Top 3 tips to use different types of learning styles:
- Optimise your use of each learning style
- Mix learning styles
- Adapt your learning style to the topic
Wherever you went to school, you’ve probably heard about learning styles. But did they ever tell you how to use them optimally?
I’ll briefly refresh your memory and then I’ll tell you how to benefit from understanding the different types of learning styles.
People can be divided into different types of learners — at least, that is what the theories claim. We’ll focus on one popular theory: the VARK-model. This states that there are four types of learning styles: visual, auditive, reading & writing, and kinaesthetic.
Now, while most people have a learning preference and think they learn better when information is presented in that way, there is little evidence that suggests that following ‘your’ style helps. 
So why should you still learn about these learning styles?
To understand each style and learn how to optimise a mix of the different types of learning styles.
Tip 1: Get the best out of each type of learning style
While there’s little evidence that learning according to your preferred style is beneficial, there is none that says it is complete BS. So there’s no harm in figuring out which ‘type of learner’ you are. When you know, you can organise the majority of your learning around that method. Although it might not lead to very different outcomes, you’ll enjoy the process a lot more.
Visual learning style
Visual learners are holistic learners. If you’re a visual learner, you try to see the bigger picture. That makes a lot of sense as you probably tend to like maps, charts, illustrations and mind maps. Visualising relationships and ideas helps you understand the topic.
If visual is your preferred style, make doodles, sketches and diagrams. Keep related things together in space and time. Write notes about the same idea on the same page. Immersing yourself in a live lecture probably suits you more than asynchronous online classes.
Auditory learning style
If you’re an auditory learner, you like to listen. You find it easy to recall the spoken word, such as conversations. While you may not have noticed it, you probably tend to read out loud. Even though your friends might not enjoy it, you find it pleasant to turn text into audio.
The best way to learn according to your preferred style is by engaging in discussions. You should also consider recording classes/meetings rather than taking notes so you can fully focus on what’s being said.
Reading & writing learning style
Learners who prefer reading and writing like to read and rephrase in order to learn. They prefer to read at their own pace rather than listen to someone else who’s reading. Summarising and conducting research are other learning methods that suit your needs.
Use textbooks and online courses to find the content you’re looking for. A quiet environment without distractions is your favourite setup. Use a well-organised note-taking system to your advantage.
Ask for written feedback and instructions. It will stick better and longer than group discussion or verbal information.
Kinaesthetic learning style
If you’re in this category, you learn by doing. Kinaesthetic learners are better at remembering what they do and what they feel. The use of the senses is paramount for people who prefer to learn by experiment.
The simple act of doing something while learning helps retain information or make the experience of learning more enjoyable. Making flashcards is a brilliant way for kinaesthetic learners to stay engaged.
Summary of learning styles
Types of learning styles are preferred ways of learning; not necessarily better ways of learning. Here’s an example. When looking for a recipe, I’ll always skip the videos in Google Search and go straight to written recipes. Alternatively, I’ll learn by doing it with someone who knows. My other half exclusively watches video recipes. While I love to experiment, my girlfriend follows every exact instruction in the videos.
She’s a visual and auditory learner. I’m a combination of a kinesthetic and reading & writing learner. It doesn’t mean that I don’t remember information from videos as well, I just prefer to read.
Learn about the different types of learning styles so you can benefit from each of them.
Tip 2: Mix learning styles
Sticking to your preferred learning style, unfortunately, is not the fastest road to success. In contrary, according to research, a combination of different styles leads to better learning outcomes. Since the brain processes visuals and text in different ways, combining styles also leads to better understanding.
‘The best learning “style” for benefitting from instruction is to avoid depending upon any single style.’
People learning complex skills benefit from interactive and multimodal learning. A combination of different learning types leads to better learning outcomes. Only with very basic skills, there seems to be a slight benefit to simplicity and a focus on one learning style.
A mix of learning styles works best if they are close in time and space but not simultaneous. You need to find a good balance to fully reap the benefits of using multiple learning styles. Integrate different methods in your schedule but refrain from using different styles simultaneously. A combination of learning styles equals a combination of different inputs. It’s hard to focus on all at once. Multitasking is detrimental, not beneficial.
Use different types of learning but don’t multitask.
Tip 3: Adapt your learning style to the content
Sometimes your preferred learning style doesn’t really matter. Some things are just meant to be taught in a certain way. Not even Cicero would be better than Google Maps at explaining where to find Rome.
If you’re trying to learn a new skill, you can watch 100 hours of video and listen to 10 experts talk about the subject, but you won’t really learn until you try it yourself.
When learning maths, for example, absorbing as much theory as possible won’t lead you to perfection. By reading or listening, you won’t fully understand how to solve the problem until you do just that: solve the problem. In this sense, it’s important to recognise which learning style contributes the most to growth with a particular task or subject. In many cases, actually doing is a good test and measure of how much you’ve learned.
Use the learning method that best suits the desired learning outcome.
Remember that the best way to learn is mostly a mix of learning styles. While a stronger focus on your preferred style will probably boost your motivation, it’s not always the best choice. No one’s ever learned how to ride a bike by listening to Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome.
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Original photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Sources and further reading about different types of learning styles
- Chick, Nancy. Vanderbilt — https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/learning-styles-preferences/
- Cisco Systems —https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en_us/solutions/industries/docs/education/Multimodal-Learning-Through-Media.pdf
- Bhagat, A., Vyas, R. & Singh, T. NCBI — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4552069/
- Weir, Laila. Edutopia — https://www.edutopia.org/multimodal-learning-teaching-methods-media
- Flavin, Brianna. Rasmussen — https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/most-common-types-of-learners/
- University of Kansas — https://educationonline.ku.edu/community/4-different-learning-styles-to-know
- Learning Styles Wiki — https://sites.google.com/site/learningstyleswiki/vark-reading-writing