library catalogue 

Group work

Everyone has had some experience of being part or a member of a group as some stage in their lives.
Every group will form its own set of ‘ground rules’ and formulate ways of working together.
These could be formal and explicit, e.g. adopting a ‘group/team leader’ and other roles within the group or,
informal and accepted as natural roles, such as the role of the other member in a family setting – because that’s the way it is.
Therefore, working in groups in university presents its own challenges and benefits, similar to those found within family,
employment or social groups. It will bring with it a mixture of the unfamiliar and familiar situations.
Also a set of unknown ‘rules of the game’ all of which need to be negotiated and navigated for assessment purposes.
Group-work presents an opportunity to:
  • Share your ideas and problem-solve
  • Work closely with students from a range of different cultural and social backgrounds
  • Develop important career skills, such as team working and time management
  • Discover your specific strengths (& be aware of weaknesses)
  • Learn how to deal with challenge and conflict
  • Gain new, additional, and even creative perspectives on study topics
  • Get to know socially a small group of students
  • Make new friends
  • Develop your communication skills
  • …and a challenge!
… the challenge
Group-work at university, particularly when it involves assessment, presents a challenge to many students.
Most problems in groups stem from the individual members themselves.
Specific problems, particularly talking too much – or not at all - often arise from shyness/extrovertness,
anxiety and misunderstanding. However, we all have strengths to contribute to the success of any group –
and weaknesses that we need to be aware of.
Why groups fail - these points are very important.
Use this checklist to help you recognise and reflect on any negative issues in your group.
People Problems Process Problems
  • There is no attempt to get to know each other as people. 
  • One of two people try to dominate the others.
  • Some group members try to monopolise the discussion.

  • Some group members do not speak at all - they just sit in silence. 
  • Most of the group wants to talk - and not listen. 
  • Individual members' ideas are ridiculed or dismissed by other group members.
  • Group members are reluctant to take the initiative to start a discussion.
  • Some group members make racist or sexist remarks that are not challenged.
  • Individual members prove to be unreliable: they do not do what they say they will do. 
  • Group members are unpunctual or fail to show up for meetings.
  • Two or three group members quarrel and create a bad atmosphere.
  • Some group members are deliberately isolated or ignored. 
  • There are no 'ground rules' agreed, on, for example, when, where and how often the group will meet.
  • There are no agreed agendas for meetings - there is a lack of clarity on the purpose of each meeting. 

Source: Fauxels
  • Specific roles or tasks are not agreed and delegated to group members.
  • No deadlines are agreed on.
  • There is no chairperson agreed or allocated for each meeting.
  • Meetings start late or run on over time
  • No record of the meeting is made, e.g. who has agreed to do what and by when. 
(quoted and edited from LearnHigher, 2007, p.5).
Skills outcomes from group work
  • Academic writing
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Lateral thinking
  • Leadership
  • Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Organisation
  • Planning
  • Presentation,
  • Problem solving,
  • Research skills
These are also the key skills required in employment – workplace or self-employment.
The development of these skills could also help you manage your social and life experiences.
And Finally - Be Positive!
Reference Learnhigher (2007) Making groupwork work. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2023).
Further reading: Search keyword  Presentations in our library catalogue to see a list of LinkedIn Learning courses on this topic.  Login in with your LondonMet credentials. 

Making the journey work for you

LondonMet has diverse student groups. You will be meeting new people, having a different social life. You will be learning and studying in a variety of groups, some could be large. There will be different ways and modes of learning to get used to as well.
You will have more responsibility for your own planning, learning and meeting coursework deadlines. Expect a different workload and more challenging academic work. Expect less 'spoon-feeding’ from teaching staff – more independent learning.
Cottrell's (2019, p. 10) plan illustrates your academic journey. It guides you to reflect and take charge. It also invites you to look to the future and to use your experiences on this journey. Make this journey work for you.
Reference Cottrell, S. (2019) ‘Success as a student’ in Cottrell, S. The study skills handbook. 5th edn. London: Red Globe Press; Macmillian International, pp. 9-28.