Learning is an activity most of us engage in on a daily basis. The way that we perceive, organize, and process information and the process by which we acquire and build on new information – or learning – has been a popular research topic for many years. From Binet to Bloom, studies have dissected and cross-examined learning through many different lenses. But despite the differences in learning theories that have spanned the past 100+ years, most can agree that there are several types of learning styles. So what type of learner are you?
Let's start by breaking down the basics. The most widely-known types of learning address several of our senses: auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), and physical (doing). Despite the popularity of these three main styles, others certainly warrant mentioning as they include other dimensions of learning. The verbal, solitary, social and logical learning styles attend to other personal preferences of learning and often enhance the auditory, physical and visual styles through a style mix. Let's break down each of these different types of learning:
- Auditory: Processes information through hearing it, such as through speeches, lectures, audio recordings, discussions, music, etc.
- Visual: Processes information through visual means such as pictures, graphics, spatial mapping, colors, reading, etc.
- Physical/kinesthetic (tactical): Prefers hands-on application for learning such as via labs, touching, or creating
- Verbal: Learns best through speaking or writing, such as in reading aloud or recording notes
- Solitary: Often referred to as the intrapersonal style, learners prefer to internalize and process learning through self-study
- Social: Often referred to as the interpersonal style, learners prefer to work in groups to process and analyze concepts
- Logical: Learns best through reasoning, logic and systems
Most of us have a preferred, or dominant, learning style. This means that we have a tendency toward one or even a couple styles of learning. Although we may often lean more toward our preferred style, most often, effective learning is achieved with a mix of these styles.
Why is it important to understand your learning style?
In our modern, fast-paced environment of juggling multiple duties and managing schedules, every minute counts. We need to find ways to make learning as efficient and effective as possible. By understanding your preferred learning style, you are better able to maximize your time and avoid approaching the learning process in a way that won't be effective for you. The most efficient learning occurs when you understand your preferred style and reduce the amount of wasted time by relying on learning that is compatible with your preferred style.
Make learning more efficient by creating habits that are aligned with your preferred style. For instance, if you find yourself reading a paragraph over and over to yourself without absorbing information, you may be an auditory or verbal learner. You may find that reading out loud appeals more to your auditory or verbal preference to learning.
Can learning styles be developed and refined?
Some theorists say that our preferred learning styles are not fixed and can developed over time. If we are not predisposed to learning styles, we can shift the way we learn based on new ways of doing things. With the dawn of technology and the myriad of interactive media at our fingertips, learners have access to information in many different formats quickly and easily, opening the door to a variety of educational opportunities.
Efficient learning can also be found amid a combination of learning styles. For instance, reading out loud meets the auditory and verbal styles of learning. Using flash cards to understand sentence structure meets the physical/kinesthetic and visual learning styles.
Some learners consistently prefer a combination of learning styles. For example, I have seen participants arrive to my leadership workshops with a packet of colored pens. These learners color-code their notes, often mapping concepts with arrows, writing key terms in bubbles in the margins, and building their own mind maps, appealing to their mix of preferred visual and physical styles of learning. Other participants process information best when I describe concepts while drawing it out on a whiteboard, appealing to the mix of auditory and visual styles of learning.
What type of learner are you?
How do you determine your preferred learning style? Although there are a multitude of resources available to help you to determine your learning style, you can begin by reflecting on the following questions:
- Do you use mnemonic devices, audio recordings, or songs to process information? You may be an auditory learner.
- Do you find visuals such as graphics or pictures helpful in processing a concept? Do you prefer to read a book over audio recordings? You may be a visual learner.
- Do you like to practice, role play, or prefer the use of objects to process information? You may be a physical learner.
- Do you learn through repetition or writing? You may be a verbal learner.
- Do you prefer to study alone or need to align learning to internal values? You may be a solitary learner.
- Do you prefer to participate in study groups or process information through group dialogue? You may be a social learner.
- Do you analyze information or learn through system and processes? Do you need to understand the reasoning behind information? You may be a logical learner.
Take responsibility for your learning! You know "you" best! Reflect on what has and has not worked in your study and learning habits, identify your preferred learning style, and open the door to efficient and effective learning.
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