Learning styles estimate the subconscious mental processes that each unique person uses to learn and memorise information. These preferences are determined as a result of several factors such as your genetic inheritance from your biological parents, the learning habits that you formed while exploring the world yourself through play and what you were nurtured to do during your youngest years.
Most people are a mixture of all learning styles but often are extremely dominant in at least one compared to the others. Your brain is always learning, and if you are reading this; you’re probably aware of some of your preferences already!
The learning styles (or VARK) model has been around for a while and has helped countless students find what works for them in terms of their revision. Each style commands a variation in teaching to give the best possible chance of a student fully understanding the information and being able to recall it later, especially under stressful situations such as exams.
First introduced to the world in 1992 by Neil Fleming, the four main types of learning styles were labelled as the VARK model - each letter representing one of the main four styles; Visual, Auditory, Reading - Writing and Kinesthetic.
Deciding which category best suits you can be beneficial, but I would encourage you to use the model as a way to branch out and experiment with different approaches to your learning rather than pigeonholing yourself into one category. Often, we are receptive to all types of learning in different ways. You might be surprised by what helps more with one subject compared to another!
Below is a quiz to help you find out what kind of learner is most dominant in you, and then there are some suggestions to help you begin experimenting.
The visual learning style is sometimes referred to as “spatial” learning. Students who are dominant in this learning style absorb information best by seeing and observing. This includes media such as images, drawn directions and diagrams. They are much more attuned to visualising how something works in their head in these forms rather than words for example - it just makes more sense that way and this improves memory retention.
Visual learners tend to be intuitive with positive space, negative space and patterns and make very good designers. Densely packed information such as novels are not their strong suit. They don’t respond well to low-contrast photos, movies, videos or poorly designed powerpoint presentations.
Need to memorise some quotations for an English assessment on Macbeth? Sketching a sinister snake beneath a beautiful rose might linger in your head better than staring at ‘look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under't’ in plain black and white.
Concentrating on drawing the image and taking the time to make it look beautiful will allow the information to sink in as you work.
This works for general concepts too. For your geography revision, what might you draw to illustrate the larger carbon footprint of imported foods versus the lower impact of locally sourced foods?
If you’re revising different topics for a subject, keep your notes colour-coordinated. For example, for maths, all of your algebra notes might be in green, all of your geometry notes in purple, and your ratio and proportion notes in orange for example.
The strong association with colour can organise your thoughts and help you easily access the information you need during an exam. Simply seeing the word ‘ratio’ will begin to light your brain orange!
The auditory - or “aural” - learning style excels when the topic of study is supported by noise. This can be anything from music, to sound effects, a poem or a song. They retain information much better by listening to lectures or podcasts compared to scanning notes or reading books. To stimulate this strength, reading aloud or explaining a topic to someone is a popular method of reinforcing their memory.
Auditory learners are often the kind of people to read slowly, as they almost have to hear their own voice speaking the words in their head and so might often tell you to repeat what you tell them. They will struggle with a densely packed textbook but love the sound of their own voice and studying with music that fits the mood.