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Learning Modalities: How to Make Them Work For You

an illustration of VARK learning styles, visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic

Everyone learns and studies differently. Some people prefer learning by hearing, others by reading and/or writing, seeing, or learning by doing. Figuring out what your preferred learning modality is can help immensely in trying to study and do well in school - that's why there are many online tests people can take, including the VARK questionnaire. This is a questionnaire that determines what kind of learning modality you prefer between visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. If you want to find out which of these works best for you, here is a link to the questionnaire: But in order to help you as students with different ways of learning, here are some tips for each individual kind of learner.

an open notebook with drawings, a laptop with stickers, and a backpack
Visual learning is learning by seeing.

Visual learners may have trouble with writing essays or listening to lectures but can learn well with diagrams, charts, and other visual elements. If you're a visual learner, here are some things you can do to help you study:

  • Make your notes colorful and neat - underline, use highlighters or different-colored pens/fonts to mark important information, and if you're on a computer, try bolding or italicizing certain key information.

  • If you are reading a book and there are lots of characters, try assigning an actor to that character. If they have the same hair color, clothing style, or something else, think of an actor you like and associate them with the character. This will help because whenever you think of that character, you can imagine what they look like and remember more about them.

  • If you have to remember an important historical figure or event, look up pictures of that person or event. If your notes are on your computer, insert the picture near the description of the person/event.

  • Make outlines - of your notes, essays, study guides, anything that you're typing or writing down. Make the outline neat and include visual elements as described in the first bullet point, and it'll help you retain more.

  • Draw maps for geographical information and draw scientific processes you have to remember.

  • Find videos on YouTube of the subjects you are studying - look at YouTube channels such as Ted-Ed, Crash Course, and C.G.P. Grey, or ones that include good visual elements in their videos.

  • Try to find diagrams and/or charts for subjects you're interested in, especially concerning statistics, so you can remember the information better.

a person talks with their hands in front of a laptop
Auditory learning is learning through listening.

Auditory learners may have a hard time learning through reading and writing, but will easily learn through spoken directions, lectures, or other sound-involved learning. If you enjoy listening to podcasts regularly, don't mind lectures as much as other students might, listen to music regularly while studying or doing homework, you may be an auditory learner! Here are some things you can do to help with your learning:

  • Record in-class lectures if you can, and go back to listen to important information that you might've missed or forgotten.

  • Listen to podcasts related to the subjects you're learning; this can make it easier to recall information and makes the subject more interesting as well.

  • When you're studying, listen to instrumental music or classical music. Instrumentals and classical music has been proven to help people focus more, and listening to music that doesn't have words ensures you're not distracted by the lyrics

  • Create mnemonic devices for key information that you want to remember. Mnemonic devices are tools that help you remember phrases or ideas with some kind of association. An example of this would be "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" to remember PEMDAS, or Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Adding, and Subtraction when doing math problems.

  • Participate in group discussions and/or form study groups to talk about your work. Talking about and listening to information will help you better recall that information, so talk to other people about what you're studying.

  • Similarly, read your essays out loud. I always recommend this to the students I tutor, regardless of their learning style, because it's always helpful. Sometimes when we're writing essays, the voice in our head makes more sense than the voice we read out loud with. When you read your essay out loud, you can notice mistakes, grammatical errors, or sentences that sound confusing much more often than if you just read it in your head.

  • Talk through problems: When problems or situations that need to be solved are presented in the workplace, talking through these scenarios is the best way for an auditory learner to digest information and come up with a solution. You could talk through a problem with a coworker, manager, or other superior or even speak with a trusted friend or mentor about the work situation.

blank sticky notes on a wall
Reading/Writing learning is exactly what it sounds like - learning through reading and writing.

People with a reading/writing preference for learning like words that have meaning and backgrounds that are interesting, arranging notes and words so they're structured in an easy-to-understand way, write or speak with challenging words, and often correct mistakes in grammar or punctuation. Here are some tips for reading/writing learners to study and do homework more easily:

  • Use lists (like this one!) Listing information can be helpful for quick study sessions, reviewing your notes, or for getting ideas out of your head and onto the page.

  • Make interesting titles and headings to explain the content of your notes. By creating headings, you stay organized, and it helps you mentally categorize the information you are writing down.

  • Use bullet points and numbered paragraphs. Breaking information into smaller chunks can help you with retention.

  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries. Learning new words and their definitions is always helpful, especially when reading and writing are your primary form of learning. Looking up words you don't know in books or in lectures will not only help you understand the material better but will help you remember what you are learning.

  • Reading and writing learners tend to correct written language errors and use spell-check programs more frequently. Because reading/writing learners focus on text more than other modalities, they are more likely to notice minor errors or inconsistencies in what they are writing or what they are reading.

  • Get information from people who use words well and have lots of detailed information in their sentences. If you struggle to understand something in class, ask if the instructor can repeat what they said or see if they have a written handout to go with their lecture. Some instructors will allow students to record lectures so that students can replay the lecture as many times as they need to take notes in a way that benefits them.

  • As you listen to people, sort the information they are giving you in your head as well as on paper. Keep a small notepad and pen with you, or use a notepad app on your phone to take notes throughout the day.

  • Rewrite information that may be more difficult to understand in your own words. Summarizing and paraphrasing will help with the retention of the information you are learning. Rewriting your notes or rewriting someone else's notes will also help.

  • Organize diagrams and graphs into statements to explain them. Taking notes or annotating visual graphics such as photos, charts, and graphs will help you remember the information that those types of elements represent.

a man types on his laptop
Kinesthetic learning is learning through doing, or through movement.

People who are kinesthetic learners tend to enjoy sports and lab-involved classes and don't enjoy sitting down and reading or listening for long periods of time. They may fidget during lectures and find they can't sit still for long, study with loud music, or have sloppy handwriting. If you are a kinesthetic learner, here are some things you can do to help with your studying:

  • Create flow charts and diagrams for information - if you also use post-it notes for these, and highlight or underline information, it may be easier to recall.

  • Do activities while studying - listen to lectures or videos while taking a walk or exercising, annotate your notes and books while reading them, or use something to occupy your hands while learning.

  • Take lab-based or movement-based classes. Take a class in American Sign Language or science classes where you will move around a lot or do activities.

  • Study in short blocks - for kinesthetic learners, sitting for long periods of time can be difficult because they can't sit still. So every 15 minutes or so of doing homework, get up and take a walk around the house, get a glass of water, or just do something to get up and move around.

  • Keep your hands busy while studying - trace, underline, or highlight key info, tap your fingers on the keyboard of your computer or type your notes, etc. Remember, kinesthetic learning is all about movement, so studying or doing homework through movement will be the best option for kinesthetic learners.

  • Create models for things - if you have an assignment for a cooking class about making something, cook the food while working on the assignment. If you are presenting information about building something, build it yourself while working on the presentation.

As someone with dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder, kinesthetic learning is very difficult for me. Dyspraxia is a disorder that impacts movement and coordination, so it can be more difficult to learn just about anything that involves kinesthetic learning - driving a car, playing sports, taking lab- or movement-based classes like ASL and science classes. I've had dyspraxia my whole life and it's made things really difficult for me, like trying to keep a job that required keeping up with a fast pace or learning how to drive. But luckily, my lack of ability to learn through kinesthetic learning has made me all the better in auditory, reading/writing, and visual-based learning. Learning these tips has helped me immensely in school and work, enabling me to do well despite the setbacks my dyspraxia gives me. If you follow these tips as well, it could make things easier to learn in school like learning some of these tips did for me.

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