People can learn in a variety of ways, but most of us have a preferred learning style. Learning new information is easier when you use your preferred style.
There are multiple ways to categorize learning styles, but one of the most commonly used is Neil Fleming’s VARK model:
- Aural (auditory)
Visual learners learn well by seeing pictures and diagrams, watching videos, etc. If you’re a visual learner, try drawing pictures, flowcharts, or mind maps. Use multiple colors to highlight or underline important concepts. Practice recalling information by visualizing what your notes look like.
Auditory learners prefer to take in information by listening. If you’re an auditory learner, try downloading recorded lectures and teleseminars so that you can listen to them repeatedly. Read handouts and notes to yourself, or talk through them with another person. You can record significant points from your notes and listen to them later for review. Text-to-speech software may also work well for you.
The read/write preference is sometimes included as part of the visual learning style. However, learners who prefer the read/write style will learn best from text sources. If the read/write style describes you, try writing detailed notes when you need to listen to a lecture. Summarize pictures and diagrams in sentences. Make lists. Reread your notes repeatedly.
Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing something. If you’re a kinesthetic learner, find ways to apply and practice what you’re learning. For example, rather than reading a manual to learn new software, open the software, explore the menu, and create a practice document or file. Finding real-life examples, taking field trips, and making models are other good strategies, depending in part upon the topic you’re learning. If you write notes or draw pictures, be aware of how it feels as you do so.
You may have a strong preference for a single learning style, or you may have several styles that are comfortable for you (that is, you may be a multimodal learner). How can you tell? Reflect on your learning experience. Think back to times when you’ve found material especially easy or especially difficult to learn. How was that material presented to you? What strategies have you used successfully in the past? You can also find learning style assessments online. Fleming’s VARK website includes a questionnaire and other resources on learning styles.
By consciously using your preferred learning style when taking in new information, you’ll beat information overload by learning faster and more easily.