How Do You Learn? Understanding the Four Main Learning Styles

A learning style is an individual’s preferred and most effective method of absorbing new information, and learning new skills. Though there are many ways to learn and consume information, one of the most widely adopted theories of learning is known as the VARK theory which was developed by Neil Fleming in 1987. The acronym stands for visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic.

It’s interesting how our brains choose to consume the same information so differently, depending on our learning style. It’s something I became aware of at school; although i loved learning and studying (not much has changed there), I often found myself having to work harder to absorb information compared to others in class. I noticed people around me being able to learn simply by listening, making them more auditory learners, whereas I was more visual and kinesthetic – having to write and do, in order to engrave information into my memory. And the key is to understand your personal learning style to make education more efficient and more effective. Here’s a little breakdown of how the VARK learning styles work; see which style you lean towards – perhaps you’ll be a combination.

Visual Learning:

Visual learners prefer to see information presented in a visually appealing way, rather than in a written format. They tend to prefer using diagrams, vision boards, and using colour to highlight information for a greater visual representation. Their learning style is more receptive to lectures where the material is presented on slides; the use of infographics might be more helpful than simply hearing someone talk about a particular topic. Graphs and charts are often a preference, as these create a memory for the learner to retain. Individuals that learn in this way tend to pay close attention to detail and body language, and often recall faces but often forget names. Yes, it’s a thing.

Auditory Learning:

Auditory learning is through the act of listening, where the preference is verbal communication or sounds to help understand and absorb information. This type of learner will characteristically listen carefully during lectures; they typically enjoy conversations and discussions around a topic, and they like to speak up and show what they have learned in order to vocalise it, or they may prefer to read it aloud to themselves as they recall and therefore, retain the information more effectively. Auditory learning methods tend to include: podcasts, conversations and discussions, lectures, music, and audiobooks, or transcribing their own notes into recordings. Unlike a visual learner, an auditory learner is better at remembering names, and faces less so.

cognitive learning style

Reading (and Writing) Learning:

The learners that love to consume books, the reading and writing learners tend to benefit from doing just that, taking in new information best when it is displayed as words. They will often be found reading textbooks and summarising with notes, creating more of a narrative around their notes to create context and a story with the information. The reading and writing learners tend to study alone, avoiding distraction, summarising information in a way that best makes sense to them and how they feel it should be applied.

Kinesthetic Learning:

A kinesthetic learner will work and learn most effectively when they use their physical senses and get involved with the activity they are learning about. This style is more about the senses of touch, movement and feeling; the learner will be less likely to focus on information in a lecture format for example. They learn better in an interactive environment, where they can put the information into practice, taking a hands-on approach through activities, practical exercises and role-playing. Moving around is actually what helps them stay focused and engaged, whereas sitting in a classroom listening to a person speaking may prove difficult to hold their attention.

The learning experience can be much easier for some than for others, purely because of the time, effort and repetition of information that has to take place before information is retained. I say this with passion, because that is me down to a T, making notes about my notes, highlighting as I go along, and then creating a little infographic to condense said notes, before I practically apply the information to try and drum it into my system. So if I don’t remember your names, this is why. Clients, I apologise in advance! But in actuality, taking note of this information (quite literally if you have to), will help you to understand how you prefer to learn, so you can be more systematic about it, and go straight to that vision board, or role-play activity, rather than fumble over a set of notes you can’t really get your head around.

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