May 7, 2014

5 Things to Keep in Mind about the British Style of Learning

Written by a Guest Contributor

Every country has its own style of imparting education to its young people. Some place more emphasis on text books, others encourage on out-of-the-box thinking.

For students who have spent all their lives in one country and are only acquainted with one style of learning, it often takes some getting used to when they move abroad. Particularly students from Africa and Asia, where the education system is very different from that in the US or the UK.

If you’re a young Indian, Chinese or African student aspiring to study in Britain, you might want to mentally ready yourself for a very different culture and different methods of teaching and learning. Here are a few of them to help you when you land in your chosen destination and begin studies in earnest.

British Style of Learning
5 Things to Keep in Mind about the British Style of Learning
(Image credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Interactive Classrooms
UK classrooms are the exact opposite of a professor pontificating from a pedestal and the students reverentially lapping it all up while taking furious notes. The emphasis in British universities is on students keeping their pen and paper away, and instead focusing on what the professor is teaching and participating in classroom discussions. This is taken as a sign of the students’ interest in the topic being taught.

There’s no need to take notes at all since the professors will make available the material taught in the class on the university website (often in the form of powerpoint slides). So that even if you miss a class or two you will have access to all that took place in your absence.

Research-Based Learning
While universities across the world emphasise the role of research in higher studies, the British ones go a step further; their entire courses are formed around research-based learning.

Most universities in the UK provide their students access to all the prominent research journals and databases in the academic world, so that the students have access to the latest research material in their chosen fields. The physical libraries contain millions of books, with the newest editions being continuously brought into the fold. Your research has to be not just accurate but also top-notch. This is very important when conducting literature reviews for theses.

UK Universities Are Hot on Plagiarism
Conducting good research comes with its own set of challenges, especially for those students who haven’t conducted any previously. The biggest challenge involves getting the attribution right, and understanding the difference between paraphrasing research and quoting it verbatim, and the requirements for both.

In my time as an education counselor I’ve often found that students from certain parts of the world do not somehow grasp the importance of attribution and doing it the recommended way.

A lot of plagiarism happens unintentionally, when the student just did not know how to attribute a source properly. It’s not just important to put cited material in quotes, it has to be attributed to the journal/paper/book properly in the manner prescribed by your university. Even paraphrased material needs citation. A lack of care in this regard can earn you an accusation of plagiarism, which is the last thing you’d want.

Intentional plagiarism, on the other hand, can lead to a student losing their place with their university. This is a very grave charge.

Your Assignments Must Meet the Defined Criteria
Evaluation of coursework and assignments in British universities takes place along stated assessment criteria.

Universities in Britain have clearly defined learning outcomes and assessment criteria in place to grade students’ coursework. These criteria are laid out in clear writing for all, reiterated at regular intervals, and students are expected to adhere to them at all times. (Here’s one example of a university’s assessment criteria.)

Even if you turn in a brilliantly researched and attributed article, but somehow fail to address any of the key elements mentioned in the assessment criteria distributed in your class by your professors, you will lose out.

Conversely, someone who hasn’t presented their case in a rich language and with detailed research but has met most (if not all) the key points delineated in their professor’s criteria will end up scoring better than you.

It sounds almost unfair but there’s another way of looking at it – the universities need to come up with objective criteria to assess students’ work instead of engaging in subjective assessment of what’s been turned in by the students. Meeting the assessment criteria shows your professors that: a) you care for what you have been told, b) you have demonstrated that all the key elements expected in your coursework have been taken into account, and c) you’ve learnt that which was the main idea behind the course.

Plenty of Free Time
Universities in the UK have leisurely-paced class routines for their students. This is a good thing since learning should never be a chore if it is to really take place.

The idea behind giving students plenty of free time between lectures is to make sure that they do their studies properly and come refreshed for what’s up next. And when the time comes for exams or assignment submissions, their performance is second to none.

However, many students take the three-day classes a week to mean that they can work multiple jobs all over the town on the days they don’t have uni, and miss the importance of giving their best to their studies – the main reason they are in the UK.

While it is important to socialise and network, undertake a part-time job (since the pound is a strong currency and British studies set all non-EU students back considerably) and intern later on, it’s equally important not to forget that you are in a country known to be a centre of learning, and that you should make the most of your time as a student in the UK to emerge richer for the experience.

Author Bio
Shahina Khan, Director at Espire Education has explored new destinations for Indian students to study abroad, and has worked on education promotional strategies with a number of foreign institutions in various countries.

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