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The thing about learning ...it’s not what we learn... but how

Created on Mon, 02/09/2013 - 16:26 by Alexandra Macpherson 

Have you ever noticed that learning does not always happen at the same rate? Sometimes it seems effortless, other times it’s a drag …. but why? Is it mood? Motivation? How tired or alert you are?

As an online education officer and student, this question had been troubling me for quite a while, so I made a point of observing my personal learning patterns. I noticed an interesting thing – when learning involved listening, I found myself engaged, immersed in the words and reflecting on them for hours or even days afterwards. And when I had questions, I much preferred to talk to people about them than to trawl through articles to find the answers.

So with this in mind, I decided to design my own learning path. I wrote down every question I had on the subject and took every opportunity to talk them through with my tutors, peers and anyone else who’d listen. As well as attending lectures, I downloaded podcasts related to my course and listened to them on the train. No boring reading!

Once I figured out my personal learning style, I became curious about what works for others. As it turned out, there are many ways to learn and they depend on how your brain prefers to process information. Here are some examples from Edutopia.org:

Learning Styles

Visual/Spatial – you prefer to look at pictures or images to understand new concepts and don’t absorb enough by listening. The solution is simple – make notes or read the transcript to try to figure out how you could draw an image or diagram of the concept, then commit that to memory, instead. Odds are that remembering the image will help you to remember the details, as well.

Aural – sound and music are your thing and also work best in a learning context. Listening to the lecture is easy for you, but reading the course material is trickier. Try listening to music while you study or even make up songs or chants to help you memorise important concepts. Think Sound of Music – “Doe, a deer, a female deer; Ray, a drop of golden sun …”

Verbal/linguistic – like me, you like words, either spoken or written. You need to talk about what you’re learning and understand it by asking questions and processing the answers. Talk to your friends and family (provided they’re happy to listen) and use any discussion forums that are on offer for your course.

Physical/movement-based – rather than simply listening or looking at images, you prefer to use your body and your sense of touch while learning. In other words, you like to keep active. Maybe doodling while listening is your thing, or perhaps you like walking while reading your notes. Try different options and see what works for you.

Logical/mathematical – logical and structured by nature, you like to think things through. Write out what you’re learning in logical steps and think them through critically. For you, reading the material and making sense of it is very important.

Social/interpersonal – engaging with other like-minded people is how you prefer to study, so find a small group of people that work the same way and go for it.

Solitary/intrapersonal – ignore the advice to the person above! Instead, find a comfortable place to study on your own, read, conduct your own research and make time to reflect on what you’re learning.

If you’re still not sure which style is yours, here’s a great quiz and some simple tips to help you use your natural learning style.

There’s a wealth of educational resources that can help you make the most of how your brain takes up new information – once you find your personal style, the world of learning is your oyster!

So how about you – what’s your natural learning style?

CC BY SA licenced flickr photo 'Asleep at the Wheel' by Aaron Jacobs

Don't let this be you! Find the right learning style and make studying more fun and effective.

Image credit: CC BY SA licenced flickr photo 'Asleep at the Wheel' by Aaron Jacobs


Studying is definitely not a drag for me even at my age of 90, as I love to study. So far I have completed three courses, Astronomy, Anthropology and Basic Physics. Thanks to our excellent lecturers , staff and interaction with the other participants in the forum I have loved every minute of it. These courses are a perfect opportunity to study on line for people who are more or less housebound, like I am.


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