Online Learning

3 Learning Styles and Why They’re Vital


Order, class, order! For today's lesson, cast your mind back to being in school (be it ten years or ten minutes ago). Really imagine it – the long corridors, drab grey walls, frantic lunch hall, hot geography teacher...

Did you hate drawing mind maps, but love acting out Shakespeare? Maybe you were a natural thespian, dahling, but you might also be a Physical Learner.

Forge a note for PE so you could sneak round to the music department? You could be the next Alex Turner, but you’re more likely an Aural Learner.

Did you get very involved when I asked you to visualise being back in school? You're probably a Visual Learner.

Since the early 80s it's been recognised that people learn in different ways. This can leave some students out in the cold: if you're a visual learner, you probably found school easier than some of your peers – because the teacher-and-whiteboard style of teaching plays directly to your strengths. If you learn best by doing rather than seeing you might have been labelled 'slow' or even 'disruptive' – we're looking at you, class clown – when really, you just needed to be taught in a way that suited your learning style.

The most common system categorises learners into three styles: Visual, Aural, and Physical (VAK). These styles are necessarily a simplification - people learn in a multitude of overlapping ways, and there are as many different categorisations as there are psychologists to theorise them.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful! By learning in the style or styles that suit you best, you’ll be able to learn faster, study better, retain more information, and ultimately spend less time at your books and more time frolicking in whatever sunshine Britain sees fit to grant us with. (Sorry, Scotland.)

Your own unique learning style is probably a mix of several styles, so don’t feel bound by these categories. You might find you have one dominant style, a mix of all three, or use different styles in different situations. Use the categories as a starting point for thinking about how you learn best, and for discovering new learning tools that will work for you.

And remember: your learning style isn’t fixed! You can develop ability in styles that come less naturally to you. As with any skill, the key is practice, practice, practice.

And if none of these styles seem like you? Check out the bottom of this post for links to a wealth of other styles.


Visual (a.k.a. Spatial)

Will it suit you? Did you spend most of high school doodling in your jotter? Are you drawn to images, pictures and maps when organising information? Can you easily visualise plans and outcomes in your mind’s eye? When giving directions, do you visualise each step in your mind and draw a map to explain it?

If you answered yes to any of these, Visual learning might be part of your style.

Make the most of it! Buy a bad-ass set of highlighters and beautify your AAT course notes, colour-coding sections and highlighting the most important information. Better yet, organise them into a colourful mind map and hang it somewhere you’ll see it often. Use presentations, slide shows, videos, charts and graphs to help you visualise information, and avoid clutter and other visual distractions.

Resources: VisuWords is a useful graphic dictionary. Try MindMup for making mindmaps (and say that five times fast).


Aural (a.k.a. Auditory)


Will it suit you? Did you strongly identify with this scene in Easy A? Do you have a good sense of pitch and rhythm? Can you sing or play an instrument? Can you easily pick out individual instruments from a song? The aural learning style might be for you.

Make the most of it! You learn best through hearing, so read things aloud rather than silently, and repeat key phrases aloud often. Use audiobooks or podcasts, and study in a group so you can talk over ideas with others. Set mnemonics or acrostics to a tune to remember them more easily. Lectures should suit you well, but recording a lecture and listening to it back will be of even more benefit.

Resources: Project Gutenberg has a library of free audiobooks; iTunes and the BBC have a wealth of educational podcasts; and Learn Out Loud has them both.

(If Pocket Full of Sunshine is now stuck in your head, we apologise. Try listening to this instead.)

(Sorry again.)


Physical (a.k.a. Tactile, Kinesthetic)

If this is where you run we don’t blame you for not studying)


Will it suit you? Does the thought of sitting still through even a short lecture make you want to climb out of the nearest window? Are sports or other physical activities like gardening/crafting/woodwork your thing? Do you exercise when you’re stressed or working out a problem? Do you use a lot of hand gestures when speaking? Physical learning might be part of your style.

Make the most of it! You learn best by movement, so role-play or act out new skills with a friend or by yourself. Make flashcards or posters as you can touch them and move them around.   Don't forget that writing is a physical activity: try copying out information to be memorised, and use big sheets of paper and large markers when drawing out diagrams and charts to make the actions more physical and thus more memorable.

Resources: You'll probably learn best when away from a screen, but SketchUp lets you draw models in 3D (and is way too fun to leave off the list).

None of these seem like quite your thing? Check out some other styles: Linguistic, Logical, Social, Solitary, Active or Reflective, Sensing or Intuitive, Visual or Verbal, Sequential or Global.

And remember, these styles are just a guide! If something works for you, use it. If it doesn't, keep on moving. It worked for Five.


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