Work smarter not harder. It’s a phrase you have probably heard before but what does it mean? You need to know your unique learning style to adapt the way you study. Throughout your education, you have been told to study but haven’t necessarily been given the personal tactics that will help you study. It’s because there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, after all, we have an individualistic brain that learns differently in various circumstances. We all have a learning style. According to Larkin and Budny, a learning style is “a biologically and developmentally imposed set of personal characteristics that make the same teaching and learning methods effective for some and ineffective for others.”
Some students may have a dominant learning style, whilst others may have a mix of learning styles. The most important thing to note is that once you understand the different learning styles and how to apply them in practice, you can start to see for yourself what works and what doesn’t and you will see an increase in motivation, concentration, and focus once you adapt the way your studying to how your brain learns best. Knowing and understanding how you learn is called metacognition.
The VARK Model
Created by Neil Fleming, the VARK model describes four distinct learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Although people tend to favor one learning style, it’s not unusual to be able to have more than one preference to absorb new information.
The visual learner favors visual devices such as diagrams, graphs, charts, and infographics to retain information, these learners detect patterns in large quantities of content and often enjoy using color-coding systems to organize information and remember.
Unlike visual learners, auditory learners use their hearing to recall information, they don’t always need to take notes and often learn best when listening to podcasts, debates, lectures, and things that use pitch and inflection such as poetry or music. Often confused with visual learners, students who favor the reading and writing learning style are aware of sentence structure and word order, they learn best when making notes and lists and prefer clear titles, and headings and learn from reading dense texts and essays.
Kinesthetic learners prefer a practical approach to learning but also prefer real-world examples rather than abstract thoughts.
Advantages and disadvantages
The advantages of the VARK model are that it is easy to use, it is backed by science, and students can recognize themselves in one or more of the four types and adapt their mode of learning to suit their needs and preferences. However, even though the VARK model is a good place to begin when understanding what type of learner you are. Are there some disadvantages to this theory? Yes, of course, there are. Many scholars have argued that this model is outdated and restrictive because it is rare for an individual to only suit one type of learner in the VARK model. So, what is the best approach? Use the VARK model as a baseline to figure out what type of learner you are but don’t limit yourself to only being a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner.
Applying it to your studying
Now you know what kind of learner you are. How do you apply it to your studying? How do you create the best study environment to suit your brain and how it absorbs and remembers information? You may find you like to learn both visually and auditory or you may be a kinesthetic learner who likes to write things down occasionally.
If you feel you are a visual learner, then visualizing data in graphs and charts will help you comprehend the information you are trying to learn. Another great tip for those who have a photographic memory is to color-code your notes and attach a particular color to a concept or idea and you are more likely to remember it when you are cramming for your next test. It’s also important if you prefer visual learning to leave white space, big chunks of text will be difficult for you to absorb and understand, so be sure to write small paragraphs and break up the information into sections using highlighter pens.
Aural learners may want to invest in a good dictaphone or use their phones to record lectures to listen back to at a later date. It’s also important to read your notes aloud when you are an auditory learner, maybe you can teach your course material to someone else?
If you prefer to learn by reading notes and writing things down then some strategies you could try are making flashcards, creating a study sheet of the most important information and re-read it repeatedly, or putting your course material into categories in an organized list can also work.
Concrete learners, also known as kinesthetic learners, need to do things for themselves, so if you are this type of learner you may like to ask for demonstrations, apply a real-world scenario to the information you are learning, or even use your five senses to help you remember the material.
I hope you have learned something new about learning styles and how to understand them. Choose which ones you prefer and implement them into your study schedule. Remember, the label of which learning style you relate to doesn’t matter, what does is understanding your brain and how you learn. Once you know this, you are on the road to success, and you are going to ace that next exam!