College Course Success: Goals, Motivation & Creating a Learning Plan

person writing on white book
Photo by on

Imagine a football coach who didn’t have a plan for executing plays or a plan to grow needed skills. The coach simply said to the team “Go out and practice for 2 hours.”

What would a building project be without a team of people, blueprints and project plan? No assigned action steps or prioritizing when the steps needed to be done?  Or consider how profitable a business would be if there wasn’t a plan for what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and who was going to do what part.

College courses cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, yet concrete approaches for course-by-course goal setting and step-by-step action planning is not typically a skill honed in high school. My work as an academic life coach and college advisor over the years has me hearing over and over from students these similar themes:  Students often…

  1. …keep their “to do” list in their mind – if they have one at all,
  2. …react to syllabus due dates daily or weekly rather than plan ahead around the rest of their life, and
  3. …study primarily by only doing the assigned homework and putting in “a lot” of time for “reviewing” notes.
  4. …don’t have a clear understanding of why any of this work matters to their future.
  5. …don’t have accountability measures or partners in place to provide additional support.

Numerous successful people do not go to major lengths to write down their intention for a specific grade or physically design a project plan. Yet gaps of effort or skills may mean a failed class or too low of a grade required for a major program. With that..more tuition money is then needed to retake a class AND the student may feel a range of negative emotions. Now is the time to  “Make it Happen” with a solid & documented plan!

What first? Creating a framework for the big picture requires naming the goal! Maybe this seems unnecessary – everyone wants to pass their classes and graduate, right?  I’ve seen students who mentally just want to pass a class – and then “oops” happens.

So what does “oops” look like?  Could be things like…

  • “I thought I knew it when I took the test, but I guess I didn’t.” or
  • “I didn’t expect that kind of test.” or
  • “I had to work extra hours, so it’s my boss’s fault that I didn’t have time to study.”

Check out this brief research results document on the positive impact of actually naming and setting goals! Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University in California found direct implications that saw increased goal attainment with action plans and accountability measures. Dominican University Study

Goal creation can be viewed in a number of ways, with a common acronym being SMART goals. While that is an excellent approach, I prefer the revision “SMART-ER” goals with more direct action words.  More on goal creation, motivation, and creating a solid plan coming in the future.

A FREE Master Study Plan Template is available. Simply sign up for the Lightvision Coaching mailing list.


Virtual coaching works!!

photo of woman using her laptop
Photo by bruce mars on

College classes for Fall are starting soon.  Check out these reasons why students benefit from connecting to an independent and long distance college success coach:

  • People like the comfort of their own place for private coaching.
  • Freedom to share life concerns and dreams with independent person who only cares about their success and happiness.
  • Being able to share anything on their computer screen with the coach AND work through assignments, goal planning, or even explore career options together.
  • Independent partner to listen and help students confidence with their own plan for learning and creating an achieveable plan.
  • Parents have freedom and confidence to loosen control and trust an experienced college professional who’s ONLY focus is on what’s best for thier family member.
  • Personalized academic and college life coaching has been proven to help students AND parents- REALLY!

Testamonial from a successful college graduate who had often struggled with classes and balancing life’s expectations.

Pam had the ability to quickly connect to you and your situation. She listens with purpose and asks the questions that you don’t want to answer but need to answer. She is truly a natural coach and facilitator. Her process is so organic. She has helped me through college during some of my most defining years. She gave me a new found sense of purpose. She has helped me redefine myself and my confidence in knowing that I’m the only one that can get in my way! Pam will get you unstuck and will make you accountable for you!


    Have you ever heard someone say “I’m not a good test taker!” or “I’m no good at pen-writing-notes-studying.jpgexams.”?

    A common myth is “Only some people are able to be good at taking tests -and I’m not one of them.” Their perception of reality shines through three key words in the sentence: “able” and ” I’m not”.  A frame of mind exists that leads the person to believe they are “not able to do good.”

    How does someone get to have a “poor test-taker” mindset about themselves?

