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Learning at university

Learning at university takes place in a different setting and requires different planning. Unlike high school, it is you who should now take care of this planning. Understanding the learning context at university will help you with planning your learning.

University learning setting

Learning at university occurs both onsite and online.

The following points describe some aspects of how learning at university differs from learning at high school.


  • Classes at university are larger than those at high school and may have hundreds of students. One implication is that you may not have a chance to ask questions or get adequate individual attention during a class.
  • Classes can be located in different rooms or buildingsThere are various types of classes at university including lectures, workshops, and tutorials, which could be located in different rooms or buildings. Workshops and tutorials are more practical and have fewer students. These are usually facilitated by teaching assistants.
  • The lecture format is a common type of course delivery. It is important that you take notes during lectures as lecturers do not usually replicate what is in the assigned readings.
  • Unlike high school, at university there will be less face-to-face contact with your lecturers and tutors with more time allocated for independent study, library research, and assignments per course.

Independence and self-management

Independence and self-management are key to learning effectively and efficiently at university.

At high school, your teachers would usually take care of your learning. At university you need more self-discipline as there are no lecturers to prompt you.

Being aware of the following aspects may help you plan and manage your learning more efficiently.

  • Most of your learning will occur outside of the lecture theatre. For example you will be researching some topics, revising your lecture notes, reading the assigned articles, and working with your peers on group projects. The implication here is that you need to be responsible for your personal time management. Setting a study timetable that highlights priorities is critical.
  • Most of the learning resources will come from the university library – both the physical and the virtual ones. You need to be familiar with how to use both platforms.
  • At university, you will have more freedom in making choices and planning your learning. Try to avoid procrastination as it can lead to serious academic difficulties.
  • Unlike high school, it is you who should search for learning support. Make use of the various forms of support available for you at university such as:

– lecturers’ office hours

– library and learning services

– counselling and academic skills support.

University lecturers

Although university lecturers are usually helpful and supportive, they are busy people with high expectations of producing quality research.

At university, you are expected to be on top of your study. You will not have a form teacher in charge of your pastoral care and academic progress, so no one to follow up on you or to talk to when you get behind with your studies.

Lecturers at university:

  • may not check your assignments before submission and are unlikely to allow another submission after the mark is given. For assignment support (e.g., essay-type assignments), you may consider contacting the academic skills team
  • may not assign textbooks. Alternatively, lecturers could assign scholarly articles and online resources as the main learning resources. When there is a textbook, lecturers may not stick to it during lectures; they usually enrich the topics with illustrations and real-life cases.
  • may lecture and write on the board for the whole class time with little interaction with the class. They expect you to identify important elements of the lecture and take notes effectively.
  • expect you to synthesise and apply the knowledge you have gained and avoid copying and pasting texts.
  • expect you to approach them and other student support resources when you feel you need help.

Learning assessment at university

 Learning assessment at university is a little bit different from assessment at high school.

At university:

  • assessment is often based on how you apply concepts, not on how much you have memorised from your readings and lecture notes.
  • mid-term and final exams are the most common types of assessment at university, especially in large classes. Therefore, good preparation and planning for these assessment events is critical
  • Special considerations for missed tests and exams may be granted but under special conditions.
  • group assignments/projects are common, so learning how to engage with teamwork and handle the challenges associated with it is important.
  • there might be weekly low stake assignments such as short online quizzes. The purpose of these light assessment tasks is to encourage you to engage with the course learning week by week.


Differences between school and uni – Western Sydney University

High school vs university – a blog by University of Pretoria

How is college different from high school, Southern Methodist University