Learning Strategies, Abilities and Study Skills

Less attention has been paid to the similarities and differences between learning strategies and abilities. In general, it seems clear that the category of learning strategies is conceptually distinct from that of mental abilities (which refer to maximum possible performance), although some empirical overlap is likely. Ability-linked differences are expected in respect of particular strategies, since some strategies require greater mental ability than others.

Educational researchers have also explored learners 'study skills' or 'study habits'. Investigations and applications have mainly been directed at school or college students, aiming to improve their general approach to work and their ability to pass examinations. The notion is a very broad one, covering notetaking, reading skills, time management, effective use of libraries, revision and test-taking procedures, as well as attitudes to and motives for studying (e.g. Williams, 1989). Information derived from self-report measures of study skills has been widely applied in the USA in counselling students in educational settings (e.g Weinstein & Underwood, 1985). Such information only rarely concerns the manner in which a person directly acquires new information and skills; that is the focus of learning strategies as examined here.

Recognizing that the concepts of study skill, learning style and learning strategy overlap in meaning and vary in use between writers, they may be characterized in the manner suggested in Table 6.1. This distinguishes between the contexts of learning (location, time, etc.) and the activities of learning (information processing about the subject-matter). In each case, learning procedures and learners' preferences may be relatively focused or relatively general. As indicated by the symbols in the table, study skills primarily concern

Table 6.1 Principal features of study skills, learning styles and learning strategies

Study skills

Learning styles Learning strategies

Concerned with learning contexts:

• relatively focused procedures

• relatively general preferences

Concerned with learning activities:

• relatively focused procedures

• relatively general preferences

focused procedures with respect to both learning contexts and learning activities. Learning styles primarily concern relatively general preferences in both cases. And, as illustrated in the definitions cited previously, the term 'learning strategy' refers primarily to focused procedures applied in the course of] earning itself.

Nevertheless, although study skills, learning strategies and learning styles are distinct, the concepts do shade into each other. For instance, despite the potential variability of learning strategies, they are also to some degree consistent across situations, reflecting in part an individual's personality, preferences and abilities; in that respect the content of some strategies is similar to that of some styles and some study skills.

It is assumed that there is no single 'best' strategy, but that the most effective procedure varies between different settings of learning (e.g. Levin, 1986). For example, strategies important in memorizing factual material are likely to differ from those useful in acquiring interpersonal skills. Research into principal types of learning strategy and available evidence about their effectiveness is presented in the following sections. First, however, we turn to examine conventional procedures of measurement.

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