    Sometimes this “limiting belief” comes from an internal interpretation of past poor performance on exams. Perhaps their test-taking is after a seemingly large amount of studying beforehand that didn’t bring the hoped-for results. Over time, a person may hear something similar from more than one family member or friend. For example, have you have ever heard someone say they just can’t do math?  It can be passed on in classrooms when teachers say they aren’t good at math or a parent to a child when they say that they were never good at school.

    pexels-photo-736843.jpegThis “truth” grows over time and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – the more one thinks they can’t do something, the more they don’t achieve it.  So much so that a student continues to enter into test taking mode with clouds of doubt, anxiety, or low motivation to study. Depending upon whether they care about the grade or have given up, a student may even put on outwardly displays of  an “I don’t care” attitude.

    The limiting belief of a fixed mindset is a key topic in Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2016.)  Briefly – some people have a FIXED mindset that describes a belief that we are who we are and our capacities are not moveable. They believe that talent is what we are born with and that some people are good at school and some not.

    Remember when IQ scores where commonly alluded to in education?  It was one ill-informed reason people held to a line of general intelligence that was connected to the concept that we had a fixed ability to learn.

    Dweck establishes a clear case for the positive impact of a GROWTH mindset, which is the idea that people are born with basic qualities that “are things you can cultivate with your efforts, your strategies, and help with others.” (Dweck, 2016) In reality – people really do better in school, business, parenting, and relationships with the understanding that they have the capacity to learn and grow.

    SHIFT the mindset – CHANGE the results!!   

    Tests are simply one way to assess what a student recalls at that moment in time using the format selected by the teacher. People learn differently and they also may need to express their learning and understanding differently too.

    The way to better test results – and improved learning experiences – is using your efforts to develop new strategies for learning!  The “others” who can help you or someone care about – are teachers who’ve learned the newer approaches for learning strategies. If not a teacher, consider an academically trained coach who is knows how to engage learners in multi-sensory study strategies and active learning techniques.

    AND if motivation had been lacking…motivation can grow when new ways of studying make learning reachable and possible!

    Plus ideas like Grit presented by Angela Duckworth in her book of the same name, add fuel to shifting how we think of ourselves and what it takes to do well at a task – such as learning and assessments or tests.   More on motivation and grit in the future!


    A WHY for Learning Matters!

    pexels-photo-459971.jpeg“Why does any of this stuff matter?”  There was a time when more students did well enough in school by caring about grades or parent approval. Some barely passed and others did well.  They may even feel like they are “trying”, but the reality of low grades and feeling bored tell a different story.

    With technology expanding our views as well as providing a myriad of distractions, the regimen of high school or college has taken on a higher level of “boring” or “stupid.”

    Motivation and a student’s WHY for school matters!!  There is a line of control when students do things because they are expected to and when they do things they want to do. Normal teen development – yes, but it is also illustrated with more students simply checking out of caring about school. Some students even happy with a D in high school since it isn’t failing,  Low motivation = Minimal effort + low focus.

    If their grades are good enough to get into college, they find out that minimal effort and not focusing doesn’t bring the expected GPA needed to get the college degree. Even when schools try to teach good study skills – students don’t care about the content and therefore, don’t pay attention to what they could have learned for later coursework.

    Consider this: Why learn to write a good paper for English?  It translates to putting together concepts and main ideas so they can create a presentation for a future job. Makes sense, but future jobs are just that …future! Not relevant to now.

    So what can parents do to help their young person be the productive and responsible adult they want them to be? Consider a different perspective?

    What if the student:

    • Explored what DOES get them excited?
    • Created a plan to learn something that they DO care about?
    • Felt free to talk about themselves, their fears, or dreams in an environment void of perceived judgement and not connected to “school”, with it’s negative connotations?
    • They were motivated to learn something of interest to them, and then learned about engaging and creative study strategies for that topic?  And then those skills were transferred to traditional academic courses?
    • What if they developed new understanding of their learning that also supports students with ADHD?

    Academic life coaching for college success and life direction can be an answer that helps a young person be in control of their future – their way.  Life is more than school, and incorporating the whole person through our work can be the difference needed for transforming what school means to them.


    “I study and study and study. My grades just don’t get better. I guess college isn’t my thing.”

    Perhaps these words or something similar are familiar to you.  Sometimes even if a student doesn’t have problems with grades, some still have a feeling that college isn’t for them. With the cost of college so high, its worth it for students and parents to tackle this limiting belief head on!

