Learning outcomes

The broad aim of this unit is to provide a framework for learning-based activities and reflective exercises. More specifically, it is designed to offer you the opportunity to:

  • think about and understand how you learn;

  • apply the ideas and activities in this unit to your own learning experiences;

  • learn how to become a reflective learner.


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7 Conclusion

Reading is a core activity in most courses of study. The purpose of it is to enable you to learn. But learning is not a passive process, you don't just let ideas wash over you. You have to make sense of them as you read and then use them to think with.

Key points


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5.1.6 Are the conclusions justified?

Though I was interested in the idea of treating high incomes as ‘pollution’, I did wonder whether taxing people to pay for the pollution caused by their rising incomes would work. In general though I was reasonably convinced by the conclusions Layard drew. On the other hand, if I was studying the subject more seriously, I might find that wider reading and further thought would make some of the conclusions seem less convincing.


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5.1.5 Is there an alternative school of thought?

I guessed that plenty of economists would disagree with Layard's point of view, if he is right that they have not used measures of happiness and have treated rises in real incomes as an unquestioned ‘good thing’. If I were studying this topic seriously, I would search for an article which tackled Layard's arguments from another perspective. When you encounter new ideas, it is useful to get more that one perspective on them, so that you can weigh one against the other.


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5.1.1 How much trust can I put in this text?

You would generally assume that any set texts for a are trustworthy. But when you find a text through your own research you need to run a few checks to assess the soundness of its content.

Who is the publisher?

If an article is from an academic journal, you can assume that its quality has been vetted by the journal's editors. Also if a book is published by a major academic publishing house, you would expect it to be ‘respectable’. And if it's a book from an academic ser
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4.5 When you get stuck

Sometimes as you read you will get stuck. When this happens, don't sit staring at the page; find a way to tackle the problem.

Reading requires you to ‘project’ meaning onto the words on the page.

When you are stuck it means that you have lost track of the argument and can no longer see what meaning to project. So, you have to find ways to reconstruct the argument in your mind. One way is to cast around for clues by looking elsewhere in the text.

You might look bac
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4.4.1 Engaging with the content

For example, when I read in paragraph 3 of Layard's article that ‘41 per cent of people in the top quarter of incomes are ‘very happy’’ I asked myself:

  • Why is ‘very happy’ in quotation marks?

  • Is 41 per cent about what I'd expect?

  • What is this telling me?

As soon as I thought about it, I realised that ‘very happy’ could be a response that people had ticked on a questionnaire. Perhaps th
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4.4 Questioning what you read

Another way to keep your mind active while you read is to ask yourself questions about what you are reading.


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4.3 Does writing on a book seem wrong?

Obviously you have to take into account whether you own the text you are studying and, if so, whether you intend to keep it. Does it seem extravagant to write on a book and make it unfit for selling on? How important to you is selling it? Is it really a saving? If a book is important, why not assume you
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4.2 Notes in the margins

It is easy, with underlining or highlighting, to find that you have switched to autopilot without noticing. The process becomes too passive and you follow the flow of the text without asking enough questions. Writing comments or questions in the margins is a way to keep yourself more actively engaged.


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4.1 Underlining and highlighting

To be able to make sense of what you are reading, you need to read actively. One method that can help is to use a pen.

Activity 2

Did you underline or highlight any words as you read the Layard article? If not, go back over the
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3.4 Time chunks

Apart from sheer speed, there is the question of how to parcel out your study time. With a two-page article you would assume a single study session, but a chapter of a book might be spread over several sessions, depending on the content and on your own time constraints.

This is a message from a stud
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2.2 The ‘academic’ style

You might also be put off by the ‘academic’ style of writing. In everyday life, what you read is usually written to grab your attention and get a message across quickly before you ‘switch channels’. By contrast, academic texts often raise broad, abstract questions and are unconcerned about arriving at quick answers. For example, where a newspaper headline might say:

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2.1.2 Dictionaries

One way to tackle the challenge of unfamiliar words is to use a dictionary. You could use a traditional printed dictionary, or an online dictionary, or both. A printed dictionary is easy to keep beside you wherever you happen to be reading. But an online dictionary holds the advantage when it comes looking up words quickly as you can look up a word in three or four online dictionaries simultaneously, to compare the definitions they offer.

You also have a choice between using a genera
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2.1.1 Should you stop reading to look words up?

It depends. Looking up words slows you down, and you may be able to make reasonable sense of their context without having to. For example, I found it fairly easy to guess the meaning of ‘habituation’ in paragraph 8, from the way it was discussed. However, I looked it up on the internet anyway, as I happened to have my computer on. I also looked up ‘real income’ and ‘marginal tax’ and found useful clarification of their meanings.

You have to decide how important a word seems
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Learning outcomes

After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • ask questions to make yourself think about what you read;

  • think about what the key concepts and issues are;

  • detach yourself from disagreements with the author's views.


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References

de Bono, E. (1999) de Bono's Thinking Course. London, BBC Books
Entwistle, N. (1994) quoted in Supporting Open Learners Reader (1996) Milton Keynes, The Open University
Holmes, O. W. quoted in Robbins, A. (1991) Awaken the giant within. New York, Simon & Schuster
Rice, M. (1999) Observer Magazine, 7 November
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8.3 Academic arguments

You have looked at some examples of everyday arguments, now look at a short example of an academic argument.

Activity 25

Read the argument below. Compare and contrast it to the previous examples of arguments you have looked at ('W
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8.2 Broadening perception

Particular perspectives and points of view underpin speaking and writing. Being successful at many academic tasks, including balanced argument, often requires us to be conscious of and to try to break away from our usual perspectives and ways of thinking, and to attend to things we might not normally notice. The challenge is often to be more open-minded and broad in our thinking, to consider more than one point of view in the way that the caffeine article did. It can be useful to have strateg
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8 Analysis, argument and critical thinking

In this section, we are going to look in detail at analysis and argument. Analytical thinking is a particular type of higher order thinking central to much academic activity. It is concerned with examining 'methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of something' (Oxford English Dictionary). This includes looking at variables, factors, and relationships between things, as well as examining ideas and problems, and detecting and analysing arguments. Many essay questions require ar
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