Learning the way that suits you best

14 May 2024

For the first time, the LMU Writing Center is running a workshop for students who have a hard time coping with traditional learning methods.

Ronja Habeck | © Schreibzentrum der LMU

The LMU Writing Center is now offering its first workshop specially for neurodivergent students. Ronja Habeck, who is studying for a master’s degree in German literature and works as a tutor at the center, is leading the event. She talked to us about how an individual study plan can help drive success.

Ms. Habeck, what is neurodivergence?

Ronja Habeck: Neurodivergence is an umbrella term for a broad array of symptoms, ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHS) and the autism spectrum through Asperger’s syndrome and hypersensitivity to dyslexia and dyscalculia, for example. The common denominator for all these symptoms is a brain structure that “diverges” from the norm, causing sensory stimuli and information to be processed differently than is the case for neurotypical people. Our workshop primarily targets individuals who are themselves neurodivergent, but it is also open to all students who have difficulty coping with traditional learning methods.

What are those difficulties?

Many people have attention deficits, problems dealing with prescribed structures or difficulty dealing with the flood of information they face. In a lecture setting, for example, it is hard for them to stay concentrated for two hours at a time. Or they may have difficulties focusing for an extended period on a given term paper topic. Others find that the usual approach to producing such a paper – doing the research first, then organizing and structuring it, then writing the text, beginning with the introduction – doesn’t work for them.

Before an exam, some students feel overwhelmed when they are inundated with teaching materials, causing them to effectively seize up. Still others see managing their study routine with all its rules and freedoms as a huge challenge in itself.

How can the workshop help?

Since symptoms have very different impacts even within the neurodivergence spectrum, the workshop teaches general techniques from which students can pick those that suit them best. The focus is on issues such as self-management, structuring and ordering content, motivation, the importance of taking breaks and striking a balance between studying and leisure activities. Our advice is essentially to set aside all received patterns of learning and working and ask yourself: How can I personally improve the way I study and work?

Skipping back and forth between different work steps

What might that look like in practice – for a term paper, for example?

If you find it hard to start by writing the introduction to the term paper and then writing all the other parts in consecutive order – the classical approach – you should try to distance yourself from this structure. Instead of spending ages on a particular paragraph, for instance, you could write bits here and there on those points where you have ideas. That often takes more time, because in the end everything has to be knitted together and you have to check that the text flows properly. On the whole, though, it can be helpful.

What can help people who feel overwhelmed by the amount they need to learn before an exam?

The important thing is to draw up a study plan or a time schedule that lines up with your own needs. If you are someone who likes to skip back and forth between different work steps, it could be useful to have a study plan that allows you to do that but still lets you check whether I you are progressing with your work.

When researching a topic, some neurodivergent people develop tunnel vision and lose their way. In such cases, it can be useful to break the work down into smaller steps, or to set yourself time limits for individual tasks.

If you feel inundated by information and then feel almost paralyzed, the cognitive technique known as a mind map can be used to try to give visual structure to your thoughts. Especially people on the autism spectrum often benefit from this kind of visual learning stimulus.

What strategies can be applied during lectures?

Here again, mind maps can be beneficial: one for each lecture, a higher-level one with an overview of all the different topics, and arrows showing visual links between those topics. A good filing system can also provide useful support: If you take notes on your laptop during the lecture, a suitable system of folders is essential. On the other hand, if you jot down notes on paper, it is imperative to write the name of the lecture and the date in the first line.

As a general rule, what helps motivate people to study and learn?

It is a good thing to repeatedly remind yourself why you are actually studying your subject. What was it about the topic that attracted your interest in the first place? That can give you a powerful motivational boost. Why? Because, if you like something, it automatically becomes easier to learn something about it. And neurodivergent people in particular often develop very pronounced interests and become hugely enthusiastic about a given discipline. Seen from this angle, neurodivergence can actually be advantageous when you are studying.

How much leeway does the university leave for individualized learning?

A lot more than the schools, I think. I frequently discover that students never learned to learn systematically when they were at school. Instead, they were taught to quickly learn things by heart and then simply regurgitate them. In the long run, though, it is hard to keep up that approach when you are studying: Content has to be retained for much longer, and different layers build on each other much more intensively. For many people, school took the fun out of learning because it was associated with pressure to perform and with negative experiences.

Conversely, there are lots of freedoms at university around issues such as when you learn in the course of the day, and where you choose to learn: at the library, at home, with your study group or even outdoors. Moreover, a lot of content is available in digital form. That way, if you miss something during a lecture, it is much easier to retrieve it later – thanks to study materials provided online, for example, or to recordings of lectures.

So, do neurodivergent students benefit from modern technologies?

To some extent, yes, because a lot of information no longer has to be processed “live”. You can now go back to it and work through it again later. In addition, large language models such as ChatGPT help stem the flood of information by summarizing texts. They are also a useful way to produce personalized schedules.

On the other hand, digital technologies can become a distraction – particularly for people who already have difficulties processing information. Here again, it is important to think about what really helps you personally. For neurodivergent individuals, too, personalized ways of learning and working can make a major contribution to successful studies.


The workshop “Learning and Working Methods for Neurodivergent Individuals” will be held from 12 noon till 2 p.m. on Friday, 17 May. It is part of the LMU Writing Center’s Friday Workshop series. In-person attendance is required. Other topics addressed in the same series include “Writing with AI – How do I write a good prompt?”, “The central theme”, “Citations and source” and “Avoiding plagiarism”. Please register to attend via the LSF system.

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