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The application of learning skills in an engineering programme

Author - Leslie Shoemaker


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At the Dublin Institute of Technology, an engineering programme in the School of Control Systems and Electrical Engineering has successfully incorporated a study skills module into the core curriculum. The module, titled Academic Development and Key Skills, is part of the first year of the programme and has a two-fold purpose. Primarily the goal is to assist the students with the transition from second level education to third level by teaching them a more competent learning style. This, in turn, helps to create a positive impact with respect to the retention of this student group within the programme. The second year of this module develops these study skills further. It has been recognised by industry that study skills – otherwise known as soft, core, key or transferable skills – in fact mirror many of the skills that students require for their future careers, for example time management, presentation skills, communication skills and task management. This paper discusses how the implementation of study skills into the core curriculum of a third level engineering programme can be of benefit to the current and future needs of students, both academic and for personal development. By providing an environment in which to develop and learn these skills, the engineering programme thus addresses the holistic needs of its student population.


The value of study skills has long been a source of discussion among teachers and lecturers at all levels of educational development (Gibbs et al. 1994). Even though there is a growing body of research to support the inclusion of study skills such as time management, problem solving and note taking into third level curricula, it appears that the approach to the dissemination of this knowledge is ad hoc. It is the author’s observation that many lecturers assume their students have already acquired these skills during their second level education. In addition, there are other academics who expect third level students to have the initiative and motivation to independently learn and/or improve these skills during their time in college.

With regard to the transition from second level education, students entering third level are arriving from a sheltered academic environment. In their previous school setting, students were restricted in their choices and learning styles, and the responsibility for their education seemed to rely more on an extrinsic model, through teachers and parents, rather than an intrinsic one. Third level education encourages and facilitates independent learning and communication skills – both written and verbal – as well as a student’s ability to critically evaluate their own work. It is through the acquisition of such skills that the student is encouraged to move from an extrinsic model to an intrinsic one. This transition presents a major academic and personal change within the life of a student (Hunt 2003). It has been noted that for many third level students this is also the first time they will encounter other demands of living, such as rent, course fees, living and social expenses, as well as academic costs (Student Development and Counselling Centre 2006). It is this author’s experience as a psychologist that this further step into independent living can often be frightening and overwhelming for the inexperienced young adult.