Professionals are always looking to grow. One of the ways we do that is taking courses. The experience one has a course can be greatly affected by their preparation, attitude, and actions before and during a class. It can also be greatly affected by how well other students prepare, behave, and act. It makes the difference between a great and a dismal experience and how much you get out of it. Here are just 20 basic tips for being a good student at a course. I credit Darryl Biggs of Threat Risk Mitigation Control Group with a number of these.
1. Now that you are an adult you can pick the courses you attend for the most part. If you are getting a choice be sure to research the class and ensure it is a good fit for you. Do not try to go to a master level course when all you possess or do not even possess an awareness-level knowledge of the subject. You will have more questions than the people that are ready for a course at that level and will slow them down. There is a reason we have different grades in school. If for some reason you get enrolled into a course beyond your scope study as much as you can so you are as prepared as possible before class starts.
2. Read the syllabus carefully. If there are pre-requisites ensure you meet them. If there are resources you need to bring then do so. I recommend a computer if possible if you like taking notes on a computer, a large notepad for in-seat note taking, and a small pad for field note taking, and extra pens and pencils, highlighters.
3. If there are textbooks or recommended reading lists provided to you ahead of time get to studying. Come to class with as much knowledge as possible. If you have access to an experienced instructor in class you do not want to be wasting the precious time you have with them going over stuff you could read straight from the book. Instead, you want to use that time to learn from their experiences. If you tackle the pre-course assignments and reading you can show them you understand the material quickly and then use the time wisely to ask them questions and delve further than the basic course material.
4. If you are not sure of something ahead of time then contact the course point of contact. Better to contact them and ask if you need to bring a certain material or have the right book then take a guess.
5. Be prepared to go to class whether it is online or a resident course. If it is online, ensure you have the right online meeting software such as Zoom. Make sure that your IT device meets the requirements to run the programs necessary. Ensure you have enough bandwidth. There is not much point to a class if you are barely following along because it keeps glitching or buffering. If it is a resident course figure out how much time you need to drive there early. Ensure your materials are packed and ready to go so you arrive early. Make sure you know where you are going when you get to the resident site.
6. Show up early. Get the sign-in sheets, liability waivers or other forms done, test your pens and pencils, have your computer powered on and your Word doc or other note-taking software up and ready to take notes. Have your chair set to what level you want it if its adjustable. Have your greetings to your fellow students and instructor done before the start time. Be in your seat and ready to go at the start time, preferably sooner. If everyone is ready it’s really nice to some of us to hear, “Well let’s go ahead and get started.” That good news means several things. Either more breaks which might be needed, get out of class early, go for a longer lunch, or my favorite: they will use the extra time to impart more knowledge than originally intended for that day (unless they are a bad instructor and hopefully it is get out early.)
7. Be dressed appropriately. If there is nothing that talks about dress then you may want to ask. Another thing to do is look at a gallery if the school has any and see how people were dressed for the class. Think rationally. How would you dress for the work the school is teaching you to perform? You do not need a business suit at a dirty hands-on mechanical course but you do not want to wear shorts and a T-shirt to a business-style instruction. Even if it is a relaxed clothing course such as T-shirts and shorts stick to the clothing rules you learned in school about decency.
8. Do not compare the class you are at to another instructor’s course. Imagine what your professor or teacher would say if you griped about doing MLA citation format because in your last class you used APA format. They do not care about your whining and you are the student so you adapt to them not them to you. They have no obligation to build their program or adapt it on some previous course of instruction taught by another school. Be knowledgeable but adaptable. Retain the knowledge from the previous courses in the back of your mind but do not try to inject them into this instructor’s course. “Well, we learned it this way before” can sometimes be helpful because it gives the instructor a frame of reference as to what your knowledge foundation is but can also become really annoying. Know where that dividing line is.
9. If there is no ending time listed on the course information or it has the caveat subject to change do not make plans unless you can absolutely not help it. Good instruction is to a standard not to a time.
10. Pay attention. If you fall behind because you are distracted then try to mentally catch up but wait until a break to fill in your knowledge gaps about things you missed. Do not penalize the class with having to spend time reviewing a portion of the material because you were daydreaming or handling other business. The same goes with if you are failing to understand something. If it is a simple catch-up that is one thing. But if you are slowing down the whole class with repeated requests to go over something that’s an issue. Wait until breaks.
