Answering this question is difficult even for the most self aware among us. People learn differently and there are multiple learning styles.
Most people have a dominant style. But, that does not mean that is all you will ever use.
Some learn best with visual inputs. They learn by seeing pictures, charts, graphs and diagrams. They learn by drawing pictures, making notes and using mind maps like the one above. Visual learners often think in pictures and take detailed notes. They may need quiet study time to learn well. Usually they sit right at the front to get a clear view of the board. They tend to talk fast and interrupt teachers and trainers.
Those who learn best by seeing do well in tests with diagramming, essays and map reading. The worst type of tests for visual learners would be one that ask them to listen and respond.
It is possible to enhance learning by drawing, outlining, taking notes and making lists. Copying what’s written on the board or in presentations is a good idea. So is diagramming sentences. Colour coding, highlighting, circling, underlining and other visual enhancing of information works well for them. Flash cards are also a great fit.
Aural or auditory learners
Naturally, they are good listeners. They may repeat things out lout. They think in a linear manner, read slowly and prefer to hear things rather than read them. Auditory learners tend to speak slowly and usually explain things well.
Auditory learners do well in tests that require writing responses to what they’ve heard and in oral exams. The worst type of tests for auditory learners can be reading passages and writing answers, especially in a timed context.
Learning can be enhanced with word associations to remember lines and facts. Recording lectures, watching videos and repeating facts with eyes closed may help. Auditory learners do well when participating in group discussions and recording notes after writing them.
Physical or kinesthetic learners
Call them touchy-feely if you wish, because they want to experience learning in physical ways, by touch, using hands or even the whole body. They learn by doing, like solving real life problems and take a hands-on approach. Physical learners tend to be the slowest talkers and find it difficult to sit still for long. They get fidgety. They may have short attention spans.
Kinesthetic learners do best in tests that require short definitions, fill-ins and multiple choice formats. They fare the worst in long essays and tests.
Learning can be enhanced by studying in short blocks. Lab classes, field trips, practicals and group study helps. Use memory games and flash cards to remember and recall facts.
These people love words both written and spoken. They learn best when using words, in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Their note taking is predominantly confined to words, word lists, short notes, rather than the doodles, colours and visuals used by the visual learners.
To enhance learning, just as with auditory learners, verbal learners can employ word associations, note cards, sort notes and word lists. Recall and writing as well as teaching others or making speeches can help verbal learners do well.
Solitary learners and social learners
Solitary learners prefer their own company and do well with self study. Social learners in contrast are the ones who learn best with group activities, discussions and while working in groups.
Logical learners resort to reasoning and logic. When the teacher asks questions like ‘there are five birds on a fence and Peter shoots one, how many are left?’ while a few would say four, a logical learner kid would say none. Why? Because birds are not stupid enough to sit on the fence after someone shoots a fellow bird.
If you really think about it, a lot of kids begin by being logical learners. Asking WHY is as natural as breathing to preschoolers. Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, cites a study which shows that “the average four-year-old British girl asks her poor mum 390 questions a day; the boys that age aren’t far behind.”
Unfortunately though, we outgrow this. “Yet, chances are,” says Berger, “for the rest of her life, that four-year old girl will never again ask questions as instinctively, as imaginatively, or as freely as she does at that shining moment. Unless she is exceptional, that age is her questioning peak.”
Most of us may have a preferred or dominant learning style. Did you recognize yourself from these descriptions? If you did, you’d know that you actually use more than one style anyway, if not out of preference, but out of pure necessity.
Learning is a life skill. Knowing our preferred learning style and adopting the methods that fit us well is useful not just for kids but also for adults.
We look forward to your comments and suggestions.
NOTE: Here’s the original text of my article in The Nation .
Nilooka Dissanayake is a Chartered Management Accountant by profession with an MBA from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. She is a freelance trainer with nearly two decades of experience. Her current focus is on providing attitudes, knowledge and skills needed to achieve personal, professional and business success. She is also a ghostwriter and is currently writing a book about success and related topics for a client in the US.
Twitter: @NVEDissanayake | Facebook.com/BusinessTrainerSriLanka