Not everybody learns in the same way, and learning styles are a way of grouping together the basic, common ways in which people learn. Most people, while having a dominant form of learning, still rely on many of the other techniques to learn and recall information, but none of this is set in stone — your proficiency in one or more styles may change over time or to fit different circumstances.
Using multiple learning styles, or what are referred to as “multiple intelligences,” is a fairly new approach in education. Traditionally, teachers used linguistic and logical instructional methods, and many continue to do so. In fact, most schools continue to rely on standard-classroom and book-based instruction, as well as intensive repetition and pressured exams for theory and detail reinforcement and review. One result is that students who don’t learn well by these methods tend not to do well in class, often performing well below their potential.
While this situation is slowly changing, you can be proactive about it. By identifying your learning style(s) and understanding how to use them, you can better process information and improve your long-term recall. There are seven basic learning styles, and research shows that each one uses different parts of the brain. By combining different styles and thereby involving more of the brain during learning, we not only comprehend more, but we are able to recall more of what we learn at a later time.
The seven basic styles are as follows (in no particular order):
- Visual: You learn best by seeing or creating pictures, images, graphs, and the like, and you often recall information by picturing how things are organized spatially in relation to others.
- Auditory: You learn best by listening to people speak, speaking aloud, making lists, and organizing and recalling information using linear tools, such as outlines.
- Verbal: You learn best by using words, distinguishing shades of meaning, and selecting each word carefully in your speech and writing. Presentations are your strong suit.
- Kinesthetic: You learn best by using your hands and sense of touch. You recall information using writing, building models of concepts, and placing things in order.
- Logical or Mathematical: You learn best by using logic and by reasoning through problems. You recall information by setting up problem-solution scenarios with lots of detail for support.
- Social: You learn best when you’re in a group and can process input from other people with different perspectives. Your primary style may be any of the ones listed above.
- Solitary: You learn best when left to your own devices and are in a quiet environment. You’re a self-starter and a good researcher. As with social learners, your primary style can be any of #1-5.
Brain regions: The occipital lobe, located at the base of the skull, is primarily responsible for managing visual information. The occipital and parietal lobes are responsible for handling spatial orientation.
Learning techniques: Since visualization comes easily to you, make sure you use images, color-coding, graphs, and other visual media to highlight important information in your studies. Use mnemonic devices to link new information to an easily remembered image in your mind so you can recall the information more easily at a later time. Here are some additional suggestions to help you study more effectively:
- Use mind maps, connecting one piece of information to others using color-coded lines.
- Translate text into visual images, if possible, using different colors to group related ideas.
- Break down the parts of a system, such as a motor, into individual images and relate them spatially to each other.
- Memorize procedures by creating a visual “story” that links one element to the next in line.
- The visual journey or story technique helps you memorize content that isn’t easy to ’see.’ The visual story approach for memorizing procedures is a good example of this.
- Peg words are a useful tool — the technique employs a mnemonic device used to memorize a list that has to be in order. You visualize an object that then “pegs” the information you need to remember. You will have to take some time to create the system, but once it’s employed, you should be able to recall information fairly easily. A common peg system is one that uses rhyming associated with numbers.
Brain regions: The temporal lobes process auditory information, with the right temporal lobe particularly important for music.
Learning techniques: Sound, rhythm, rhyme, and music are particularly important for your learning and recall. Here are some additional suggestions to help you study more effectively:
- When creating mnemonic devices, use words — particularly those that rhyme — to anchor associations rather than images. You can even create a song made up of important points to remember.
- Acronyms and acrostics are excellent ways to remember information in sequence. For example, “My very educated mother just showed us nine planets” helps you remember the nine planets in the solar system (assuming Pluto is a planet) in order from closest to the sun to farthest away. They are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
- Read your notes out loud and make a recording of it so you can listen to the information again any time you want.
- Use sound recordings that reflect the topic you’re studying and play them while working. For example, if you’re studying famous explorers around the globe, play sounds of water splashing or wind whistling through the sails. The sounds will help link you to the written information. If you can’t find recordings, make your own.
Brain locations: Both the temporal and frontal lobes are active in handling verbal information, especially two specialized areas in the left hemisphere of these lobes, known as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area.
Learning techniques: As verbal learners, any techniques that involve speaking and writing — preferably together — are your friends. Here are some additional suggestions to help you study more effectively:
- Word-based techniques, such as assertions and scripting, are tailor-made for verbal learners. For an assertion, write a short description of how a piece of information makes you feel; for scripting, write a dialogue between two people discussing the topic. Use rhyme and rhythm whenever you can, and read your words out loud. As with auditory learners, the sound of the words will help reinforce the topic each time you hear it.
- Mnemonics are also good for verbal learners. Use words that are unique or memorable so that they — and the information they relate to — stay with you long past study time.
- Scripting allows you to be as creative with words as you want. Write dialogue that most accurately describes what you are studying, and record the back-and-forth for later review. Make your voice dramatic and varied. An energetic approach makes the information that much more noteworthy, and it will be easier to access later for a test or term paper.
- Along the lines of scripting, recruit others and try out role-playing. For example, in a business course, you might want to have a Q&A between colleagues about financial transactions or growth management.
All of these reinforcements are only suggestions. Don’t be afraid to come up with whatever makes sense to you — if it helps you comprehend and recall important information, it’s a good thing.
We’ll continue discussing learning styles in Part 2.