11. Do not disrupt the class if possible. You may have to keep your phone on and you may have step out because of business or other emergencies. If you know this is certain or highly likely choose a seat near a door, or in the least intrusive spot where you can make an exit without passing in front of other students or being in their view. Have your phone on vibrate. If you are doing class digitally this still applies, as well as choosing a spot in your office or house where there will not be noise and visual distractions to viewers if you are on screen. Use the mute function unless you need to talk.
12. Practice good hygiene and be least bodily offensive. Control your bodily functions. Do not eat the tuna at lunch or something that causes flatulence. Do not penalize your fellow students with bad food choices. Shower, brush your teeth, use deodorant. If you use cologne or perfume then be mindful of the quantity, some people are more sensitive to smells than others. Remember that scents are subjective. Someone may not find the scent you choose to use as appealing. Simply clean is a safe good choice.
13. Study after class if needed. If you are having trouble understanding the material ask the instructor if they have time to speak with you and help clear up confusion. Perhaps your issue is with practical skills. Ask fellow students if they would be willing to help you stay and practice if necessary. It is a shame to leave a class with a bunch of questions or uneasiness about your ability to perform.
14. Listen carefully. Sometimes an instructor will ask a question and the student’s answer has absolutely nothing to do with the question asked. If you need the instructor to repeat a question then ask them to do so. Do not try to guess and ramble on. If you realize while talking that you are wrong just stop and admit it. You are there to learn so be humble and let someone else answer the question correctly or let the instructor tell you the answer. Listening carefully goes along with any directions. Follow them. If you do not understand what they are directing you to do ask for clarification.
15. If you are on a team exercise and you are messing up, step away from it and watch from the outside if able. This is especially doable if your class is one where you have to take turns in scenarios because there are more people than a scenario calls for. If there are not enough people then switch to the easiest position to execute so you can do your tasks while watching and learning the other positions of the team. And on breaks, don’t be afraid to be looking like a mime practicing by yourself out in the open while everyone else is as break. Most humans are imaginative, if you need to imagine the team doing their tasks and act our your own as best as you can.
16. Do not be a showoff. Maybe you know a lot about the subject matter. Maybe you are an expert level practitioner taking an intermediate or awareness-level course as a refresher. Remember that students are there for that specific level of course. Do not wax smartly trying to impress people. It can confuse others as well as detract from the time allotted for the material the instructor desires to present. This is not to say do not execute the tasks assigned to the best of your ability or play dumb. But stick to the course curriculum and methods taught therein.
17. Be professional. Perhaps you know the subject matter better than some others. Do not make them feel stupid. Do not lord your better understanding over them. Be helpful. Be that student that helps out a struggling student as you would want them to help you. Assist the instructor where you can. They might need someone to run slides or help set up training aids. Approach the training with positivity. Encourage other students.
18. If the instructor asks a question and you can answer then do so. At some point they may say, “Does anyone else but John/Jane know the answer?” If they do not that give it a bit before volunteering more answers or wait until you see nobody else is volunteering to answer and go ahead and raise your hand again or state the answer depending on the class method for answering questions.
19. Treat the class materials and training aids well. Unless it is something meant to be used up and destroyed in the class take great care of it. Report any deficiencies in equipment to the instructor/host so that it can be fixed. If it is something that is supposed to be maintained and re-used do not just keep using it in a deficient state (unless instructed to do so) thereby potentially causing it worse damage and more costly repairs or ending in its complete destruction.
20. Give the instructor honest, tactful, and helpful feedback. The end of course review is often overlooked. A lot of feedback sheets use numbers. Put some comments in there. Let them know what worked well and what did not work well. Give them ideas on how to improve. Be realistic. Do not try to change what the course is about. Focus on how to improve the course on its subject matter that is meant to be taught, not add new subject matter (unless the lack of a specific subject matter is creating a gap between two subjects taught in the course.) When it comes to tact use the right words. “This sucked” is bad and also uninformative as it does not help them understand what sucked or how to improve. “This course could be improved by” is just more professional and helps set a path forward. Tact is not lying or dishonest, it’s just packaging the truth professionally. You can still get the point across that there are things were deficient without being harsh. Remember, if you do not give honest feedback you are contributing to poor instruction yourself for every student that follows thereafter because you could have informed the instructor of something of which they were not aware and they could have been given the chance to improve the course. If the instructor is the type that gets angry by constructive criticism and holds a grudge well at least you were honest and you did your part. How professionally you write your feedback is on you, how they react to that criticism is on them.