This blog is dedicated to everyone who’s ever been told:
“If you would just listen you would understand.”
“Just look at the diagram, it makes sense.”
Or “Stop moving around, sit still and just study already.”
Were you never able to just listen? Look? Stop moving? Well, I’m here to validate you, using science (fancy, I know), so the next time that someone tells you to just _____. You can respond: “That’s just not my learning style!”
What? Learning style? That’s right. The theory of learning styles was developed by psychologist, David Kolb, in the 1980’s to explain how and why different people acquired knowledge differently. Kolb outlined four different potential learning styles based on how learners engage with material by feeling, doing, thinking and/or watching. I won’t delve too deeply into the theory here, but if you’re interested you can find a more detailed explanation here.
Instead, I’m going to focus on the three most popular learning styles categories1, 2:
Visual: Learns by seeing. Learns better after seeing or writing something. Often takes notes. Remembers quickly and easily what is read. Grasps important concepts on first reading of material. Benefits from visuals and presentations.
Auditory: Learns by hearing. Tends to remember ideas that are verbally presented. Learns well through lectures. Is an excellent listener. Can repeat or fulfill verbal instructions easily.
Kinesthetic: Learns by moving, doing, touching. Learn best through interaction with the physical world. Often finds reasons to move. Wants to be “doing” something. Gestures while speaking. Uses movement to help concentrate.
See any characteristics that remind you of yourself? Want to discover your learning style? The University of South Dakota has a short 16-question inventory posted which can help you to identify your dominate style! It is important to note, as with any inventory that creates categories like this, that no one person can fit perfectly into one category. (I mean that’s what makes you “you” right? You’re unique!) So, keep in mind that these are all generalizations. Someone (like myself) can have several different learning styles, and therefore have a mish-mash of different characteristics. Furthermore, learning styles are influenced by life experience; therefore one person may develop different techniques catering to their visual/auditory/kinesthetic learning style than another.
So how do you use this to your advantage? Regretfully, you can’t go changing your professor’s teaching style, no matter how mismatched you are. (Sorry to all my fellow kinesthetic learners out there in lectures.) However, you can learn to compensate. Here are some questions to get you thinking about strategies that might work for you:
Think about times when you’ve felt most engaged. What about the situation engaged you?
- Think about your strengths. If visualizing is your thing, how can you incorporate that into your day to day learning? Same thing for auditory or kinesthetic learners.
- How can you use this information in a lecture setting? When reading your notes? In a group meeting?
- Have specific study strategies worked well for you in the past?
- Have other strategies not worked well for you?
- How can you change up your study strategy to better fit with your style?
So it was my journey through these questions that taught me that I need to take up knitting. From my many, many psych classes and 25+ years of life experience, I’ve learned that I am a visual-kinesthetic learner. This means I cannot absorb information given to me verbally, right in one ear and right out the other. However, if I read or write those same instructions, I’ve got it. I also really struggle with sedentary activity. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in my office chair bouncing and tapping to Pandora. I cannot sit still. In fact, I feel distracted when I’m not moving.
Now that I know these things it’s saved me a lot of time and taught me to learn more efficiently. I know that just listening to a lecture isn’t going to help me absorb information, so I take notes. Another thing I’ve learned is how to navigate group meetings, something that for a long time has been difficult for me as it requires a lot of sitting still and listening. Shortly into the meeting I get antsy and start surfing the web (sorry to all my groups members out there!!). This doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention, in fact I am; it’s just my need to be engaging with something while I’m just sitting there listening. That’s where knitting comes in. While I haven’t actually gone out and invested in needles yet, a group member, jokingly, suggested that I should take up knitting for group meetings so, at least I’d produce something useful when I’m fidgeting through our meetings. And you know what, she’s probably right. I’m going to test it out. Maybe that will be my newest self-discovery about my learning style—I learn best while knitting!? Because that’s the thing about learning and learning styles, they keep on evolving with life experiences! So I’ll be tailoring how I interact with the world for the rest of my life! And so will you!
I’ll leave you with this quote from Kolb:
“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”– David A. Kolb
Great post! I’m totally auditory….which explains why I’ve never been able to read a MAP!!