When you need to learn something new, what do you do? Do you make flashcards to test yourself? Have a friend drill you with questions or take notes, highlighting key concepts? Or do you prefer reading text or studying maps and diagrams? We all have different strategies or learning styles that play to our strengths. This is because we use our five senses in different ways that prove more effective for some than others. What works best for you may baffle someone with a different learning style.
Most of us can learn using different learning styles, but we tend to do better with some than others. For example, while most people can figure out where the store is from a map, some will prefer written directions or a spoken route to follow.
Understanding your own learning style, or that of your child, student, or partner, can improve performance, boost confidence, and develop better communication.
Let’s explore some common styles of information acquisition, including those known by the acronym VARK:
Reading and writing learners
Visual Learning Style
Some studies suggest that the visual learning style best serves about over half of the sighted population.1 Visual learners have a strong facility for processing visual information. They tend to think in pictures and symbols rather than words, using visualization to recall information committed to memory. They are also observant and quick to note small visible changes in people, places, and things. Visual learners often have strong visual pattern recognition abilities, are highly organized, and typically excel at reading facial expressions and body language. However, they may not be as adept at understanding tone of voice in the absence of visual cues.
The best strategies for those with the visual learning style rely heavily on visual input and interpretation of symbols, graphs, maps, diagrams, and tables. Highlighting important points in bright colors is a great way to review textbooks and notes for visual learners because they generally have excellent visual memories.
Auditory Learning Style
Those with the auditory learning style excel at perceiving and processing auditory information. These auditory learners have strong listening skills and a good memory for spoken information. They pick up on and easily interpret the nuances of speech contained in tone of voice, verbal speed, and pauses. Auditory learners also tend to be comfortable speaking with others, sharing ideas, and expressing themselves with excellent verbal skills. Therefore, these individuals tend to thrive in groups and perform well in collaborative efforts. They also enjoy having conversations, storytelling, and listening to podcasts. While excessive background noise can hinder the auditory learning style, silence can also be distracting.2
If your strengths are maximized by the auditory learning style, you will benefit from oral presentations more than reading to yourself. You will also learn well by repeating important information aloud to commit it to memory. Consider recording lectures to back up your written notes. What’s more, playing instrumental music in the background can help you focus as you study.
Reading and Writing Learning Style
The reading and writing learning style is sometimes considered a subset of the visual learning style. But read-and-write learners prefer to focus on the written word instead of symbols, pictures, and graphs. These individuals often use closed captioning on the television, even without any hearing impairment. They choose text over audiobooks and prefer writing essays over giving an oral presentation. Dictionaries, thesauruses, and reference materials are a read-and-write learner’s best friends, facilitating the research they frequently enjoy. They also tend to excel at writing, appreciating a broad vocabulary. And although they generally succeed in school, they may struggle with class discussions.3
Unsurprisingly, those with the reading and writing learning style learn best by reading and then taking and reviewing their notes. This is the most effective way for a read-and-write learner to commit new information to memory. Additionally, translating graphs and charts into words can help them to better retain the information.
Kinesthetic Learning Style
The sense of touch, movement, and physical experience are crucial to those with the kinesthetic learning style. We all have some experience with this learning style because no amount of reading, verbal, or video instruction can truly teach someone to ride a bike. We learned by doing it. This learning through action is how a kinesthetic learner prefers to acquire new knowledge of all kinds. They thrive with hands-on experience and may quickly become bored in a conventional classroom setting. They frequently enjoy sports and physical activity involving gross and fine motor movements. Reading aloud is more active than reading silently and is better suited for someone with the kinesthetic learning style.4
If you have the kinesthetic learning style, you likely excel at building models or dioramas, doing hands-on scientific experiments, and working with mathematical tools like abacuses, protractors, compasses, and rulers. Learn more strategies for kinesthetic learners here.
Other Types of Learning Styles
There are additional types of learning styles other than those described by VARK. Some include the linguistic learning style, logical/analytical learning style, and solitary learning style. No one style is right or wrong. After all, different learning styles simply reflect how different brains best process information. To a degree, it is a reflection of both innate ability and practice. We tend to enjoy the things we’re good at, so we spend more time exploring our world in the ways we find most natural. And there is nothing wrong with that.
However, like learning to ride a bike, some subjects lend themselves more to one learning style over another. And some learning disorders respond well to different learning strategies. Brain training programs like Brain Balance help people learn to maximize their own innate learning style and discover other styles to improve comprehension. Our holistic approach is particularly effective for helping adults and kids with learning disorders boost their performance and confidence.
Contact us today to learn more about how understanding different learning styles can help you and those you love.