Is there anything to be said for knowing your learning style?

Deirdre Ruane

by Deirdre Ruane

As a student, I found writing literary reviews and essays for class really difficult. The thing is; you won’t get away from this type of assessment. When studying any subject, you must be able to pull data together, compare and discuss points and/or make a conclusion. To prove you have completed that work, you need to present it in the form of a lit review or an essay.  Thus displaying your subsequent heightened education in said subject, as distinct from when you began the assignment. Simple.  Ha! I mean, I got through a dissertation at the end of my post grad but I struggled and always ran out of time. Has this struggle had something to do with my learning style?

Much debate surrounds the use of the application learning styles to educational methods. One thing is for sure though, we don’t all learn the same way.

The most popular, yet much criticised, method to assess “learning styles” online is Neil Fleming’s VAK/VARK model. He divides people into four broad categories:

  1. Visual learners: take in information through diagrams and visual aids
  2. Reading and writing learners: retain information through text-based materials
  3. Auditory learners: hear something and retain it
  4. Kinesthetic/tactile learners: Understand by doing something physical e.g. a lab demonstration

I learned that I’m primarily a “tactile” and/or “kinesthetic” learner according to most questionnaires. So, I’m good at “the doing”.  I’m inclined to agree with most traits mentioned.  I can pick up a choreographed dance or act something out easily and learn readily through lab work. Conveniently, according to Neil Fleming’s the VAK/VARK model; kinesthetic learners in particular are just not good at essays or long exams.

But now, what do I do? I mean, you can’t just get away with not doing an essay (or ten) during your studies just because your “learning style” says you can’t.  So, how does a kinesthetic learner write their lit review?

Photo: Nenyaki via Flickr

Now I’m not one to believe everything I read online, but I applied some of these tricks suggested to write this article. For example, I began the research this subject with a “study group” consisting of teachers and colleagues. This new tip helped a lot, but here’s the thing; I know I can’t go discussing every topic I need to write about. Much like an auditory learner can’t and won’t make a recording to relay every piece of information they have to take in. But the point, to set up the “discussion” in my head after I became familiar with the main facts was helpful.

General tips to section your essay and keep focused on a point until you are happy enough to move on are helpful as well. When I got lost in the text, I took a break and thought of jigsaw puzzles: where was “that” piece going to fit in. I liked that tip. Of course, I had more time with the subject and was familiar with the material, but the notes I had from the discussion group kept it ticking around in my head.

The main point I found is that there is so much material online for someone looking for any kind of help in writing. If you find something to help you write, use it. If it takes time, it takes time, but practice helps.

I identified strongly as a kinesthetic learner but I use all four styles as do most of us. I mean, there are only so many ways of teaching and learning in a class. We have to adapt our own abilities to process information from others and to others.

And stop taking long breaks when writing an essay. That won’t help!

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Deirdre Ruane (@deeezer) is a popular science fan, with a M.Sc. in Environmental Resource Management and B.AgSc in Landscape Horticulture from UCD

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Reference:

Pashler, Harold. (2008) Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119. DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

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