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Learning in College versus Learning in School - 5 Differences!

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You may or may not by now have realised that learning and studying at university is very different to how you did things in school. This Blog highlights 5 differences.

At school your days were filled with classes. When you went home you probably did the homework or study that the teacher had assigned. If you listened in class and did all the work your teacher asked you to do, you were probably doing enough to do well. Even if you were off school for a week or two for midterm or Easter your teachers probably set revision or past exam questions for you to do in this time. You might find that in college it’s very different. 

1. Listening in Class is not enough 

Listening in lectures will not be enough. You will need to go over your notes again afterwards and make sure you understand them. If there are parts you do not understand you will need to figure out where you can find the information to fill in the gaps. In college most of the learning happens outside lecture times. This is the time that you get to process the information presented in lectures and try to figure out how it connects with other things you already know. 

To find out how much time you are expected to spend on each module outside of scheduled lectures you need to look at the module descriptor. In MTU you can find your module descriptors here. Just put in your module code and click search. In each module descriptor there is a section entitled ‘Module Workload’. This is an example from a 1st year Statistics module in MTU. 

Detail from module desctiptor showing 3 hours of independant learning time

This module has 3 hours of lectures, 1 tutorial hour and 1 lab hour. The red box often gets glossed over. To be successful in this module each student is also expected to do 3 hours of independent work. 

 2. You will need to plan for yourself how you manage your study time 

The lecturers expect you to be able to make your own schedule for how to use this independent study time. You need to become an efficient independent learner. Nobody is going to tell you how to organise your days to get everything that you need to do done. Getting good at this is one of the best ways you can guarantee your success in college. 

 If your lecturer gives you problem sets or tutorial sheets but there are no marks going for them don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t need to do them. This is the lecturers’ way of helping you to plan your independent study. They are basically saying, ‘this is the type of thing you need to be able to do to succeed in this module’. If you don’t ask a question about these in the tutorial your lecturer will assume you have it all under control. If you do have a question, you need to learn to be brave enough to ask it. It’s very likely that other people in the class are wondering about the same thing but are too embarrassed to ask.   

You need to take control of your independent learning, but you don’t need to do it alone. If you study best with others, then try to find others in your class who feel the same way. If you are unsure about managing your time why not check out the resources from Academic Success Coaches in MTU.

 3. The grading system is different 

If you have always been used to getting high marks in school don’t be disheartened if they drop a bit when you start college. Higher than 70% in a college assessment is considered very good. Don’t think of it as a H3 or O3, it’s a first-class honours (H1) grade. That is the top grade in college. 

Try not to be too hard on yourself if your grades are not as good as you would like. You are just beginning on a new phase in your learning and it may take some time to adjust to the changed expectations. 

 4. You’ll need to manage your own deadlines  

In school if you needed to complete a big project, e.g. your Junior Cert Science project, your teacher probably planned for everyone to be finished weeks ahead of the real deadline. They likely made out a plan and nudged or even nagged all students to keep on top of the work. If someone fell behind the teacher might even have called their parents. That is all very different in college. Your lecturer will not plan out for you how to spread the work to meet your deadlines. They will not nag you if you fail to submit. This is up to you now.

 5. You are studying the subject you are passionate about 

In school you had some choice about the subject you did but a lot was out of your control. You probably did some compulsory subjects, and your choice subjects may have been limited by what the school offered or what fitted the timetable. Now you’ve chosen to come to college for your chosen topic. Hopefully, you are passionate about the subjects you are studying, or at the very least you have a dream job in mind that this course is bringing you closer to. When the going gets tough, remember that!  Even if you don’t like a particular module remember that it has been put in your programme because people who have gone before you found it to be important for their careers. 

This post was written by Deirdre Casey from the Academic Learning Centre (ALC) in Munster Technological University. In the ALC, we know that learning is not "one size fits all". Everyone learns differently and at a different pace. You might feel ahead of your class in some modules and in other modules the pace might feel too quick and you'd like to take your time a bit more with the content. In the ALC we want to give every student the time and space to take control of their own learning. Each ALC session is individualised to the student and no two sessions are ever the same. If you have any questions about the service just email


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