How to develop the ability to learn by entering Harvard? (article with video)
How to develop the ability to learn by entering Harvard? (article with video)




10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student

Skill #2: Learn to Learn

Talking about the first important skill of a Harvard student, goal-setting, I mentioned that every semester a student chooses only 4 courses. It is likely that after the experience of studying 10-11 subjects per semester at school and university, this number will seem negligible to you. Let's not let the numbers fool us, let's figure it out!

Let's take my personal example and look at the courses I'm taking this semester. 

Indeed, there are only four courses, each of which meets only once a week for 1 hours. What happens during these meetings and why do I think that the ability to "learn on your own" will allow you to not fail the course?

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Screenshot of the page with the list of current courses in the profile of a Harvard student

The purpose of classroom sessions and class meetings, depending on the course and content, is to synthesize, discuss and apply information to solve practical problems, receive feedback from classmates or a professor who is an expert in your subject. Therefore, any such three-hour meeting involves significant preparation, which sometimes exceeds the duration of the busy one by 2-3 times. Let's look at some examples to illustrate the volume and format of homework.

Of my 4 subjects, I will take 2, since their combination will show the variability of tasks. So, each student has access to an interactive timetable where all courses are organized, and you can see in advance the goals of the entire course, reporting tasks, the schedule for each week, as well as the preparatory task for the next lesson and the requirements for its implementation.

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Screenshot of the course page in the Harvard online platform

In the same system, by the way, for the convenience of the student, the dates and deadlines for submitting all reporting tasks are synchronized into one calendar, updates or important information on the course are sent (it is immediately duplicated in the mail).

Example one. Neurodevelopment Course

So, by Monday for the course “Typical and atypical neurodevelopment” H126, you need to find and read the materials that you see in the photo.

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Homework for the course "Typical and atypical neurodevelopment"
In general, this is about 60-70 pages of scientific text about various methods of conducting neuro research, the pros and cons of each, etc. What does it mean to read? This means synthesizing this material and understanding all the pros and cons, the scope of each, the significance of technology shortcomings when analyzing research results.

How do the professor and his group of assistants check how well you have learned the material? Usually, before classes, it is necessary to send a reflection paper through the same electronic system. Reflection paper is a short essay (1-2 pages) in an academic style in which the student demonstrates understanding of the material and discusses how this knowledge is applicable to his professional field. A timely submission of an essay in compliance with all the norms of academic writing and citation will allow you to get a good score for the final grade for the course, as well as be more involved and prepared to participate in the discussion on the same topic in the upcoming class and ask the professor deeper and more thoughtful questions.

Second example. Course for Entrepreneurs

And now, for the sake of variety, I will give an example of tasks and organization of training on the Entrepreneurship in Education Marketplace course (Entrepreneurship in the Educational Market). Unlike the previous course, which ends with a research project based on the material studied, this entire course is a group business project, and each session is a mandatory stage of the project. As a result, by the end of the semester, teams of students (2-3 people each) create a business plan for the company and sell their business to nominal investors.

At the first meeting, each student makes a presentation of their competencies and areas of interest, so that as a result, everyone can choose the desired partners and unite in teams. At each subsequent lesson, the teams provide the result of one completed stage - they present elevator Speech (“speech in the elevator” for a potential investor in 20 seconds), marketing analysis, financial analysis, etc. All of these written assignments are also uploaded prior to class and evaluated by assistants and the professor. In the classroom, after the public presentation of a particular stage, other students and professors ask questions and provide feedback for further refinement as part of group or independent work.

In addition to team work, this course also includes individual work, which also involves the study of theory and synthesis. For the next class, for example, in addition to brainstorming a business idea and writing an “elevator speech”, you need to read chapters of textbooks in the field of entrepreneurship, several case studies and discuss them in an interactive format with other students through the application.

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Screenshot of the assignment page in the Harvard online platform


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Task screenshot with discussion in Perusall 

It follows from these examples that the ability to study independently critically is necessary to cope with the voluminous tasks and requirements of the course. The ability to learn independently is a complex skill that synthesizes a huge number of other additional skills, namely critical reading, time management, systems thinking, the ability to understand and clearly follow instructions, and others. Some of these skills are transferable; applicable in various areas of personal, academic and professional life. We will discuss them separately.

In the meantime, I recommend that you sign up for one of the most popular and interesting courses on Coursera “Learning how to learn” with Barbara Oakley in English. It will allow you to understand what is going on in your brain when you are studying and will give you useful tools to increase your personal efficiency. And by the way, it's also free!


Author: Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University  
and academic director Global Ambassador     

 ← Read or watch about 1 Habits of a Harvard Student                                                        Read or watch the 3 Habits of a Harvard Student 

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