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Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Effective Learning Theories (and How to Benefit from Them)

Not all humans absorb information in the same way and at the same rate. Different methods work for different people. These varying methods and how they work are exactly what learning theories are. With a great deal of research, educationists have proven how each learning theory is unique and effective.

Once you grasp the concept of how your brain works, you can effectively begin learning in an improved manner. This isn’t just true for academic learning as it works the same for learning skills and general information as well.

In order to understand which learning theory affects your learning style, keep reading!

Effective Learning Theories

Educationists and psychologists have developed various theories based on the varying perceptions of individuals. However, there are four in particular that can be closely related to everyday learning.

Behaviorism

The behaviorist learning theory was introduced by John Watson [1]. His school of thought believes that people learn from interactions. Every event or piece of information leads to a certain reaction.

This behavior helps the brain retain details. Eventually, how the individual behaves is affected by what was learned. It is a continuous cycle.

So:

If you were to read about something, it won’t stick in your mind unless the information you read stimulated a reaction. Similarly, even if you were a part of a real-life scenario, unless the brain gave out reactionary signals, nothing is learned from that situation.

The environment plays a huge role in this learning theory. When a person is born, their brain is completely blank. Gradually, the environmental factors fill up the brain with knowledge. Learning is coherent with the environment, and so, the same knowledge may not be learned in the same way in a different environment.

In simpler words, different environments lead to different learning outcomes and abilities.

All behaviors are justified as a result of what the brain already knows. Whether the interaction is subconscious or not, it is directly connected to what the individual has learned. Hence, all that is learned has a direct effect on behavior.

All in all, the behavior of any person alters according to the knowledge they have. So, if you were learning to control your anger, this theory can be used to help control your outrage by altering your thought processes.

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Cognitivist Theory

The education psychologists Piaget and Tolman originally derived the cognitivist learning theory. Their theory is based on the concept of memory. You can understand this theory by comparing the human brain to a computer. A computer’s memory will retain and utilize as much information as you enter into it. Similarly, the human brain learns based on what is remembered by the brain.

Basically:

The cognitivist theory states that the brain first receives the information, comprehends it, and then reacts to it. Therefore, the learning process is done before the reaction takes place. Just like a computer, the final output is based on memory.

Moreover, even if there is no reaction involved, the person still learns and gains something from the information.

Let’s say you were learning a new language. You will have to memorize certain words and their meaning. Your memory will play the main role in this process.

This theory also puts the individual learner in charge. Without dependence on a learning source, the learner is an active participant who understands and receives knowledge. If you want, then, you can start learning a new language any day without a teacher if you have the source material.

Constructivism

The learning theory of constructivism was created by Vygotsky. It focuses on perceptual learning.

Here’s what this means:

Each individual has a unique perception based on the learning that was done prior to a certain event. Everything that you’ve seen, felt, or heard in your life contributes to your point of view.

This perception is then used to learn from theundon that the brain receives. Basically, Vygotsky believed that every experience contributes to some sort of learning twice: once when the event actually takes place and then on an individual level.

The concept of constructivism is for the learner to build information based on previous knowledge. Altogether, this creates a meaningful context in the mind of the learner. These connections between the old knowledge and the new information lead to a fool-proof method of learning.

As per this school of thought, learning means understanding an experience. If there is no understanding of the event, there is no learning. If you don’t figure out the meaning of the chords, you can never learn to play the guitar.

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This theory uses this phenomenon to improve the learning abilities of individuals. It suggests that the learner should be more engaged in order to make the learning process more successful.

Constructivism encourages collaborative work. This learning theory emphasizes problem-solving, as well. All of this leads to improved thinking skills, which in turn boosts the learning process.

If you are learning to paint, for instance, everything you draw will be your unique reflection. This is why no two artists can ever produce the same work, even if they use the same equipment.

Experiential Learning

As the name suggests, this learning theory elaborates on learning from experiences. This is a concept quite similar to behaviorism. However, David Kolb, the person who developed the experiential learning theory, suggested a different take on it [2].

This theory actually includes part of all the aforementioned theories. It is a mix of behavior, cognition, perception, and experience. This theory explains that the learning process begins with an experience. This could be anything like an occurring event, a drawing, something that the person wrote, etc.

The next step is for the brain to reflect on this. This reflection may or may not result in an external reaction. Eventually, it becomes part of the memory. This is where perception and cognition come in.

Now:

The way that experiential learning is different from behaviorism is very simple. Behaviorism talks about the effect of external behavior on learning and vice versa. Experiential learning, on the other hand, focuses on what goes on in the mind that results in external behavior.

As per this theory, if you’re a computing guy who wants to learn new codes, you can do that in the best way if you use a visual. Write down the coding pattern or, perhaps, see a video to have a picture in your mind that you can learn from.

