Psychologists and educational experts have theorized about learning for decades. Maybe you’ve observed yourself long enough to know how you best remember information and what kind of environment is must conducive for you when it comes to learning. Or maybe you haven’t given it much thought at all! Spending a little time getting to know yourself as a learner can be a helpful step when it comes to tailoring your education to more fully meet your needs. This, in turn, will allow you to better utilize your study time for improved memory skills and resulting better grades!

While learning styles have never been scientifically proven, experts generally observe that most people fall into three generalized categories of learning: visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners. Visual learners tend to remember what they see and read. They enjoy reading and tend to be good spellers. They learn best from seeing things in picture form: graphs, charts and lists. Auditory learners often remember what they hear. They enjoy lecture-based learning and class discussions or debates. They learn from conversation, repeating information out loud or having information reinforced verbally, often with their own voice. Kinesthetic learners remember what they have experienced. They enjoy learning that is tactile, hands-on or movement-based. They learn best from physical involvement, such as acting something out, solving a physical problem, interactive games or lab-based learning.

Not many of us fall into one category completely, and this is a good thing, as learning is diverse. We’ll be better learners if we adapt to all modalities of learning. But we generally lean towards one particular learning preference. If you’re not sure what yours is, this link contains a simple assessment that can act as a basic tool for finding out how you learn best:  Knowing your preferred learning style can help you in several ways: charting a course of action by way of education, knowing effective ways to study and recognizing areas for improvement.

Chart Your Course. If you haven’t yet chosen a major or area of concentration, knowing your learning style can actually offer directional clues. If you’re a kinesthetic learner for example, you may be someone who thrives in the sciences where much of your learning happens in a lab or field environment. Or your passion for movement may direct you towards an exercise-based career. Similarly, even if your major is already chosen, knowing what type of learner you are may be helpful when it comes to choosing specific professors or electives. If you know you are an auditory learner, for example, you may enjoy a speech or music class which center on listening and auditory components. If given a choice between two professors, a visual learner will usually thrive more in a traditional environment, dependent upon reading and note-taking, whereas an auditory learner might enjoy the professor who utilizes group discussion and collaborative, interactive learning.

Study More Effectively. Knowing your preferred method of learning can help you study better. For example, visual learners often benefit from rewriting, highlighting or color-coding class notes, making and reviewing flashcards, drawing out visual chains or illustrations for key points and utilizing pneumonic devices or acronyms.  Auditory learners find it helpful to record and replay lectures, listen to audiobooks, read aloud or restate information, review in a study group or set information to music or poetry. Kinesthetic learners may benefit from shorter bursts of study with frequent breaks and changes in location as well as from bouncing a ball, tapping a pencil or physically moving around while reviewing information. One expert suggests putting important information to a beat and then tapping it out as you read or speak it aloud.

Recognize Growth Areas. It’s important not to box yourself in and refuse to learn from any style besides your preferred method. After all, we can’t control the instruction styles from one professor to the next. We can recognize and be aware however, when a style is outside of our preference zone and work to make up for the deficiency this may cause. For example, if you’re a visual learner stuck in a discussion or lecture-based environment, it will be twice as important for you to take notes so you have something to physically look back on later. If you’re a kinesthetic learning in an extremely structured classroom with little variety, you may need to find small ways to move where you are, such as typing notes into your computer or moving your body in non-distracting ways to help you concentrate. It’s helpful to realize that many of us learn better when we engage a wide array of physical senses. William Haynes, educator and recruiting manager for the Princeton Review says, “Engaging more senses and even more repetition certainly makes a difference.”