    What is most often missing are updated and effective study strategies or internal awareness of why the college classes or degree matters. The “why college matters” conversation is for a later time. For now, I’ll focus more on which study strategies work least often and mention those that work the most. When people “study and study and study” and grades are not improving, it IS NOT about their ability to learn.  It IS about how they are studying for the way their brain works!  I’ve advised, instructed, and coached many college students who come to me with these words, and further conversation let’s me know that the HOW of studying is a noticeable gap in their readiness to succeed with college coursework.

    education concept

    Imagine the student in the picture is a college student pondering all the things she has to study. What gets in her way of making sense of all the “stuff” in her textbooks? Notice the images are not linked in any way, albeit they are close together.  What if a student was thinking about ideas from many subjects and worries about what’s going to be on the test and scattered concepts are floating in their mind more in a hap-hazardly?  Regardless of where a student starts, some basic principles of learning can change the tide toward increased learning, test taking confidence, and progress toward their degree.

    Below are a couple of common study practices that DO NOT WORK well for learning content according to current learning research done by cognitive scientists and educational psychologists.

    1. Using highlighters:  A typical approach to  reading or studying a text book is taking a colorful highlighter and marking key points or ideas we believe are important.  The belief is that we can read through only the marked material to review it and remember what we need for a test. Some may also use the highlighted text to create an outline. Reality: Many students over-highlight and therefore can not pick out key points. It is also a relatively passive activity and does not engage the brain enough with the content’s meaning or context. There are skills to using this approach, and relatively few are taught. Since other ways are better regardless, why not take the time to learn them!
    2. Rereading the textbook: Another typical study strategy that is done with or without highlighted text is to simply read the material again…and again…and again. Believing that the more times we see the content, our brain will absorb it for taking the test.  We become familiar with the material and may even feel “ready” for the quiz or test.  Reality: With only visual cues to trigger brain recognition, when we get to the test, we recognize words or concepts – but can’t really apply them. This is one key area that makes college different than high school. It is the application and problem-solving questions that trip many students up when it comes to a formal assessment.

    How does a student be more prepared with a usable knowledge for the brain to retrieve for an exam or quiz?  Consider one or more of the study strategies below as potential solutions.

    Increased learning comes from:

    • using all of our senses to engage with the material,
    • trying approaches to note taking that fits the content and you,
    • utilizing a variety of study tools such as T-Charts or reading journals,
    • studying material multiple times over a number of days, and
    • practice testing yourself to see what is really learned and what is not.

    With accountability partnering and life balance as valuable aspects of academic success, an option for studying smarter and enjoying more life success is connecting to an external certified academic life coach.  One key difference is that they are not tied to the institution and only serving the student’s needs. Benefits of working with an academic life coach are above and beyond the typical campus resource of a study skills class or success coaches, especially since students may not “ready” to hear the message at the time they are exposed to the ideas.

    While academic life coaches have a variety of backgrounds, some are specifically trained in whole person life coaching PLUS a range of study strategies, executive function and ADHD, priority and time management, and organization strategies.  An academic life coach can customize your plan with YOU in control of what it looks like. Additionally, a coach is there for the journey. It means that we are ready for both successes and challenges. We listen supportively to encourage and challenge a student to raise the bar for themselves. We are mirrors  and insightful inquirers to work through the times when studying is working or not working throughout the semester. We work with a student through study plan obstacles, dream discovering, and career planning exploration.

    We are ready to embrace the whole student and help integrate successful ways of learning and living. Beyond studying, school is just one aspect of a person’s life and success at college also means balancing health, work, family, social life, and any other community commitments.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with grades, even to the point of being on academic probation or academically dropped, consider learning more about how academic life coaching can bring about the change needed for positive results!

    As an academic life coach and experienced teacher, I understand how internal motivation impacts student engagement with instructors, the material, or campus resources. Designing a personalized learning and living plan with ongoing support for accountability and reviewing goals along the way is an excellent way to stay in college, feel good about the experience, and graduate to a new future!


    Coach Pam works with individual and groups – in person or virtual video sessions to connect to people anywhere they feel comfortable.



