Learn, don’t study!

This is David’s article that appeared in Viet Week and the Thanh Nien News on the 2/3/2012. 

By David DeBrot

Learning, as opposed to studying can improve your results in your academic career, professional career and your life. It’s a powerful approach to information and the world that can make your life experience and learning build on itself – a cycle of improvement.

So, what is the difference between the verbs ‘learn’ and ‘study’ anyway? Rather than boring you with definitions, let me ask you – when was the last time you read a book, listened to someone speak or wrote something because you wanted to? Were you able to recall the information and use it a long time after this? Chances are, you were. This is learning.

Next example – when was the last time you read a book, listened to someone speak or wrote something because someone coerced you to? Were you able to recall the information and use it a long time after reading or listening to it? Chances are you weren’t. This is studying.

Humans are much better at retaining and recalling information they engage with using their own motivation rather than another person’s coercion.  Practically, we in the Learning Skills Unit see examples of this in students who demonstrate their own interest and initiative in finding answers and clarifying their understanding rather than waiting for this information to be transmitted by their teacher. These students nearly always end up with better outcomes and enjoy the process of learning in their field.

Specifically, these students (and you can) do the following:

  • Review the specific steps they took to complete an assignment or project and how well these worked
  • Plan to apply the steps that worked in the past on future assignments or projects
  • Gather information and different perspectives from various sources such as websites, videos, podcasts and people
  • Record their own ideas about the topic by taking notes, drawing ‘mind maps’ or creating their own system with color and labels to organize their ideas
  • Discuss and debate the topic with other people who are pursuing the same topic

By accepting the same approach and focusing on your own motivations and interests and exploring as many sources as possible in understanding whatever topic you are currently focusing on, you will discover huge gains in your outcomes, confidence and pleasure in the process.

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6 responses to “Learn, don’t study!”

  1. MarkHersh says :

    So true. I’d like to write some things at some point myself about this topic. I could remember reams of football(American kind) statistics for years at a time because I loved the sport so much when I was ten years old. In college, I remembered the concepts best that stirred a strong interest and led to debate with friends later. Those concepts stayed with me for years. But don’t ask me about sound changes in Old Saxon! I couldn’t remember any of that within a day of finishing the final exam.

    • LSUvietnam says :

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for that – it’s good to know that we’re striking on something familiar, and not just among students in Vietnam.

      Alain de Botton’s School of Life in London is one great example of an institution of learning which is trying to get closer to giving people opportunities (fairly structured) to learn those things that are near and dear to them in their lives. Check it out here: http://www.theschooloflife.com/

  2. tranhuyenhai says :

    Hi David,

    I’m Hai, Macro SLAM and Student Rights & Welfare Office at RMIT Hanoi campus. We met once when I visited SGS Campus a couple of weeks ago. Saw this update on LSU twitter and came by to read. Very insightful view on studying and learning!

    I absolutely agree with your point that learning with motivation will last for lifetime. However, shouldn’t we discuss whether the way we study also partly dependant on the way we’re tested in exams, especially in Vietnam? If exams could be more practical, based more on adaption rather than retention, courses could involve more practice and life application, then I believe students will be more excited about the subjects and learn with enthusiasm eventually.

    Looking forward to more articles from LSU!



    • LSUvietnam says :

      Hello Hai,

      Thanks for your comments – it is great to hear from a student and from a member of the Student Council who is responsible for the rights and welfare of fellow students.

      Your comment is well put. What you’ve written points out the connection between assessments and students’ approach to learning. We agree with you that more ‘practical’ assessments would likely include a different set of skills from a typical written assessment which may include multiple choice or short answer. The difficulty may lie in how to create such assessments that can be accurately and fairly assessed among a cohort of students. However, the rule of thumb often quoted by people in our field applies here: ‘Whatever skills we want students to develop, we must assess them or students are not likely to attend to them’.

      We are curious – in your experience, do students often talk or wish for more ‘practical’ assessments?

      • tranhuyenhai says :


        As you say, I guess it’s an ongoing dilemma for education (and educators) to design suitable assessments! It’s true that without assessments, students are unlikely to go to class, not to mention study! My point is whether there can ever be a revolution in the way subjects are taught and tested on to maximise benefits of students yet still guarantee degree quality.

        Besides, it is not just about the assessments. The teachers’ competence & educational skill also play huge role in inspiring students. For example, a teacher that uses his examples of drinking “bia hoi” to illustrate economics concepts or share real life applications of text-book theories always attracts more students to register for and come to his class. After years, we would still remember those examples and understand related concept.

        Back to your point, yes, students yearn for practical assessments. By “practical”, I’m not implying treasure hunting or field trip or anything alike (though it may be fun!). It can include increasing number of MCQ (which I believe can test students’ understanding more thoroughly), real-business projects for subjects regarding Management or Entrepreneurship (rather than exam questions asking which guy came up with ABC leadership theory).

        Anyway, sorry for my long rambling comment. I just finished my final exam today and feel quite interested in the topic. Please write more!

        All best!


  3. LSUvietnam says :

    Hi Hai,

    Designing suitable assessments need not be, as you say, ‘a dilemma’, but yes, it remains a challenging aspect of any lecturer’s job. But, any dedicated lecturer who has an interest in what they do, with their students ‘front and centre’, usually comes up with some pretty cool stuff.

    Our university is here to, among other things, help people learn and to gain the skills that will prepare them well for whatever problems they may encounter in the future at university and beyond, both personally and professionally. That in itself agrees with what you’ve mentioned already, and that is that assessments need a certain amount of practicality about them. But it shouldn’t stop there.

    I think it’s fair to say that everybody in the LSU in Saigon and Hanoi would agree that some assessment tasks may be too rigid at times, giving students very little flexibility to use their strengths to advantage, but also giving them few opportunities to work on and develop their weaknesses over a period of time, not to mention stifling their creativity and critical thinking skills.

    There is much being written and discussed on this very issue in higher ed publications presently – here’s a link for you to follow!


    Thanks again for taking the time to comment – we appreciate it!

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