When we learn something new, we go through a process that allows us to take information in and retain it. This involves a complex series of steps that starts with sensory input, exposing us to the material. We then move through the process of interpreting it, organizing it, thinking about it, and finally storing it. Just as there are differences in how people perceive different events and experience different sensations, there are differences in the ways that individuals learn. If we pay attention, as we are exposed to different methods and styles of learning, through trial and error we eventually recognize which method we prefer and which works best for us. Once this discovery is made we are able to use this information to our advantage: We can find and use the study strategies that work best for our own learning type. The four modes of learning are often referred to using the acronym VARK, with “V” standing for Visual Learners; “A” standing for Auditory Learners; “R” standing for Reading and Writing Learners; and “K” standing for Kinesthetic Learners. You may be one of these individual types or prefer your own unique combination, in which case you are identified as a Multiple Mode, or MM learner. (>Duquesne University) [reference link no longer functional]. By understanding what type of learner you are, you can focus on your strengths to maximize effectiveness, as well as improve on your weaknesses to become more well-rounded.
Visual learners tend to learn best when they are able to actually see the information that they learn, as happens with looking at a chart or map or with watching a slide show or demonstration. They tend to prefer written directions that they can read over spoken directions, and may even find sounds generally distracting when trying to learn new material. Visual learners tend to be very observant: they rely on their sense of sight to take in information, understand it and remember it. (University of Massachusetts)
Teachers have identified two different types of visual learners: those who prefer pictures and those who prefer print. Where picture learners use images in order to learn and remember, print learners are more likely to evoke a specific word in their head and then use that word to remember specific facts associated with it. (Baby Center)
If you are a visual learner, then the best way for you to help yourself learn, master and remember material is by highlighting visual elements of new material and translating as much of it as possible into images. Taking plenty of notes and then highlighting or underlining important points, drawing sketches to evoke memories, imprinting charts, graphs and diagrams and visualizing words will all prove very helpful. Flashcards generally prove extremely valuable for visual learners. (University of Utah)
Auditory learners tend to learn best when they hear information. Rather than looking at charts or diagrams or reading material, they are likely to prefer to have the information explained to them or to engage in a dialogue. They prefer spoken directions over written ones, and will generally are best able to take in and remember information that is written down if they read it aloud to themselves. Auditory learners are acute listeners, and are usually particularly tuned in to tone and other audible signals. They are also able to memorize tunes and the words to songs very quickly. (LBS Practitioner Training)
Teachers have observed that auditory learners are most sensitive to information that they are able to listen to and then repeat back or answer questions about. If you are an auditory learner, the best way for you to learn, understand and retain information is to recite information to yourself regularly, including while you are first encountering information and then as you later study it. Using mnemonics or songs may be particularly helpful, and so will talking through the material that you are studying with other students. Make sure that you attend all lectures, as the information presented is what is most likely to stay with you. (University of California Santa Cruz) [reference link no longer functional].
Reading and Writing Learners
Reading and writing learners are best served by notes. They benefit from reading notes as well as from writing them. When sitting in a lecture or classroom they will best understand information if they write down the key ideas and then review their notes later, and when reading a textbook it is best for them to rewrite what they are reading, either in their own words or simply by copying the text down. Reading and writing learners often have above-average reading comprehension skills. (CollegeRaptor)
Teachers have observed that reading and writing learners often benefit from organizing the information that they are trying to learn into lists or outlines or onto index cards, and that they often prefer studying independently rather than in a group. If you are a visual learner, you can help yourself learn and retain information by writing and rewriting it, as well as by taking additional steps to read beyond the material that has been presented. The more written information you expose yourself to, the more you are likely to remember and relate to the content. (University of Minnesota)
Kinesthetic learners are also known as “tactile” learners. They are those who are best served by “doing”. They prefer hands on projects and physical activities over reading, writing or listening. A kinesthetic learner will always get the most out of laboratories and field trips, and will prefer actually seeing exhibits and samples over the written word, slide shows, or lectures. The more concrete and relevant the material is, the more likely it is that they will enjoy learning about it and retain the information.
Teachers have observed that kinesthetic learners are often able to jump into an activity with little or no instruction. Movement may help them learn, and they often have a hard time with sitting through a lecture or sitting still throughout a class or reading assignment. They are generally better able to focus on material and remember it later when they are able to manipulate something, and though what works best is an object that is related to the subject matter, even a pen or pencil will help – and may encourage them to write things down or draw diagrams to accompany notes. (Education.com)
If you are a kinesthetic learner, you may find yourself frustrated in traditional study settings, but there are techniques and strategies that you can use to help yourself. Try to convert written or heard material into charts and graphs, and if it helps try creating a three dimensional structure with the material you need to learn represented within its framework. Keep in mind that it is the act of creation itself that will help you the most, so once you find a model that works for you it can be replicated for new material in the future. You may find that you are better able to take in information if you are active while learning it, so studying audio information while walking or exercising may be helpful – just keep in mind that you may find yourself unable to recall the information in a test-taking environment where you cannot replicate the activity. The physical act of writing out flashcards and flipping through them is often a valuable tool for tactile learners. (Law School Toolbox)
Though most people have a dominant style of learning, not every setting will allow for its use, so it is important to develop strategies and tactics that will help you be flexible and use each of them when necessary. There is also some evidence that deliberate effort and repeated practice can help you change your style or strengthen other learning styles. (ASCD)