Enabling Students as Self-Directed Learners: Design Strategies for Teaching Students How to Learn, Learn to Think and Think to Learn

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Instructors complain that many college students do not know how to learn. This session will share ways to teach students how to learn, and ways to help students practice how to learn.


I am an instructional designers at OSU Ecampus' Course Development and Training Unit. I have a MA in Instructional Technology from Utah State University. I have worked in the field of instructional design , faculty development, and course development since December 2006. I am passionate about pursuing excellence in teaching and learning.

Extended Abstract

Many students in our college classrooms do not know how to learn. This observation applies to the K12 classrooms and international classrooms as well. That is why we should care about teaching students how to learn.


Many students struggle in learning one subject or all subjects.  “I tried very hard studying, but I still don’t understand.” “I want to write well and beautifully.” “I want to speak a foreign language fluently.”

 There are several reasons for this common phenomenon: One primary reason is that students have not been taught adequately about how to learn autonomously. Our public education has been training students to take in the bits of information provided by their teachers, and not having enough opportunities to learn and practice how to learn by themselves. With the help of modern learning science, we can teach students how to learn efficiently. Secondly, students have not practiced how to learn and make it into a habit or study skill. Thirdly, many students don’t believe that they can learn by themselves.


To teach students how to learn, we need to teach them steps in effective study cycle and scientific ways of learning, such as Note-taking, deliberate practices, and teaching it to others, etc.


  1. Study cycle: preview, attend, review, study, assess.
  2. Scientific way of studying: intense study sessions (goal setting for 1-2 minutes, study with focus for 30 to 50 minutes; reward yourself with a break for 10 to 15 minutes; Review for 5 minutes).
  3. Mindset Adjustment: Students – from passive learner to active learner; teacher: from authority in teaching to facilitator of learning. Teach students that they can learn by themselves.



Design Strategies for Teaching students how to learn:

For students at freshmen and sophomore levels:

  1. Textbook/ learning Resources: built/curated by students; have students curate the content and provide the readings (and the instructor does the final reviewing) (RNG 352)
  2. Lectures: students as presenters, teachers (ENGR.  ???)
  3. Discussions: students as question generators, discussion forum facilitators; discussion forum participants; (BA 363) 
  4. Assignments: students as content-creators instead of content consumers (ANS 350)
  5. Quiz: questions generated by students;
  6. Projects: Students-centered projects (students choose topics, formats and delivery of the projects)
  7. D. Just-in-time teaching: after assignments are graded and correct answers or best solutions are shared, ask students what they did wrong, why they did it wrong, or why they did it right. What might also be a good solution if alternatives are allowed.
  8. Audience participation through onsite and online collaboration: ways to teach students how to learn;
  9. Essential Questions for critical thinking: fact or opinion questions and reasoning; multiple choice questions and talk it out/reasoning; Elevator pitch (topic and pitch); total recall with meanings in mind or mind palace; you name it; What would happen? What if? What would they be if you could name 2 rules that everyone in the world must follow and why? Making Choices and reasoning; worst case scenario; train of tall tales; paper tower building competition;
  10. Audience participation in groups: what questions to ask to promote critical thinking and learning?
  11. Resources sharing

For students at junior and senior levels:

  • Encourage students to be content creators and share what they created with the class, the local school community, and the entire world;
  • Encourage students to take on certification training; self-guided learning opportunities and teach what they learned to the class.
  • Encourage students to become critical thinkers with thought-provoking questions.

Audience Participation:

The session will begin with open audience questions around how students are learning at participants’ institutions/schools and whether teaching students to learn is needed or not at their local schools.

After presentation the why of teaching students how to learn, audience opinions will be collected on what to teach if we want to teach students how to learn.

After presenting on what to teach, audience opinions and suggestions will be collected on how to teach students to learn.

At the end of the presentation, each participant will tell their small group one thing they contributed to this session, one thing they take away from this session and how they will apply it in their local schools.