    December wishes for the season…

    good gradeAs family comes together and students unwind from semester stresses, what do college students or their parents want most?
    What I hear from clients are things like time with family, no stress from studying, and time off from classes to enjoy friends and fun. The joy of home cooked meals or sharing of gifts and social time are welcome relief from the hectic days of November and December. Oh the fun to be had by one and all!
    Sometimes unsaid are the wonderings about confronting harsh realities when grades arrive or a student’s loss of motivation for college arrive home too. Tough conversations or arguing may ensue. Or silence to avoid talking about goals not being realized lingers after the holiday fun subsides.
    One theme that arises from my client sessions:  (more in my next post!)
    “I hate studying.  It’s so boring.  I don’t even know why I’m going to school.  I don’t know what I want to do for a job after college anyway.”
    I know what it’s like to be excited about a major, even when I had a scholarship for it.   Teaching was the field for me!  And then…I realized after a few semesters that elementary education wasn’t for me. Feeling like I was disappointing my parents, I went the direction my father thought I should go. I got a job and worked my way up in a finance office and other businesses. Over time, with a number of positions that were “fine” but not great, I was coached around the idea that I was just “working” and not thriving. Traditional business environments are not my natural comfort zone. Work was drudgery and waiting for my 15 minute break or lunch.
    Now, over many years of living and learning, I know what makes my heart sing. Teaching and coaching others to live and learn “on purpose” is my joy!  My years of various career fields and painful transitions yield both insights and empathy for the journey of others. I now know what it takes to figure out one’s calling and make it a reality.
    If you are a parent wondering what to do about your son or daughter who is not doing well in school or feeling disconnected from their college experience, then consider contacting Coach Pam. The future is brighter with Lightvision Coaching.
    NEXT post:  Theme 2 – “I study and study and study.  My grades just don’t get better. I guess college isn’t my thing.”

    What does it take to improve grades?

    What happens when grades show up lower than expected – or lower than needed?  What does a family member say or do to help a struggling student?

    When tutoring doesn’t seem to help or motivation is low, discouraged students need a different option.   When studying is boring or ineffective, it’s tough to stay motivated and engaged in coursework.

    What if getting better grades or feeling better about school work was within reach simply by learning to learn and connecting with a personal coach? Up arrow
    Recent research continues to unveil key ways that our brains learn and students may not have been taught what’s best for them.  Children/youth with learning differences are especially vulnerable to feeling bad about themselves when it comes to schoolwork. Parents often become disheartened in their inability to help or frustrated when their child seems to ignore their pleas to get organized or study more.

    Our amazing brain is like having hardware and software all in one place and we even have our own version of a filing system. When students understand more about their own brain and the science of learning, they feel in charge of their learning.  Then…confidence grows and academic achievement happens!  

    Taking time to learn how to learn is the first step and an integral part of academic life coaching. Watch for more information in the next post.






    Inspired global learning

    Yellow from bing

    Light for life:

    My work and volunteer journey years ago was taking youth on week long service trips – through church summer mission trips and college spring break trips. Each trip had some elements of transformation and growth.  I’d spent time wondering what it would be like to create personal leadership adventures, but had let that dream go as life and work edged along.

    Now this article comes along at a time when I am spending more time connecting to people in life transition or stressed about school or life balance.  Light for my life!

    I’d love to know what you think!  The link is below.

    To Dare…


    Life Learner Coach

    QUESTION: What happens when an creatively inspired teacher mixes life coaching practices with purposeful discovery, appreciative education, and life-long learning?

    ANSWER: A positively energized Life Learner!

    I am a Student of Life in many ways.  My teachers come through the people I meet, expanding life experiences, and the multiple connections I make. Shared wisdom and reflective introspection contribute in the weaving of my meaningful life.

    Periodically I may have a goal in mind that prompts creating a plan of action, while often the vision to work towards unfolds in the process of creative and purposeful discovery.  I thought I would share a Vision To Action Board that I created, which provides a reminder to me of values past and present that matter to me.  Going beyond the traditional Vision Board, it is the ACTION part of the process the contributed to me being open to the new adventures that took me across the country for a new job last year.

    What would your VTA Board look like?




    Perspectives – Part 2

    Girl Scout song
    Girl Scout song – Google Images Picture

    What a difference a month makes! Memories of my past as a Girl Scout brought this simple verse to mind. The wonderful people who’ve welcomed my husband and I into the neighborhood open my heart with renewed appreciation of the old-time friendship rhyme. Wonderful peers at work contribute to this growing feeling of being among friends.

    My Light: Settling in to Arizona, away from my Midwestern roots, spurs me to step up even more into my core self-understanding.  Whether I’m striving or stumbling along the way, I want to live Joyfully and love Unconditionally – wherever I may be.