This is a guest post by John Cole, a digital nomad and freelance writer.
Nobody gets very far in life, in love, or in business, if they aren’t prepared to make every day a learning day. Progress is vital if we are to be more than mere robots, to create a sense of achievement, and indeed just to keep things interesting.
For many people, the prospect of learning new skills and topics can be a forbidding one.
It’s because of the simple reason that they have struggled so much with learning in the past.
A bad learning experience can leave one feeling stupid, inadequate, and like you’ve wasted your time (and money). But more often than not, failure to pick up new skills or knowledge is due not to the shortcomings of the learner, but to the inappropriateness of the education process.
Types of Learning
As teaching theorist Neil Fleming has highlighted, we can observe five main types of learning process – what he calls VARK.
These are broadly divided into visual, aural, textual, and kinesthetic or experiential approaches. With the fifth type being a combination of the above.
Are you a visual learner?
If you’re the kind of person who draws maps instead of giving directions, or jumps straight to an image search of an interesting figure rather than going directly to the Wikipedia page, chances are you’re a visual learner.
Images and visually-presented information excites you, and more importantly it makes an impression on you. When you’re tracing your memory for a fact or process, you will likely try to remember things that you’ve seen, rather than sentences you’ve read or been told.
You can maximize this strength by seeking out course materials that emphasize a visual approach. Be it through illustrated texts or data visualizations. But also through pointedly taking a visual approach to your own studies. Do that by making sketches with your notes, illustrating relationships between concepts with diagrams rather than words or tables. And finding out whether it is possible to submit coursework in a more visual form than the traditional essay.
Are you an auditory learner?
Those who like to discuss their projects before they get started, or who listen to a lot of talk radio, or vastly prefer the phone to email, may consider themselves to be aural/auditory (talking/listening) learners.
In some ways this is quite a traditional style of learning: the classic lecture, seminar or group discussion. You will benefit from receiving information in the form of a talk or video rather than a textbook or a demonstration.
But often, talking and listening is downplayed in educational settings.
If you find you are being presented with work to do and left alone to fulfill it, it is worth pushing to get a group discussion together, formally or informally.
You might also consider reading your written work aloud to a friend so that you can check it properly and make sure that you’re really processing the things that you’re thinking about. And never miss the opportunity to ask questions when your teacher shows their face!
Are you a read-write learner?
Read/write learners will, quite predictably, often be the ones with a book in their bag and a pen in their pocket!
If your instinct is to scribble down scraps of information in the day – from directions to movie tips – and to hotfoot it to Wikipedia or your shelf of reference books when there is a new topic you want information on, then you will benefit from exploiting these techniques to the full in your learning life.
Never be shy to pull out a notebook and pen at a public talk or while reading a textbook on the bus. Making notes is like sowing the seeds of knowledge in your brain. Not to mention the fact that you’ll always have something to which you can later refer.
Are you a kinesthetic learner?
Experiential or kinesthetic learners just have to get their hands dirty to pick up new skills.
If you find that written instructions or YouTube tutorials tend to go in one ear and out the other, don’t be afraid to just pick up the tools you need (safety permitting) and use them as you learn.
You may find a class in a technical school or an apprenticeship is more beneficial to you than a traditional evening class or degree.
But whatever combination of these approaches suits you, the takeaway lesson is to not be ashamed or afraid of the way you like to learn. Everybody is different, and there’s no sense in wasting time studying in an inappropriate manner if the information just won’t sink in.
If you need a bit more help figuring out which style(s) is for you, try working through this new infographic, which also contains more tips on how to maximize your chosen technique once you’ve identified it.