Katelyn Rice/Staff Photographer

The start of the semester provides all USM students, new and returning, an opportunity to ask an important question: “Are my academic habits working for me?” That is, are your efforts leading to the levels of learning and academic performance that you want, or perhaps need for your major or professional goals? Many students continue the same behaviors from the past, even if the results are not ideal. There are two reasons for this. First, when something is a habit, it’s comfortable, and change is hard. Secondly, many students don’t realize that there are other ways of approaching learning.

Regardless of how you have done academically in the past, everyone has room for improvement. Would becoming a bit more efficient with time management would be helpful? Or, how about being able to read a chapter or article and be able to remember and apply the information? Perhaps a few tips on how to study for exams may be worth exploring?

We know that as a USM student, you work very hard to balance your academics with other areas of your life. That is, you are “a student, and”:

An employee;
A partner, parent or caretaker;
An athlete, performer, artist or student leader.

This makes it even more important for your academic “time on task” to be effective and efficient. Your time is valuable, so you need to be able to get the most out of every class meeting, every assigned reading or homework, every exam preparation, every group study session.

The team at USM’s Learning Commons wants to help you avoid common learning challenges, and instead increase your memory, understanding, academic performance and enjoyment of learning. To take the guesswork out of the “how” of learning, we have outlined an entire online toolbox of strategies for you to make the most of every learning situation. Every learner can become AGILE, which stands for Academic Gains through Improved Learning Effectiveness.

AGILE strategies will save you time, result in more “aha” learning moments and reduce some of the stress associated with being a student. These strategies will involve self-testing, active practice, making connections between ideas, all of which will maximize your academic time both inside and outside of the classroom.

To get started, check out our AGILE website (usm.maine.edu/agile). Find one new approach to start right at the beginning of the semester, and to do consistently for at least three weeks.

At first, some of these approaches may seem like “more work,” but that’s normal! Any time we try a new behavior within any area of our life, it takes more thought and effort. By practicing these strategies, however, you will see improvements very quickly, and soon these behaviors will become your “new normal.” That is, they will become your new habits.

To help you along this path, we will highlight specific tips and strategies in each edition of The Free Press. The title of this new column reflects the mantra we hope you adopt: “Learning – It’s What You DO That Matters”. Check out the first article in this edition!

In addition to the articles, we provide resources and services throughout the semester to help you with the “doing” of learning. Take advantage of our ongoing workshops, which will be listed on our AGILE website and our Facebook page (@usmlearningcommons). For active practice and feedback, come work with one of our trained USM students, including Writing Assistants, Subject-Based Tutors, Peer Academic Coaches, Technology Assistants and Learning Commons Navigators. Work together with peers from class in our group study rooms, or learn how to work in groups online via Zoom.

Learning is meant to be challenging, exciting and fun. Take the reigns of your own learning, knowing that we are here to help. And remember: it’s what you DO that matters. Let’s begin!

Paul Dexter


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