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ART: Getting organized for learning

An introduction to research for University of Redlands students

Learning objective

  • Describe your ideal learning environment.

Questions to consider

  • Think about the place where you get the most work done. Can you describe what this place is like and why you feel effective working there?
  • How do you know when you have found a topic that you want to research?

Research and learning

Research is a process of structured learning about a topic.

It begins with your interest in some aspect of the outside world, which you are willing to spend more time learning about.

Effective research thus depends on your curiosity about the world, your ability to focus and cultivate interest in things, and your ability to ask insightful questions and push beyond the easiest answers.

Since research is about learning, you will be able to grow as a researcher if you are aware of how you learn best, and work to sustain those conditions in your environment.

Remember the ABCs of learning as affective, behavioral and cognitive. Effective learning environments support you emotionally, support actions such as reading, writing and communication, and are spaces in which you can think clearly and concentrate.

The concept of the personal learning environment (PLE) became popular in the mid-2010s as schools rapidly introduced tablet computers and other devices to optimize the learning environment. Despite this association, personal learning environments are not dependent on computer technology.

You may find it challenging to establish an effective learning environment given pandemic-related disruptions in how and where we work, live and learn. Your course instructors, librarians and others at the University of Redlands are here to help you discover what works for you.

Activity: Your personal learning environment

Take a moment to reflect on your ideal learning environment. You may want to consider some of these attributes:

  • Location - is it an outdoor or indoor space? Is it in a familiar space, or someplace different?
  • Equipment - what kinds of tools or technology are available - both "high" and "low" technology?
  • People - are other people nearby? Do you work best in a group or by yourself?
  • Activity - are you sitting? Standing? In motion?
  • Time - how long do you spend in this place? Do you work in short bursts, or do you like to settle into a "zone"?
  • Senses - do you thrive off of sensory stimulation - music, bright colors, textures? Or do you keep distractions to a minimum?

Write a paragraph reflection summarizing the most important aspects of your learning environment and how you can achieve them.

Note taking

The practice of taking notes on your ideas, questions and sources is an important part of your personal learning environment.

Miranda Hein and Molly Wiskur, undergraduate students at the University of Kansas, created this video describing several popular note-taking strategies:

Olivia Reyes, another student in the same class, created a video focusing on the Cornell note taking system:

Take notes online

Online note taking services can help you take notes on your computer or on the go using a mobile device.

Here are the best developed services. I have tried each of these and can recommend them all!

Comparison of online note taking services
Program Description Compatibility
OneNote Free to University of Redlands students with the University's Office 365 subscription. Microsoft's cloud note taking program, including a browser app and desktop, phone and tablet versions and a browser plug-in to save articles and content from the web.
  • Windows
  • Mac
Evernote Leading cloud note taking program with a browser app and desktop, phone and tablet versions and a browser plug-in to save articles and content from the web.. The free tier lets you upload up to 60 MB of text and files each month. Upgrading to a paid tier ($79 annually) allows more uploading, PDF indexing and access from apps on more devices.
  • Windows
  • Mac
SimpleNote Free note taking service using open source software. SimpleNote only supports plain text and has no plugin for saving web content, but has extremely fast synchronization and support for Markdown formatting (popular with Wordpress users). It is available as a web client with desktop and mobile versions.
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

Key Points

  • Being reflective about your learning will help you develop as a researcher.