People have been trying to figure out the best way to learn for centuries and there have been numerous ideas and theories over the years. For example, the ancient Greeks thought that the God Hermes gave each person their allotted amount of intelligence and that one’s intelligence was essentially an aspects of one’s fate. Modern theories aren’t quite so absolute however. In this blog we will examine theories surrounding learning styles and how knowing your style can help you study smarter.
One of the major theories about learning styles is the VARK theory. The VARK theory divides learners into four different categories. Those who learn by:
Before we discuss what each category entails, it is important to clarify that these are only learning preferences- no one area encapsulates how a person learns in their entirety-we all have a blend of these but are more adept at some over others.
1) Visual Learning:
Learners who are visual are not good with written text but can easily make sense of images, graphics, charts, videos and other such learning materials. Visual learners are also prone to sketching out their thought processes as a way of communicating their ideas for themselves and for others. When note-taking they benefit from creating symbols or using initials to create a visual shorthand. They like teachers who use hand gestures and descriptive or picturesque language.
How to get the most out of your learning style: Online lectures and videos would be a good start for studying at home. You could also use images to help you learn by using them to remind you of certain ideas or concepts. Using mindmaps could be an intuitive way of laying out your thought processes and flashcards(with pictures) could help with studying foreign languages. Representing data via graphics would help you gain richer insights when examining a lot of information.
These learners learn by what they hear. They can do this best by face-to-face discussions, either one-on-one or in groups. They are also good at learning in lectures or classrooms with teachers who are good communicators. They are usually slower at reading than other learning styles; their notes are often poor as they prefer to listen instead of preoccupying themselves with detailed note-taking. Auditory learners benefit from being able to speak their answers out loud or in an exam scenario, relaying their answers inside their head.
How to get the most out of your learning style: Out of all preferences you are perhaps the most suited to the traditional classroom environment. However, this does not mean there is nothing you can do to enhance your study. The use of audio resources such as podcasts, lectures or radio could greatly aid your study. Students who largely rely on auditory learning would benefit from using speech recognition software which would require you to relay your study notes verbally. Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software, which you can purchase through our partner site Software4Students, would be ideal for those of an auditory learning disposition.
If studying of foreign languages, hearing the correct pronunciation of words and being able to replay this at your leisure would be invaluable. Playing word association games in a group of learners would also be a good way of improving recall. In fact, any form of group study is likely to benefit you as you are more likely to remember something you heard and discussed. Watch (and listen!) to this video for a short overview of auditory learners.
These learners learn best from reading and writing; they are extremely comfortable with information that is presented in a textual format such as lists, handouts, books or manuals. They often take notes word-for-word and learn best from teachers who have a lot of information in the sentences they use. When presented with visual information, they would benefit from transferring the information into text, especially into lists.
How to get the most out of your learning style: Besides taking notes in class, the amount of resources online for those of a reading/writing disposition are staggering, e-books, articles and essays are all great tools for you. Luckily these tools are the most easily available too. You could also benefit from flash cards so long as they use text. Reading back over your class notes will be a major advantage for you as these aid your recall of the content very quickly.
These are learners that learn by doing and they are the ones that adopt a hands-on-approach. Though this is not to say that they act before they think or they are reckless, it’s just that they get a better understanding by being able to get stuck in and assess the matter for themselves. They need external stimulation, otherwise they may lose interest. They prefer to think broad before going in-depth. It may be surprising but those that learn by doing also take notes (even if it is just so their hands are doing something), though they put ideas/concepts into their own language as opposed to merely quoting a teacher or lecture.
How to get the most out of your learning style: Wherever possible you should be involved in the practical application of a concept whether this is conducting an experiment or writing a report, so long as you can see the relevance of something you are more likely to be engaged. For studying, you should create as an immersive environment as possible for you in which to operate. You could utilize whatever features keep your senses excited, such as music, and don’t be afraid to move around while you study—sitting still will cause you to get bored and frustrated.
As mentioned above most people are combinations of these preferences, approximately 60% in fact (including myself). Some people may have two strong preferences but it’s not uncommon for two, three or even all four preferences to be equally present in a learner.
These are the main areas of the VARK learning styles theory. The major benefit of knowing your preference(s) is that you can play to your strengths and optimise your time more appropriately. Also, when students have a clearer understanding of how they want content delivered, the teacher/lecturer can react to this. And when a learning environment takes into consideration our learning preferences, we, as learners, are more engaged and this can only be a good thing.
There are many VARK tests online if you want to find out what you’re preferences are, check out this VARK test.