Learn How You Learn

There comes a time in university when, subconsciously, you develop study habits which are geared towards your personal learning style. Something as simple as repeating information out loud over and over in order to memorize it, or needing to take notes instead of just reading the textbook — these are indications that you have developed a study routine that corresponds best to your learning.

For many students, understanding your learning style is a new concept. Did you know that some students learn though listening, some through looking, and others through a tactile (“hands-on”) approach? Here’s an example: (you can find more online):

Problem: You need to get to the University of Toronto from home. How do you find directions?

Audio Learners might: Call a friend, parent or the school and ask them for directions before starting. They could turn on their fancy audio GPS system which will tell them “Turn left at the next light.” :)

Visual Learners might: Look online for a map or directions, or check out a map in print. They are likely to copy down directions and take them on the journey, and are the kind of people who would rather make stops to see the map themselves, rather than have someone sit next to them with the map, giving directions.

Tactile Learners might: Find out the general direction (north, south, east, west) and start driving. They figure signs will tell them along the way, and they’d rather try it out themselves. If they make a wrong turn, they’ll just go back, and eventually they’ll learn the way!

Interesting, isn’t it? Every learner will get the job done, but every person has a unique style and method. Many students would benefit significantly if they could determine which method of studying was conducive to their learning.

Determining your style of learning is not as difficult as you might think. You can take a test online, which will ask you a series of questions about the way you learn, memorize or share information. Some tests will be geared towards studying and will ask you questions about your studying and memorizing habits. You can simply google “learning styles test” and find lots of interesting tests that will measure not only which method you learn best from, but also to what degree an audio, visual, or tactile approach would enhance your learning.

Audio Learners remember what they hear. These may be small ears, but they work!

Audio Learners remember what they hear. These may be small ears, but they work!

If you happen to take the test, you might discover you are a multi-sensory learner, like myself. This means that two or even three of the above learning styles are equally conducive to your learning methods. For me, this means that I learn equally well through audio, visual and hands-on approaches. As you become familiar with these concepts, you discover where different methods apply. For example, as a drama student, I need to act out the material in order to really comprehend it, or I need to repeat my lines over and over and over again until saying them becomes second nature — until I’ve memorized everyone else’s lines too! The audio affinity particularly comes in with music — I can hear songs and memorize/retain them very quickly, an I can distinguish when a note is played wrong, even though I probably couldn’t identify it on a music scale!

Maybe you are a visual learner? Seeing is believing!

And yet despite my audio approach, when I sit in class, I never learn if the teacher just talks. I need her to write on the board, and I need to take notes. Its the same thing when reading the textbook: a week later, if you ask me what I read, I’ll have no idea, unless I took notes. The visual approach is key.

When I’m working with technology such as watches, computers, the internet (it’s my secret passion, and my family will attest to my undiscovered talent), then I like the tactile approach. I need to try things out for myself. Manual? What manual? It’s much better for me if, rather than being shown how to do something, I have the opportunity to try it out myself and make my own mistakes.

Like to get your hands dirty? Tactile learners like to work with their hands (e.g., making clothes!) and are not afraid of experimenting.

Once you’ve discovered your learning style, the challenge is how to incorporate your style into your university career. Some of my professors have taken opportunities to open the concept of learning beyond the traditional “read-and-regurgitate” method, as I like to call it.

For example, in my Dramatic Arts class, my professor has suggested we not only read the required play, but  go see the production in a theatre. That is a brilliant move, for it will engage many of my senses into learning the play. I guarantee if you ask me next semester about what play I read in drama class, I’ll remember the one I saw at the theatre.

Such an interesting style of learning is not limited to drama students. For example, my politics professor has opened up a discussion board on the Portal. Each week, students are required to post an insightful comment (between 50 and150 words) about the text, or respond to another student. This method not only allows us to voice our opinions in such a big class, but gives us the chance to learn from other students. Discussions are a great way of learning.

My English teacher, who may not be technologically savvy, has found a way of engaging a large class for three hours, by playing interesting YouTube clips about the work we are reading. They are not a substitute for the readings — in fact, if you haven’t read the story, the movie can be quite confusing. But it is a wonderful way to enhance and compare what we learn. Have you read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes? The clip below is from the story “Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Speckled Band.: If you’ve read the story, you’ll find the clip a wonderful tool to compare and contrast. Even if you haven’t, you might enjoy the clip anyway!

These are just a few examples, but they can make a big difference in the way we learn in university.

So this post is not only a callout to students to figure out your own learning style, but also a challenge to professors, to engage students via creative methods in a way that lifts the words off the page of the textbook and allows learning to become an insightful experience.

Until next week,

– Fariya