It’s not going to surprise anyone when I say we don’t all study effectively the same way, right?
Anyone can sit by themselves or in a library with a study group and get something done but we’re all about being efficient and getting the best results you can – this means understanding how to study as best you can.
These learning styles are not a new concept, they’ve been around for years but relatively recently there are studies starting to debunk them. It probably won’t be the first time you’ve heard of them though since the research has been slow to catch on and many schools (and indeed colleges and universities still believe in it).
For starters, let’s look at the common styles. And then the research which says the whole thing is a load of bunk and what you should do instead.
Verbal Learning Style
One of the common studying tips you always see is to take notes putting it into your own words. The basic idea here is it forces you to actually pay attention to what you’re reading or listening to, but this really is the domain of the verbal style learners.
A verbal style of learning involves reading, writing or speech. For verbal learners, the textbook is a friend and not just something to prop up a wonky table with. As a great form of active learning, you’ll learn well from putting what you’re reading into words.
If you’re in a study group debate or try and teach each other as if they were new to it. If you’re by yourself then rewriting study notes into your own words works just as well. This is a big difference compared to passively reading and can make a big improvement to your retention.
Aural/Auditory Learning Style
Aural learners work best with sounds and music. They tend to do well in the classroom because they have great listening skills. Technically a little different to just listening to music while studying.
You know your friend who somehow manages to stay awake listening to lecture notes or can constantly be heard humming or tapping their pen? Chances are they’re an aural learner.
If this sounds like you, you could use sounds, rhyming or music to aid your learning or memorization processes. Your memory can be improved by linking sounds to topics. Generally, I tend to suggest music without lyrics while you study but that still leaves you with a pretty wide choice.
Physical/Kinesthetic Learning Style
The ‘just dive in and do’ learning style.
Physical or kinesthetic learners just want to get started. Their eyes might glaze over at the sight of a textbook but the moment they get started and see a real-world application to the topic things start to fall more into place.
This applies to more subjects than you might think at first.
Visual Learning Styles
Visual learners use pictures, colors and maps to organize and memorize information. These learners do best in the classroom when the whiteboard is in use, and they tend to have beautiful revision notes. Visual types are also often great dressers, with a clear idea of what colors and patterns work together. At school, visual learners usually gravitate toward activities like photography, art and design.
If this sounds like you, you’re going to need to invest in some good stationery. You’ll need bright paper, colorful sticky notes and pens in every color of the rainbow. Spend time on your revision notes and make sure they’re a useful visual tool. Color coding information, making visual connections between topics, mind mapping, forming visual journeys through new topics or timelines – these are just some of the techniques a learner like you could use.
Sure, they look great on Instagram as well but you might be surprised that there’s actually a good reason to use them.
Logical Studying Styles
Students who have a logical learning style are organized and manage their time effectively. They usually have a flair for mathematics, recognizing patterns, and they are capable of performing complex calculations in their head. These learners work through problems systematically, setting themselves to-do lists and targets. They also tend to enjoy video games that allow them to practice strategy and problem-solving. In school, logical learners might be involved in math, robotics or computers.
If you think you’re a logical learner, you’ll probably already know what works for you. Write lists, categorize information, make connections and work through your study material in a consistent and organized manner. But, try to resist the temptation to memorize the bare minimum you need from each lesson. While you study, use your class notes and then push yourself to explore further, find new links, understand what surrounds the content. This way, you’ll have an easier time remembering the material, and you’ll have that extra level of knowledge you need to push up your grades.
Solitary Studying Style
Now, we have looked at studying alone vs studying groups in the past. And there are still pros and cons to both but solitary studying does suit some people more than others.
Solitary learners are introspective, independent and very self-aware. These learners usually have a high level of concentration and spend time questioning themselves, analyzing their thoughts, opinions, actions. Through developing a deep understanding of themselves, these learners are confident in their ability and don’t usually require much teacher support.
Studying solo usually means fewer distractions and requires the ability to keep yourself focused and motivated.
Social Studying Style
On the flip side to solitary study, studying with other people can certainly lead to more distractions but it does come with advantages that suit some people better. Usually, it suits those who can’t focus trying to study on their own.
Learners with a strong social style tend to be excellent communicators, both verbally and non-verbally. They’re sensitive to other people’s views, great listeners, and usually quite out-spoken in class. These learners are in their element in group discussion-based lessons, where they get the chance to bounce off other people and offer their opinions. In school, social learners prefer team activities like football, basketball or hockey.
If this sounds like you, it’s obvious that you do best when working alongside other people. Try forming your own study group or joining an existing one.
The Research Against Learning Styles
The most recent study against these styles can be read here if you feel inclined. It was published last year in the Anatomical Sciences Education journal and basically tested students to see if studying with methods that suited their studying style made any actual difference to their results.
What they found was some students didn’t actually study to suit these styles – and it didn’t make a difference with the ones that did.
Husmann thinks the students had fallen into certain study habits, which, once formed, were too hard to break. Students seemed to be interested in their learning styles, but not enough to actually change their studying behavior based on them. And even if they had, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Similar studies from years before that have said the same thing. Results don’t seem to improve when students study alongside their supposed study styles.
This isn’t to say that trying to study to a certain style is going to make your studying worse – but the evidence suggests it’s not making it any better – so limiting yourself might make it harder than it needs to be.
Maximizing YOUR Results
So if these learning styles which have been spouted for years are proven to be useless what should you actually do?
For starters, the ‘style’ you use can be tailored to the subject. For example, with programming, I learned best when just diving in and getting my hands dirty. With learning a language I can’t keep my eyes open looking at a textbook but I find it fascinating talking to someone about it.
A good take away from all of this is that the study habits we pick up when we’re younger might not actually be the most effective way to learn. The only way to see what works for you is to experiment and be honest with yourself about your results.
Common things to swap between:
- Studying early in the morning vs late at night.
- Studying in blocks of long hours vs multiple short hours.
- Studying alone vs with a study group.
- With vs without music.
And remember – this can vary between topics.