When it comes to learning and interpreting new information, understanding your unique learning style is your golden ticket to streamlining the way you process and make sense of new information. The fact is that we all have different brains, and we’re all good at different things.
Do you remember being in school, taking notes on a lecture, and reviewing those notes later to find that they didn’t make sense? Are you puzzled by Jigsaw puzzles or Rubik’s cubes? Do the bars on your bar graph seem to lean slightly to the left? Thousands of people have experiences like these and wonder why they may have difficulty wrapping their heads around certain tasks, yet others seem to come naturally and feel almost effortless. Outlined below are the four main learning styles summarized in the VARK model and how they work; take some time to think about where you fit in and how that influences the way you best learn and understand new information.
Visual learners don’t necessarily have to be artists or designers. A visual learner is someone who learns best by actually seeing the relationships between ideas. Visual learners often struggle in meetings where other associates speak a lot, but visual aids are not available. As a visual learner, you quickly and readily learn and interpret new information from charts and graphs. Infographics, tables and even simple pictures will also be effective ways for you to quickly understand a concept or relationship between ideas. Visual learners make great analysts in business; give them access to charts and graphs with relevant data and they can make great decisions very quickly.
Auditory learners learn best by hearing information out loud. This doesn’t just apply to presentations, however; auditory learners have excellent memory for conversations they hear in passing, interesting facts they hear on the television or radio and especially for conversations in which they participate. For auditory learners, one of the most effective study methods is to engage in small study groups where participants explain information to each other. Auditory learners can make excellent business judgments based on a conversation, and are also great salespeople, especially if they are good listeners.
This type of learner displays a strong preference for written information. Someone with this learning style can quickly pick up information by reading a manual or how-to guide. If you need someone to produce a report or recommendation for your basis, especially one based on research, someone with this learning style will do the best job for you. This specific learning style can be seen as one of the most beneficial ones to have; the majority of information available is written down, and a reading/writing learner has almost no limit on the amount of knowledge they can soak up through mediums like the internet, lists, books, newspapers and other source material.
Kinesthetic learners use practical experience as a way of learning how to do something. This type of learner really enjoys getting their hands dirty to solve a problem. This could include trying things out in the field instead of theorizing, role-playing a process instead of reading a script, or even the act of writing something down as a memorization tool. The great thing about bodily and kinesthetic learners is that they exude passion when giving a business presentation and they often relish the execution of a critical task: the physical process of getting work done. This type of learner also values and relies on their own experience to inform future decision making. While other types of learners may be more analytical, kinesthetic learners will execute a task enthusiastically, leveraging their own prior experience to create the best possible end result.
Find Your Ideal Learning Environment
Deciding which types of professional development activities will benefit you most is directly connected to understanding your own learning style. For example, attending a series of seminars away from your office may not be the most beneficial option if you’re a visual learner – especially if you know that the content will be delivered lecture-style.
There are four scenarios described in the model of learning environments developed by Andrew Forrest, a consultant at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness. These four scenarios describe where and how professional development can take place. The four environments are:
- Planned learning, at the workplace
- Unplanned learning, at the workplace
- Planned learning, away from the workplace
- Unplanned learning, away from the workplace
This type of model reflects the fact that not all professional development takes place at work, nor are planned events the only time when learning can take place. Effective learners can learn in any environment, but certain learning styles are better suited to specific environments. For example, sending a kinesthetic learner away from work to sit at a seminar may not be the most beneficial professional development activity. Visual learners are recommended to learn in the workplace, creating visual cues that trigger memory retention.
Have you thought about which of the above learning styles best applies to you? It’s important to remember that the majority of people display at least one strong, dominant learning style, but may also display the characteristics of alternative learning styles as well. For example, you may be a visual learner who benefits greatly from the opportunity to view charts and graphs, but you may also find that writing things down triggers your memory very strongly, a known attribute of kinesthetic learners. Once you understand the way your brain works, the next step is to adapt your surroundings to suit this type of learning. For example, if you’re a visual learner and you need to analyze some data, ask for that data to be presented in a chart or graph.
Understanding your unique learning style (or styles) is a great step in understanding how you can best use your skill set, as an employee or in your own business. In an age where specialization is standard, knowing how to play to your own strengths can make you a much better asset to your team, as well as to yourself.