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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter

4 Learning Styles to Help You Learn Faster and Smarter

When it comes to learning styles, “one size fits all” is an approach that simply doesn’t work.

For instance, when learning a language, some people prefer to predominantly hear and speak it, while others prefer to study the grammar, vocabulary and construction of the language. The first person is likely to look for opportunities to converse in the language, while the latter is most likely to have their head stuck in a book.

Now, neither of these learning approaches is wrong — they’re just different. One works for one person; the other works for another.

The trick of course, is to find the learning styles that suit you the most. These are different learning styles that will allow you to learn quicker and easier. These styles will feel natural to you. And they’ll encourage you to live a life of constantly learning new things.

That’s what this article is about. I’m going to help you discover the best learning styles for you, while encouraging you to be always learning in your life.

What Are Learning Styles?

Essentially, learning styles are the method, technique or system that are designed to help people learn.

There are actually several traditional different types of learning styles (and many more schools of thought on the subject of learning).

According to Vanderbilt University[1], there are well over 70 different learning styles, but by far the most popular are the four styles captured in the VARK Model:[2]

  1. Visual (spacial) — learners learn best by seeing.
  2. Auditory (aural) — learners learn best by hearing.
  3. Reading/writing — learners learn best by reading and writing.
  4. Kinesthetic (physical) — learners learn best by moving and doing.

Do you recognize yourself in one of the above styles?

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You probably do, although it’s not unusual for people to learn best with a blend of these styles.

Let’s look a little deeper into these four styles:

Visual Learning Style

The visual learning style is best suited to individuals who like to watch videos and like to see presentations that are embedded with pictures, charts and graphs. Education Corner states that:[3]

“the human brain processes visual information much faster than plain text. As a visual learner, you can take in and retain a lot of information really quickly because you prefer this processing method that humans are already very good at.”

Auditory Learning Style

The auditory learning style is best suited to individuals who like to listen to lectures and audio books. These learners find it easy to learn what they hear.

So much so, that if they watch a movie, they’ll most likely remember what was said in the movie – rather than the actions that took place.

Reading/Writing Learning Style

The reading/writing learning style is best suited to — as you’d expect — people who enjoy reading and writing. That’s because the words they read and write become easily imprinted on their minds.

Ideas, paragraphs and even whole chapters are retained with little effort by people who have this as their predominant learning style.

Kinesthetic Learning Style

The kinesthetic learning style is best suited to people who like to get “hands on.”

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For instance, at college, they might be drawn to science subjects that allow them to participate in experiments, or things like mechanical engineering, which again is a subject that has lots of physical interactions.

When Learning Styles Are Not Useful

Although each of us learns differently, there should always be flexibility in our learning approach. For instance, if you enjoy learning through reading books, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to just this medium. If you do, you could be missing out on some great content via videos and live presentations, etc.

My advice is that while it’s definitely helpful to find your predominant learning style, don’t let this hold you hostage. Be free and flexible with your learning. This will keep your mind fresh, and your thirst for learning at its peak.

It’s also worth remembering that there is no scientific consensus for the accuracy of learning styles. In fact, Scientific American recently dedicated a whole article to this topic. Titled “The Problem With Learning Styles”, the article delves into the scientific literature around learning styles, and finds out something interesting: There’s scant evidence to support the idea that learning outcomes are best when teaching techniques align with individuals’ learning styles.[4]

So, as you can see from the above, the science is definitely not settled on this matter.

Which is why I recommend that you…

Take an Individual Approach with an Open Mind

In my experience, what type of person you are undoubtedly has an effect on how quickly and easily you learn. But individual learning styles are only part of the picture.

Most people actually learn best through a variety of different learning styles.

I recommend that you experiment with various learning styles, rather than obsessively focusing on a single one. This is almost always the most effective way to boost your learning abilities.

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An article on this topic from the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research concluded:[5]

“Awareness of individual learning styles among 1st year medical students and the use of an externally regulated strategy for enhancing learning helped students adapt to other learning styles. This enhanced the use of better learning practices and, therefore, better learning outcomes. Thus, knowledge of VARK learning style preferences of the student should not be considered as a restriction to use that particular style only. Rather, teachers should make a conscious effort to let the students explore other learning styles as well.”

5 Tips for Faster and Easier Learning

Ready to make your learning faster and easier? Then put into action these five tips:

1. Match Your Own Dominant Learning Style and See Where You Can Apply This in Your Life

For example, if you’re learning how to build cabinets for your home, would you learn best through several how-to videos, or having someone directly show you how it’s done?

And how about when you’re learning someone’s name — maybe you find it easiest to write their name down (such as adding them as a contact in your smartphone) to retain the information?

Once you understand what type of learning style best suits you, then you can assess which areas you should apply it to, and where you could adopt other learning styles in certain situations.

2. Mix up Your Techniques

Just as your muscles can grow and strengthen as you exercise, so can your brain — especially if you break out of your normal learning routines. A recent research study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine backs this up:[6]

“What we found is, if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times in a row.”

3. Improve Your Weaker Areas

Perhaps you’ve discovered that you are NOT an auditory learner. Well, rather than just dismissing auditory learning, instead, look at it as an exciting challenge to improve in this area. One way you could do this is by making a determined and persistent effort to listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

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Learning is simply a matter of honing and improving on areas you’re deficient at, so it’s smart to focus on learning itself to get fast results. And the good news is, as you strengthen your cognitive skills overall, learning will become easier for you.

4. Read Whatever You Are Trying to Learn out Loud for Better Retention

Have you ever tried to do this when reading an article or book? Sure, it slows you down a little. But it genuinely helps to sink the information you’re reading (and speaking) into your mind and memory. And you don’t need to take my word for this, as a University of Waterloo study found that “speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory.”[7]

5. Regularly Test Yourself

One of the best ways to boost your retention of information is to test yourself on it.[8] For example, if you’re watching a video on how to start your own business, don’t just watch it and forget it. Instead, test yourself the day after on the key messages of the video. This will definitely help you to remember and understand the content.

Final Thoughts

I sincerely hope these tips will help you to learn faster and smarter. But of course — as I always like to say — you need to put the tips into action in your life for them to have any real effect.

It’s one thing to read about something, and another to do something about it.

However, as you’ve come to the Lifehack website and made it almost to the end of this article, then I’m sure that you have the necessary motivation to apply and benefit from these tips. And once you do, I guarantee that you’ll start to learn better than ever before, and as a consequence, you’ll develop a new love for learning that will last you a lifetime.

“Learning should be a joy and full of excitement. It is life’s greatest adventure; it is an illustrated excursion into the minds of the noble and the learned.” — Taylor Caldwell

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Kyle Gregory Devaras via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Vanderbilt University: Learning Styles
[2] Education Corner: Discover Your Learning Style
[3] Education Corner: Discover Your Learning Style
[4] Scientific American: The Problem With Learning Styles
[5] International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research: Students awareness of learning styles and their perceptions to a mixed method approach for learning
[6] Johns Hopkins Medicine: Want to Learn a New Skill? Faster? Change Up Your Practice Sessions
[7] ScienceDaily: Reading information aloud to yourself improves memory of materials
[8] Psychology Today: Test Yourself to Learn Better

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you focus on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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1. Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

2. Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

3. Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

4. Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

5. Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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6. Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

7. Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

8. Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.[1]

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Cornell University: The Cornell Note Taking System

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