Study More Effectively by Understanding Your Learning Style

Online courses typically require you to remember a lot of information — especially if you are preparing for an upcoming test or presentation. Many adult learners feel stressed about trying to remember critical information for their courses, but you can set yourself up for success by incorporating studying strategies that work best for your learning style.

Most people naturally favor one or two fundamental learning styles. Identifying your learning style(s) can help you choose the strategies that are most likely to help you retain important material.

Jeannine L. Wonderling, assistant director of Education Alliance Partnerships at Penn State World Campus, says understanding your learning style can make a world of difference when approaching studying. Using appropriate study strategies that match preferred learning styles can help with comprehension and application of the learned content.

Let’s review the four main learning styles and some studying strategies that can work well for each. The descriptions may help you identify your preferred learning styles, but you can also find many learning style assessment tools and quizzes available for free online.

1. Visual Learners

Visual learners connect with images and information presented in an eye-catching way, such as graphics, illustrations, charts, diagrams, and key points that are highlighted with arrows or other symbols.

Effective strategies

  • Color coding: Add a visual element to important details using bright stickers, colored pencils, or highlighting to draw your eye to this information when studying.
  • Concept mapping: A concept map lets you organize information in a visual way by looking for ways to connect or “cluster” concepts and ideas. There’s no one right way to create a concept map, but you would typically start by putting core ideas or larger themes in the middle and then branch out with clusters of connected words or phrases. Be creative and colorful to help engage your visual learning style.

2. Auditory Learners 

Auditory learners find it easier to retain information that they hear. Audiobooks and recorded lectures can be helpful resources for these learners, who also tend to benefit from group discussions in which material is explored and reviewed verbally.

Effective strategies

  • Audiobooks and use of Immersive Reader: Turn on your immersive reader if you have access to the course content online or use an audiobook if available; this will allow you to read and listen to the content at the same time. Record yourself reading and then listen to the recording to study.
  • Read/study out loud: If you have a study partner, talk through the content together. If you have no study partner, just read the content and study materials out loud to yourself.

3. Reading/Writing Learners 

Reading/writing learners retain information that they read in written form and are comfortable with text-heavy resources like worksheets and presentations.

Effective strategies

  • Annotation: Write down thoughts, ideas, or observations that pop into your mind as you are reviewing material while studying. This is also a great way to add questions, definitions, or your reflections on what you’ve just read. You can leave annotations in the margins of your notes or as comments in electronic documents.
  • Note-taking: Take notes of the most important facts and concepts you want to remember from the material. It may be helpful to try and highlight any connections or related themes. Everyone has their own favorite note-taking system that works for them, but if you’re looking for ideas, you can check out the Cornell Note-Taking System. Also, be sure to review these tips on taking notes in an online class.

4. Kinesthetic Learners 

Kinesthetic learners do well with concepts that involve the senses or allow for hands-on experiences, like demonstrations, experiments, or interactive activities.

Effective strategies

  • Flashcards: Making flashcards is a hands-on way to remember important words and concepts (this can also be a good strategy for visual learners).
  • Chew gum: Chewing gum while studying is a simple trick that allows your body to have some physical movement while learning content. If you chew gum while studying, you should also chew gum while taking the test!

Other Helpful Strategies to Make Learning Stick

  • Put knowledge to practical use: Regardless of your learning style, the application (comprehension and use) of your learning will solidify your understanding of the content. Take time to reflect on the newly learned material and think through how you can apply it to real-world situations.
  • Reflection and journaling: Reflection is spending time reviewing and writing about what you have learned. This is a very important part of moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Write down things you have learned and take time to think about how you will use the concepts. A learning journal is a collection of these notes, observations, thoughts, and other relevant materials built up over time.

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