Shaping your Surrey learning journey

Stag sculpture

To shape your university journey, it is helpful to reflect on what inspired you to come to university and what you would now like to achieve – your aspirations.

Focus on what you want to achieve

Studying at university will allow you to shape and evolve your identity as a learner, so focusing on what you wish to achieve will help you identify traits and habits you would like to develop during your studies. These could include:

  • Building confidence in working with and speaking to groups of people
  • Enhancing your academic writing style
  • Independent learning and decision-making.

Many students often focus narrowly on ‘getting the grades’ to gain a good degree. While grades are important, your time at university offers broader opportunities to develop yourself, which should include learning from feedback on assignments and applying this to future work (which of course can also benefit grades). 

It can also include developing personal attributes, such as resourcefulness, decision-making abilities and self-awareness. These will be beneficial during your time at Surrey and in your life beyond.

Shape your journey

How will your learning journey at university be different?

You will develop as an independent learner, critical thinker and problem solver, and reflect on how you learn (explored below). This will be an ongoing process, as you will develop and refine these skills throughout your course.

It will also be worth seeing the ‘bigger picture’ of your course programme as your studies may be made up of individual modules. By doing so, your progress on your learning journey will be clearer, as you will be able to see connections between all the individual modules you have taken and be able to reflect on the skills, techniques and experiences you are gaining, for application in future modules.

Developing as a learner on your learning journey

To help you make a positive start on your journey, this section explores four key personal and learning attributes you can seek to evolve. While there are other areas you will need to be thinking about in terms of your development as a learner, these are cornerstones on which you can build other skills, attributes and capabilities as appropriate. You will need to think about and revisit them periodically to review your progress, to help you stay motivated during your course. 

This begins with the importance of being a self-aware learner (such as, how you respond to feedback), as this will allow you to identify ways to develop as a critical (independent) thinker. This in turn will enable you to become an effective problem solver.

Being self-aware is an aspect of taking ownership of your learning, as you are responsible for honestly recognising and reflecting on your successes and strengths, while identifying areas you wish to enhance to help you achieve your learning aspirations.

It’s important not to focus only on negatives, as your reflections should provide a well-rounded picture of your authentic ‘learning self’.

To do this, consider how you learn. For example, what times of the day do you study best, do you prefer to work in the morning or afternoon? You may also feel that you are more confident in one area which can help you to develop skills in another setting. For example, appreciating that you feel at ease when sharing ideas with people you know can help you to develop your confidence when contributing to larger group discussions where you feel less assured.

Being a reflective learner will also help you to connect with, and support, other students. Meeting new people may feel a little daunting at first, so to help you overcome these concerns, you may wish to explore opportunities to become a more active learner when networking or team working (see our guide on making the most of your university learning experience).

Becoming a reflective learner will help you to:

  • Contribute to your own and others’ learning development by making connections with others
  • Develop a positive and optimistic mindset about the possibilities and opportunities for change or enhancement
  • See your progress towards your learning aspirations on your journey.

Becoming a critical thinker is a key aspect of developing your learning self. Like self-awareness, it does not mean focussing on the negative aspects of a piece of research or point of view.  It can help you to think more creatively about a topic and where you stand (your viewpoint) in relation to the different perspectives.

In essence, critical thinking means not taking things at ‘face value’ but asking questions such as, ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and, most importantly, ‘why’. Critical thinking can help you to navigate through the evidence you will be expected to engage with as part of your studies, so it is important to think critically when you research, read, make notes, write and reflect on your learning.

Employing critical thinking in your learning means:

  • Developing a deeper and more meaningful understanding of your subject or a topic
  • Being open to different viewpoints and being willing to change your own perspective
  • Gauging the reliability of information by questioning the content.

The ability to draw on your experiences and critically think about a situation will help you to be more effective when problem solving. Problems can often be seen as difficulties, but, as a learner, the challenge of finding solutions can be motivating. This could involve how to answer an assignment question, knowing when to seek advice, or even deciding what would be the best way to achieve your study-life balance.

It’s always good to challenge your thinking about a topic by undertaking some further research, where you could discover different perspectives about an issue, theory or concept. Additionally, discussing ideas with other students, perhaps as part of a group you are working with, or with your tutor, or staff in teams such as Academic Skills and Development, can help develop your thinking and approach to finding a solution.

Taking a positive approach to problem solving will enable you to adapt quickly to new situations, as you will be able to build on your experiences as you become a more confident learner. This is again about taking control of, and responsibility for, your own learning and is thus integral to your progress on your journey. It is always worth setting aside some time to think about an issue, so scheduling independent study time (or thinking time) is always beneficial (see our guide on planning and organising your time).

To develop your problem-solving abilities:

  • Think about how you have adapted and succeeded in the past and how you can apply this to new situations
  • Connect with others to explore how they have been successful in similar situations. Could you adopt the same strategies?
  • Set aside time to think through the problem to find an effective solution.

Finally, taking ownership and responsibility for your development will increase your confidence as an independent learner. By regularly reviewing and reflecting on your progress (self-awareness), you will increasingly find that you are directing and taking control of your learning journey. As you adjust to university life, you may find that you need to re-evaluate how you approach your studies as being in control of your learning means you can design your own work patterns.

The onus will be on you to organise the times you chose to study independently, whilst also regulating this, ensuring you maintain a healthy study balance with your other life commitments. It also means taking the initiative to ask questions and clarify anything you are unsure about. By increasingly looking at ways to become a self-directed independent learner, the more your confidence will grow in your new learning environment.

However, it is only natural that at times you may question your ability to be successful when working independently. Being self-aware will mean you are better able to recognise when this happens, so you can identify when you need to reach out for advice.

To become a more independent learner:

  • Consider how you can best organise your workload effectively to balance your study and life commitments
  • Recognise when you need some advice or guidance, and actively reach out for support
  • Reflect and review your unique learning journey frequently to recognise your progress and achievements.

Owning your learning

By recognising that you can personally manage significant aspects of your learning experience you will be able to shape your learning journey to best suit your aspirations. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘owning your learning’.

As you progress in your studies, you will realise there are various aspects to owning your learning, many of which will be based on your own informed decisions and actions. However, a key aspect is the importance of continuously learning from feedback and identifying, at different stages of your journey, when you need to seek advice and support:

  • Reflect on your progress
  • Identify learning areas you wish to develop
  • Use available feedback, support and resources
  • Apply your learning to other assignments
  • Recognise your achievements.


Once you start university, take advantage of feedback and advice from your lecturers as this will help your development and allow you to progress on your journey.


You can form support networks with your fellow students and/or seek advice and support for your learning from our University services such as the Library’s Academic Skills and Development and Maths and Statistics Advice teams; if English is not your native language, you may wish to connect with the University’s English Language Support Programme.

International students

If you are new to studying in the UK, you may notice differences in the educational culture and expectations of you as a learner. Adapting to these will take a little time, but you will quickly find that the University is an international environment where diversity is valued. 

Finding out about the cultural expectations of your new learning context is important, so be sure to attend induction events on your course, consult module guidance, and always ask if you are unsure.

Key takeaways

Top tips

Recognising that your learning journey is unique to you will help you to adapt to new learning environments.

Shaping your learning journey will enable you to study more effectively, learn more about your subject and develop transferable skills for your future career.

Learning from feedback is a valuable asset: whilst some aspects of feedback you receive will be specific to the individual assignment in question, there will always be advice on areas to develop for the future. How you respond to the feedback will impact on how you progress on your learning journey.