The Relationship between Learning Styles and Learning Theories

This is what each learning theory states. But, how does this relate to your everyday learning?

Every human has a specific learning style. This learning style is directly coherent with all or some of the aforementioned theories. These theories have actually been derived from the various learning styles.

There are 7 basic learning styles:

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  1. Visual: These learners can understand better with the help of images.
  2. Aural: Such individuals learn from auditory sources.
  3. Verbal: The use of words in speech and writing is the preferred method of learning.
  4. Physical: These people need to use their sense of touch to grasp information.
  5. Logical: Such learners use reasoning and have a systematic learning method.
  6. Social: Learning is most effective in groups for these people.
  7. Solitary: These individuals like to work alone.

Each one of these learning styles is directly related to one of the four learning theories. For example, a logical learner is a live example of the cognitivist learning theories. If you are brilliant at budgeting, there is a high chance that you have good thinking skills that help you to organize information in your mind.

A social learner uses the constructivism theory. Collaborative work and their own personal perception help them learn better. The social butterfly who is the perfect PR representative uses this theory and style.

Physical learners react to the information they learn. This is the implementation of the behaviorist theory. Without moving their hands or using their sense of touch in one way or the other, it is difficult for these people to retain information in their brains. A karate trainee will have to physically perform to learn the skill. It cannot be memorized.

As for experiential learning, it is a prominent style in the visual and aural learning styles. There isn’t always a reaction, but the visual or audio information that is received is enough to get the brain cells running.

Using Learning Methods That Work For You

If you are not using learning methods that go in line with your learning style, you’ll find it hard to digest information. Instead, you will experience unwanted stress, which ends up affecting your productivity and intellect.

You may be wondering:

With so many learning theories and styles, is there a right or wrong one? Well, that’s not how it works. The brain is a very complex organ that works differently for everyone. This is why the absorption of information is also different for everyone.

There are numerous parts of the brain that are performing completely different tasks. The right lobe, for example, is responsible for music and audio. The frontal lobe deals with words. Similarly, the temporal lobe deals with social activities.

Not all of these parts of the brain work at the same pace in every human. For some people, the frontal lobe is far faster than the rest. In other cases, another part is more dominant.

Everyone’s brain is better at different things. If one human can understand music very well, another is more competent in terms of logic. Therefore, this affects the learning process, which is why everyone ends up with a different learning style.

For this reason, educational psychologists have put forth so many different learning styles and theories as the learning ability of individuals tends to vary. This is also why all the theories are different, despite having a few similarities.

As for your exact case, only you can figure out which learning theory applies. Similarly, you have to figure out your learning style on your own, too. You can do so with a quick style evaluation test. Once you are aware of which method your brain prefers, you can use that knowledge to improve your day-to-day learning capability.

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Learning Styles Can Change

Here’s the thing:

You might have been acing tasks throughout your life with the help of visual learning. Or, you may have had an excellent memory. That does not, however, guarantee that your learning style is the same when you’ve entered your professional life.

Learning styles can change, and that comes with the requirement of a necessary change in your methods. If you were once a social learner, teamwork would have boosted your motivation to a whole new level. Instead of singing solo, your performance would be better in a band.

However, if over the years your style changed to solitary, and you didn’t change your methods, you would only slow yourself down. Band performances will no longer be good enough because your brain will be unable to allow you to practice well during group sessions.

Basically, the brain adapts with time.

It may become weaker, but it may also get stronger. The parts of the brain that were once dominant may be taken over by another lobe. That’s how learning styles change. It isn’t a quality that will stay fixed forever.

With the right learning method and a few other tips, you can boost your learning power immensely. The monumental difference in your day to day productivity will be clearly noticeable.

As an adult, you are the only person who can guide yourself to the right learning track. If you want to learn a new skill quickly, you should figure out your learning style and implement it accordingly. Then, look into the corresponding learning theory to resolve what the method of knowledge absorption for your brain is.

By using the concept of the theory to aid your learning style, you can become a fast learner in days.

More Tips on Learning

 

Featured photo credit: NordWood Themes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Behaviorism
[2] Signature Experience: Experiential Learning Theory

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Last Updated on April 26, 2021

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

We all learn through repetition.

No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

Visual Learning

A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

Verbal Learning

Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

Logical Learning

Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

Auditory Learning

Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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Social Learning

Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

Intrapersonal Learning

The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

Physical Learning

Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

Naturalistic Learning

The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

Which one(s) are best for you?

As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

VARK Model

Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

  • Visual – those who learn from sight.
  • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
  • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
  • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

But why use this particular model?

This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

“VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

Ask These Questions

One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

  • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
  • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
  • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
  • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

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Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
[2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
[3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
[4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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