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Learning Styles: How To Recognize Yours & Maximize Your College Studies

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We’ve all heard the phrase “I’m a visual learner” or “I’m an auditory learner” before, but what does that actually mean? These statements refer to the theory of “learning styles.” This is essentially stating that we all have a predisposition towards taking in information a certain way. This theory goes as far back as Aristotle in 300 BCE, but has gone through a few evolutions since then. One of the prevailing models of learning styles currently is the VARK model, created by Neil Fleming in 1987, which stands for visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning. 

This is a breakdown of the types of learning styles, how you can recognize if you belong to them, what that actually means, and ways to improve your learning utilizing that knowledge.

VISUAL LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Visual learners are, shockingly, focused heavily on images and visualizations. Do you feel as though you only really remember something if you see it? Do you think as much in images as you do in words or feelings? Do you rely heavily on visual cues when interacting with other people? If these are true, you may have a visual learning style.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Visual learners thrive off of graphical information. Being presented with a chart or diagram makes sense and you’re great at decoding images. When asked to explain something, you’re pulled to visualize it in some way, maybe with gestures or a drawing, and you are great at making that leap between what’s in your head and what exists in the real world. However, when that visual element isn’t at play, you may find it harder to remember information or conceptualize something new to you.

“Visual learners learn best by seeing. Graphic displays such as charts, diagrams, illustrations, handouts, and videos are all helpful learning tools for visual learners.”

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Since visual learning is your wheelhouse, play to that strength. Use study tools like flashcards, concept and thought maps. Try to find videos or images describing concepts you’re trying to understand.

“Since sight is key, visual learners need materials in front of them to help get the information fully committed to memory.”

Simple things as well, like color-coding notes or highlighters may help you retain and file information more efficiently. Try out a few of these ideas and see how it works!

AUDITORY LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Do you feel at your best during lectures? Do you prefer podcasts over just about anything else? Do you have a habit of talking aloud to yourself to keep on task? You might be an auditory learner. 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Auditory learners thrive off of sound. When they’re left solely with reading or still images they may find it difficult or impossible to focus, whereas they feel perfectly at home listening to a teacher talk about the very same topic. To many people, lectures and podcasts might be understimulating, but to you, they’re perfect. Auditory information sticks in your memory and you remember whatever you’ve heard really well. Additionally, verbalizing your ideas is something you’re good at, and you are great at getting your point across with words. Conversely, if you have to learn something another way you might have some difficulty. Schools focus heavily on visual assignments like reading and graphics, so you might find it difficult a lot of the time to thrive in modern classroom environments.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Listening and speaking help you learn, therefore do them as much as possible! Ask to record lectures so you can replay them for yourself later. Raise your hand and talk in class, as verbalizing your ideas will help you remember them later.

“Talking about your ideas and voicing your questions will increase your understanding of the material.”

Additionally, as simple as it is, reading assignments aloud can also help you retain the information. Just hearing the information out laud might be all it takes for it to click.

READ/WRITE LEARNERS

How to Recognize It: 

Are reading assignments your favorite? Do you feel completely comfortable with essays and writing assignments? Maybe you like to write on your own time, or never leave home without a book? You might learn best through reading and writing. 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Reading/Writing learners work best with the written word. Text is easy to recall for you and putting your thoughts down as words is a simple task. Essays and other papers are not the source of stress you might’ve seen many other people experience and a long reading assignment is something you can really sink your teeth into. However, graphical depictions, lectures, and other methods of instruction might slip past your hearing altogether. You really need to have the words in front of you before they make sense or are retainable.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Words work best for you, so use them! Write out study lists, take extensive notes and reread them to review. Take any term or information that’s important, and rewrite it. The act of putting it down in your own words will help you retain it, and so will simply rereading it. Phrase whatever you can into words and you’ll really be able to master the information.

KINESTHETIC LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Have you been told since you were a kid that you have too much energy? Do lectures and long assignments leave you fidgety and desperate to move? Did you buy a fidget spinner during the craze a few years back? You might have a kinesthetic learning style.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Kinesthetic learners learn best when their bodies are being engaged during the learning process. That means muscle memory is something that forms incredibly quickly for you, maybe after only one or two tries. You might also have a fast reaction time and feel constantly energetic. However, all those traits may detract from traditional classroom learning. Staying still for long periods of time may stagnate your brain and cause information to go in one ear and out the other.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

The most important thing to remember with a kinesthetic learning style is that your body needs to be involved in some way. Walk around your room while looking at notes, use a fidget-toy during class to help you focus on lectures, make notations and marks on whatever you’re studying. The act of tying the information to movement will help it stick.

“Often, those with a kinesthetic learning style have a hard time learning through traditional lecture-based schooling, because the body does not make the connection that they are doing something when they’re listening without movement.”

Learning styles are a great tool for your educational journey, even into college. Hopefully, these tips will help you maximize your learning by playing to your strengths with your learning style.

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