What is meant by ‘learning skills’

 1) What is meant by ‘learning skills’
‘Learning Skills’ are simply the skills that the best learners have that differentiate them from
poor learners. When a child is seen at school to be a good learner that ability to learn well is
often attributed to a higher natural intelligence than another child who has more difficulty
learning, and whilst that may actually be true, the way in which the higher intelligence manifests
itself is in the application of specific skills. These skills, once isolated, are skills that can be taught
to every child. 

Once any child has learned the specific ‘learning skills’ needed to process,
understand, remember and apply the knowledge, skills and information given to them at school
their learning ability improves. They then gain more confidence in their own abilities, their
success in all school subjects improves, they achieve higher results in tests and exams and their
manifested intelligence increases.
Just think for a moment, what are some of the simple things that good students do that
differentiates them most from poor students?
Do they:
- concentrate better in class?
- take better notes?

 review those notes regularly?
- find areas they do not yet understand and ask questions of teachers or parents or find
other resources to help them understand?
- know where the best resources are for each subject?
- do all their homework and keep up to date with all assignments?
For tests and exams do they:
- create a good study timetable well in advance and stick to it?
- manage their time well?
- make effective study notes?
- try different learning strategies for different subjects?
- practice working through old exam questions?
- get extra help when they need it?
- have good exam room techniques
At a higher cognitive level, do they:
- know how to develop self-motivation and persistence?
- understand how to develop resilience to overcome difficulties?
- know how to organise information to suit their own individual processing style?
- monitor the effectiveness of their own learning strategies and make changes where
- know how to handle pressure and stress?
These are some of the skills that you might call ‘learning skills’, and there are many more.
They can all be taught, they can all be learned.
Having all these skills is a huge advantage for any student.
2) How does teaching ‘learning skills’ differ from teaching specific subjects? 

Learning skills are not subject specific , they are generic. They are the skills that underlie all
learning but the application of specific strategies may be particular to specific subjects. For
example mathematical competence, in most people, relies on visual/ spatial thinking and the
recognition of pattern while language competence usually relies on linguistic memory and the
ability to make auditory distinctions. These are all skill sets that can be trained and could be
taught either within related subjects or in a generic learning skills training programme. 

To teach learning skills within a particular subject requires a subject teacher to identify the key
skills needed for the processing, understanding and retention of the coursework s/he is teaching
and to focus on teaching those skills through the content of the subject. For example a Modern
History teacher whose task is to help students understand the causes and effects of terrorism
for example might:
- first teach internet research skills and then get the students to find, cross reference
and verify the 10 most significant acts of terrorism in the last 20 years, then
- teach a memory technique to enable students to remember the dates and locations of
those 10 events, then
- teach an information mapping technique and then get them to map out all the links, 

causes and effects of those 10 incidences of terrorism, and then
- teach a summarising technique and get them to decide on the 5 main causes and
effects of terrorism.
The advantage of this technique is that it develops within the student a dual focus on the
subject matter and the methods they are using to process it thus improves both their process
skills and their content knowledge.
The other way to teach learning skills is through specific ‘learning skills’ lessons which may be
included in the timetable every week to help students to process the information received in
every subject or may be developed around particular tasks in the school calendar. For example
two months before a major exam, all students might be taught an “Exam Skills’ unit which might
include a curriculum of skills like:
- developing purpose and self-motivation
- creating a study timetable
- organising their home study environment
- understanding their learning style strengths and weaknesses
- finding subject specific internet resources
- memory techniques
- information summarising techniques
- overcoming exam nerves
- exam room techniques
All students can then practise applying these skills to the up-coming exam preparation task.
3) Are learning skills and meta-cognitive skills the same thing and if not what is the
The words ‘learning skills’ are chosen to encompass all the process skills involved in effective
learning. Learning skills can be subdivided into three sub-categories of skills:
- cognitive – information research, processing, storage, retrieval, analysis, 

synthesis and
communication skills
- affective – the skills of self-motivation, regulation, resilience, collaboration,
- meta cognitive – planning, organisation and implementation of specific cognitive and
affective skills, monitoring effectiveness and making changes where necessary.
Metacognition refers to the learners’ awareness and knowledge of their own learning
processes, as well as their abilities and tendencies to control those processes during learning. 

Metacognitive activities for regulating and overseeing learning include planning (goal setting,
choosing strategies, scheduling time and resources ), monitoring (checking progress, reviewing,
rescheduling), and evaluating outcomes (both process and content).
Metacognitive skills are the umbrella skills which drive the whole learning improvement process
and through which the greatest improvements in academic performance can be achieved.
Metacognition simply means the executive function of thinking. That is, that part of our thinking
that is always reflecting on the success or otherwise of our strategy use, looking to make
changes and try out new ideas where necessary, implementing changes and reflecting on
The implementation of metacognitive skills training helps build self regulated learning. Once a
student has built up a ‘library’ of specific cognitive and affective learning strategies and skills
they can then learn the skills necessary to employ, monitor, check and evaluate the success of
the strategies they employ.

 Cognitive skills have the purpose of teaching learner-initiated use and practice of active
information processing and retrieval strategies as well as study habits and learning skills. Some
of the specific cognitive skills which have been shown in the literature to bring about significant
improvements in learning are:
Making effective notes – in class and for studying
Organising ,transforming and summarising information – mind mapping, spider
diagrams, graphic organisers
Using structural writing planners – for different types of essays, scientific reports,
academic papers, research reports - organizing, writing, editing, and revising
Timetabling – general task mapping and specific use for assignments, assessment
preparation, goal setting
Memory techniques – mnemonics, multi-sensory techniques, visualisation, review
Calibrating own learning preferences – mental representation, environmental and
experiential preferences
Self assessment
Research shows that possessing a good repertoire of cognitive learning strategies and applying
metacognitive awareness to the selection and use of those strategies correlates well with higher
academic achievement.
Affective skills -

 in addition to the cognitive skills mentioned above it is also advantageous for
students to learn the skills that enable them to gain some control over mood, motivation and
what we tend to call attitude. These are the skills needed for students to build resilience in
learning, to learn to deal effectively with any setbacks and difficulties, to learn how to bounce
back, make changes and persevere – the skills of the self-regulated learner.
The self-regulated learner is the one who is using the metacognitive process, as described
above, to not only monitor effective cognitive strategies for learning but also to regulate their
emotional or affective responses in learning situations. These students, whether through
training or natural ability have learned how to monitor their own emotional state and its effect
on their learning and how to cope well with the emotional highs and lows of academic
Students who employ self-regulated, self-determined approaches to learning not only achieve
higher levels of academic achievement than those that don’t, they also experience a sense of
personal satisfaction in their work and are more inclined to make adaptive changes to enhance
future performance.
Affective skills are teachable and they can make a huge difference to a child’s motivation and
resilience. Affective skills training has within it the potential to address some of the most critical
influences on a student’s learning which lie at the heart of helping students to achieve the
characteristics of the learner profile.

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