When it comes to education and studying, it’s important to recognise that each individual absorbs information differently. Therefore, each person should have a different preferred learning style and should, in theory, study differently in order to acquire the best possible result. Once these differences have been acknowledged, students can approach studying in the best way for their specific needs. This will result in students being able to study and retain information easier and faster than if they used ineffective methods.
In this article, we’ll discuss various learning styles and how to determine which is best suited to you as a student.
What is a Learning Style?
A learning style refers to your preferred and most effective way of processing, understanding, retaining, and applying information. It’s a concept that suggests that each of us has different cognitive and sensory strengths. These differences lead you to absorb and process knowledge in distinct ways.
Learning styles are not fixed traits but rather tendencies or preferences that can be influenced by a number of factors. These factors can include personal experiences, culture, and individual development.
The idea of learning styles assumes that tailoring teaching methods to match a student’s preferred style can lead to improved learning outcomes and better academic performance. However, it’s essential to note that the concept of learning styles has been a subject of contentious discussion among educators and researchers for a long time.
Perhaps the most famous learning style theory is the VARK theory, developed by Neil Fleming and his colleagues in the late 1980s. VARK is an acronym that stands for Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic, representing four main learning preferences or styles that individuals may have. The theory suggests that people have different ways of processing information and that understanding these preferences can help to optimise each learning experience.
The 4 Types of Learning Styles
Based on the VARK theory, each learning style has certain identifiable characteristics and methods of study, which help students excel in their educational journey.
Kinesthetic Learning Style
Kinesthetic learners, also known as tactile learners, thrive through hands-on experiences and physical activities. Therefore, if you are a kinesthetic learner you’ll typically prefer to engage with the material actively, using movement and touch to process information. As a kinesthetic learner, you’ll excel in learning environments that allow you to participate in experiments, simulations, and role-playing activities.
In order to study effectively, kinesthetic learners can incorporate certain study methods into their routines and approach.
- Use hands-on activities: try to engage in practical exercises, experiments, and simulations to apply the theoretical knowledge you are learning about.
- Take breaks for movement: it’ll be beneficial to incorporate short breaks in your study sessions to stretch, walk, or engage in light physical activity. This will refresh your mind and allow you to focus more easily when you return to your studies.
- Use props and manipulatives: it’s advisable to utilise physical objects or props to represent concepts. This will allow you to physically interact with your study material and aid in your understanding of these concepts, making information retention easier.
- Study in different locations: while sitting and studying in one dedicated area is typically an advisable strategy, kinesthetic learners are advised to switch study environments. This will allow you to keep your mind engaged and enhance learning through movement.
- Teach others: make an effort to share what you've learnt with friends or family, or even role-play certain concepts. This will help to reinforce your understanding through physical engagement.
Visual Learning Style
Visual learners are individuals who best comprehend and retain information through visual aids, such as images, diagrams, graphs, and videos. Therefore, if you are a visual learner you possess a strong affinity for spatial information and will prefer to visualise concepts in your mind's eye. Chances are that when you are presented with textual information, you often translate that information into mental images to better understand and remember it.
As a visual learner, there are certain study methods and techniques that you can apply to improve your understanding and retention of information.
- Use visual aids: focus on creating and using diagrams, flowcharts, mind maps, and concept maps to organise and understand complex information. This will allow you to see information in a manner that is easily understandable to you.
- Colour code: it can help to use different colours to highlight key points or categories in your notes and study materials to aid in memory and comprehension. Be mindful not to highlight everything in your textbook as this will defeat the point of trying to bring attention to important points and sections.
- Use flashcards: it’s advisable to create flashcards with visuals and brief explanations. This will help to reinforce learning and can be used to test your understanding.
- Watch educational videos: try to find and utilise online resources, such as educational videos and tutorials. This will complement your learning, as there should be visual explanations of the concepts and theories you are studying.
- Draw and doodle: while making study notes be sure to sketch out concepts and ideas. This will help to solidify your understanding and create visual cues for easy information recall.
Auditory Learning Style
Auditory learners learn most effectively through sound and auditory input. They have a keen ability to process spoken information and are skilled at retaining information through discussions and lectures. Therefore, if you are an auditory learner you’ll notice that you often benefit from verbal explanations and enjoy group discussions where you are able to engage in active listening and verbal participation.
While this might not always seem possible while studying for an exam, there are ways in which you can incorporate these elements into your study methods.
- Record lectures: if permitted, it’ll be useful to record your classes and/or lectures. This will allow you to listen to the information again, which will reinforce your understanding of subjects and theories that were discussed in class.
- Engage in discussions: if possible, try to participate in group discussions, study sessions, or join study groups where you can talk through concepts and exchange ideas. If this is not possible, it could be a good idea to try and have these discussions with your parents where they act as a soundboard.
- Read aloud: it’s advisable to read your study material aloud. While it might seem silly, this will reinforce your auditory processing and memory, making it easier to retain the information you are reading.
- Create mnemonic devices: while studying, it can help to use rhymes, songs, or acronyms to remember important information. For example, create a song where the lyrics consist of the information you need to memorise.
- Explain concepts verbally: it can be useful to teach concepts to others. If this is not possible, imagine explaining them to someone else and even explain these concepts aloud.
Reading and Writing Learning Style
Reading and/or writing learners have a strong preference for written information. If you are a reading and/or writing learner you’ll typically excel in absorbing knowledge through reading, note-taking, and writing. You’ll, therefore, prefer to process information by reading and organising it into structured, written formats. It’ll not be uncommon for you to take detailed notes and rely on the written word as a primary source of understanding.
There are certain study methods that will work exceptionally well for you and help you retain information easily.
- Take detailed notes: while you might already enjoy doing this, it’s advisable to emphasise writing down important points and key concepts while reading or listening to lectures.
- Summarise and rewrite: after reading through the material to be covered, summarise the material in your own words. This will help to personalise the information and assist in the understanding of concepts and theories.
- Create written study guides: it’s vital to organise your notes into written study guides for quick review and reference. This will make it easy to locate information and help to organise information in your mind for easy recall.
- Write essays or reflections: it’s advisable for you to practise writing essays or reflective journals to deepen your understanding of the subject matter. This will allow you to deeply understand the study material and allow you to relate these concepts to personal experiences.
- Make to-do lists: as a reading and/or writing learner your mind tends to work in a linear manner, which is why it’s important to write down tasks and study goals. This will help you to stay organised and focused.
Take a Learning Style Assessment
While you might have already been able to determine what your preferred learning style is, it won't hurt to confirm your suspicions. It can be helpful to take a learning style assessment. Such an assessment will confirm which learning style best suits you and will allow you to personalise your study methods to achieve the best results possible.
You can easily access a learning style assessment here.