We all have preferences for how we learn best. Are you visual, auditory or kinaesthetic? Put another way, do you like to see what I mean, or prefer to hear my idea or are you someone who likes to experience or feel what is being talked about.

A person’s learning style is a combination of how they perceive, then organise and finally process information. Once you’re familiar with your learning style, you can take action to help yourself learn faster and more easily.

Plus, learning how to decipher the learning styles of others, like your boss, colleagues, teacher and family can help you strengthen your rapport and influence with them. Determining your own personal learning style is a key to improved performance at work, in training and study, and in social situations. Trainers, teachers and educators are (very slowly) realising that everyone has an optimal way of taking in new information and that some students need to be taught in ways that vary from standard teaching methods. Traditional teaching and assessment has always been aimed at visual learners.

Just as some people have a preference for being right or left-handed, we appear to have a preference for the way we sense the world. To decipher your predominant learning style, the first step is to identify your preferred sense – whether you prefer visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic. As these terms suggest, visual people learn through what they see, auditory learners from what they hear, and kinaesthetic learners from movement and touching.

Although each of us learns in all three of these ways to some degree, most people prefer one over the other two. Do you ever catch yourself saying things like “That looks right to me,” or “I get the picture”? Or are you more likely to say, “That sounds right to me,” or “That rings a bell”? Or “I like the feel of that,” or “I grasp it now”? Expressions like these may be clues to your preferred modality.

If you couldn’t see or hear, or if you couldn’t feel texture, shape, temperature, weight, or resistance in your environment, you would literally have no way of learning. Most of us learn in many ways, yet we usually favour one modality over the others. Many people don’t realise they are favouring one way, because nothing external tells them they are any different from anyone else. Knowing that there are differences goes a long way towards explaining why we have problems understanding and communicating with some people and not with others, and why we handle some situations more easily than others.

So how do you discover your own preferred modality? One simple way is to listen for clues in your speech, as in the expressions above. Another way is to notice your behaviour when you attend a seminar or workshop. Do you seem to get more from reading the handout or from listening to the presenter? Auditory people prefer listening to the material and sometimes get lost if they try to take notes on the subject during the presentation. Visual people prefer to read the handouts and look at the slides the presenter shows. Visual people also take excellent notes. Kinaesthetic learners do best with “hands on” activities and group interaction.

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The bad news regarding learning styles is that school and college are easier for people who score highest on the “visual” learning style preference. So if you are predominantly auditory or kinaesthetic, you may be at an initial disadvantage. It’s not that visual learners are smarter, it’s just that they think in a certain way that matches up perfectly with how schools and examining boards around the world test.  They test in the written form – usually 1, 2 or even 3 hour written examinations.

Visual learners think in pictures, so it makes it easier for them to learn and remember new information. For everything they read, it’s as if they were watching TV or movies in their heads. There is an old saying – one picture is worth a thousand words.  So, when visual learners want to remember what they have learned, they replay that movie in their mind that they already made while they were studying.

By now, you’re probably asking, so what about me?  “Is there an easy way for me to get higher grades if I my learning style preference is more auditory or more kinaesthetic”?

Yes, there is! And you’ll have to do it because until we come up with a better way to find out what you have learned in school, then written tests are going to be around for a very long time.

So, the tip is to learn how to add some visual thinking strategies to the learning style you already have. That then gives you even more learning abilities.

Those who are having the easiest time with their study think in pictures, and the way you can do that is to pretend that you’re going to turn everything you read or hear in the classroom or from a textbook into a movie in your mind.

You know how you look up at the movie screen when you’re at the movies – well, if you do the same thing in the classroom to get more “visual”, then school or college will get a whole lot easier.

If you’re really serious about wanting better grades, then give it a try.

This has been a very brief introduction to this important and exciting area.

Author: Lisabeth Protherough

Copyright 2006 Lisabeth Protherough

Lisabeth Protherough is a qualified Chartered Accountant and Education Consultant from the UK, with 20 years experience training and teaching students in the university and business sectors. She heads up Student Success Solutions a global organisation offering educational advice to students around the world. She is passionate about great education and the life changing impact it can have. Lisabeth is on a mission to make education interesting and to help students unlock their potential.


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