What's Your Learning Style?

Think for a moment about the way in which you recall a lesson you learned in school. Do you picture in your mind the specific visual elements—for example, pictures shown on the PowerPoint presentation, key graphs or flow charts of information? If so, you might be a visual learner. Or maybe you can hear the way in which an instructor teaches a lesson—how he or she emphasizes certain parts, his or her pitch, register and tone of voice. If this is what you experience, you would be an auditory learner. Or perhaps you imagine yourself picking up the lesson’s corresponding textbook and following along with your teacher, writing notes and reviewing key concepts hands-on. If this is you, you would be considered a tactile or kinesthetic learner.

Broadly defined, learning style is described as the way individuals perceive and interpret reality or acquire and organize information.  While no one learning style is better than another, there can be a “good” or “bad” match between the way you best learn and the method in which a particular course is taught. For example, if you are a visual learner enrolled in a standard lecture course with nearly 300 other students, you might feel disinterested, unfocused and unable to connect in some way with the subject. All students experience these feelings at one point or another, but this is simply a mismatch between your dominate learning style and the nature of the course itself. Once you recognize this conflict, you can take the necessary steps to adapting the course to your learning style in order to achieve success. You might, for example, tape record the lectures, draw visuals or diagrams instead of writing standard lecture notes, or view films or documentaries on problematic topics related to the course. The first step, of course, is to think the particular ways in which you learn. It is essential for students of any age to develop a lexicon for learning styles in order to determine how best to learn, understand, and apply new knowledge and material.


Active and Reflective Learners

Active learners master information by doing something active or hands-on, such as discussing, applying or teaching the material to others. These kinds of learners best retain information by interacting with others and completing group-related activities. Reflective learners, on the other hand, prefer to work independently and will better retain information by thinking through the concepts on their own. Reflective learners succeed academically when they periodically review new material, write summaries or rewrite class lecture notes.

Lecture courses tend to be problematic for both active and reflective learners. Learning from Lectures offers excellent ways to maximize lecture-based learning.


Visual and Verbal Learners

Visual learners (also known as spatial learners) retain new material through “seeing.” These learners tend to have natural artistic abilities and enjoy using the mind’s eye. Films, demonstrations, webs, charts, pictures, and time lines are helpful tools for these types of learners. If you are a visual learner, consider mind mapping, highlighting and color coding or boxing important information while you are reading or studying for an exam.

Verbal learners (also called linguistic learners) maximize learning through seeing, saying, and hearing words. Verbal learners enjoy reading and writing, and can memorize places, names, dates, and trivia quite easily. For verbal learners, reviewing and rewriting class notes, creating chapter summaries or outlines and studying in a group will help facilitate the learning process.


Sensing and Intuitive Learners

Sensing learners are patient with details and enjoy memorizing facts and data. They like solving problems using well-established methods and completing hands-on activities, such as conducting laboratory experiments. They learn best when connecting and applying course material to real-world situations. If, for example, you are a sensing learner in a course filled with abstract material, you may have to seek out the instructor for practical applications or try to find them on your own or with the help of a classmate.

Intuitive learners gravitate towards complex or abstract subjects. Mathematical formulations are easy to master. Intuitive learners grasp new concepts relatively quickly and typically work at a faster pace than sensing learners. Memorization and repetition are common dislikes for the intuitive learner. Often, intuitive learners become impatient or tend to rush through assignments or tests. Moving slowly, pausing to double check your work, and making sure to read the problem or essay topic carefully will benefit all learners, but particularly the intuitive.


Sequential and Global Learners

Sequential learners tend to gain the most from learning by information presented in logical and linear steps. They tend to utilize logical and stepwise methods to solve problems. Most college courses are taught in a sequential manner. However, if you happen to have an instructor who tends to skip around from topic to topic or move backward chronologically, take initiative to talk with the instructor in order to fill in the gaps. Make sure your notes are always written in a chronological, sequential order, and, if you can, go back to the text to fill in any information your instructor might have omitted.

Global learners learn in small clumps; they are able to jump around, from one piece of unrelated information to another, and, then, suddenly, “get it.” Global learners are quick to solve complex problems, but often are not able to explain or account for the method they took to arrive at a solution. These types of learners need to know the “big picture” before diving into a course of a study. In order to gain the “big picture,” consider the following: before you begin to study the first section of a chapter in a text, skim through the chapter for an overview. Pay close attention to subtitles, bold phrases or vocabulary. Then, go back and read the chapter for details.


Additional Resources

Handouts and Study Strategies
Developed by the McGraw Center at Princeton University, this website features handouts and advice for a learning styles on a variety of topics, including reading, exam preparation, problem solving, time management, oral presentations and more.

Technology and Useful Applications|
The Weingarten Learning Resource Center at the University of Pennsylvania lists several useful tools and information that can assist a variety of learning styles with different tasks. In addition, the homepage offers an interactive way of learning more about all kinds of learning styles.

Class Participation
Excellent list of specific ways to participate, engage and ask questions in class. Consult the following websites for more information on communication:

Class Participation: More than Just Raising Your Hand


Reading and Writing Strategies

Dartmouth University: Academic Skills

Cornell University: Study Skills

Dartmouth University: Reading and Writing Strategies


Mathematics Strategies

Academic Skills Instructional Program for Mathematics (Duke University)

Math Learning Steps (Duke University)


For a complete list of subjects and strategies for dealing with topics such as procrastination, time management and test preparation, click here.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons