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Published on October 21, 2020

4 Reasons Why You May Be a Slow Learner

4 Reasons Why You May Be a Slow Learner

With the current world conditions forcing us to stay longer indoors and alter our routines, you’ve likely tried to pick up a new skill or learn a new subject. If you are not an active learner, you may feel like it’s taking you too long to pick up that new skill or memorize the new knowledge. You might even think that you are a slow learner.

But slow learning often has more to do with our ability to focus, our mindset, and our attitude towards learning than our innate ability to learn.

Let’s take a look at four reasons why you may be learning slowly and what to do about it.

1. Lack of Focus Makes Learning Slow

Focus is key for learning. If you are not paying full attention to what you are trying to learn, it’ll make learning more difficult and slower. So, while you may believe you are a slow learner, you are most likely just a distracted learner.

Once you improve your focus, you’ll be surprised by how much faster you can internalize new knowledge and skills. How can you improve your focus? Here are a few things to help you.

It’s Easier to Focus in a Quiet, Distraction-Free Environment

Have you tried reading an article in a noisy place? Or have you tried reading a book while texting back and forth every few mins? It’s almost impossible to concentrate.

So, the first and simplest strategy to improve your focus is to get rid of as many distractions as possible. Choose a quiet environment to do your learning and make sure you won’t be interrupted.

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It’s Easier to Remain Focused Than to Refocus

Multitasking, as we’ve come to think of it, doesn’t exist. Our brain can’t do two cognitively demanding activities at the same time. What we think is multitasking is most often task switching. We go back and forth between one activity and another.

Some people are better at task switching than others, but overall, task switching is inefficient and makes us lose focus. It takes our mind several minutes to refocus once distracted, especially to refocus on things that demand a lot of mental energy, like learning. Therefore, we are better off avoiding any form of task switching (or even mental wandering) in the first place.

A good way to do this is to block time to learn and make sure to zone out of everything else. Once we schedule a time for something, our mind is free to turn off all the “mental” notifications (“gotta send that email,” “gotta prepare for that meeting tomorrow,” etc.) and let us focus on the task at hand.

It’s Easier to Focus When Our Body and Mind Are Rested and Healthy

Poor nutrition, dehydration, sleep deprivation, and unhealthy habits affect our ability to focus. We tend to attribute our learning capabilities in a given day to our reasoning powers or our memory. But our physiology also plays a major role in learning and internalizing new knowledge and skills.

If you want your brain to focus and be in top condition to learn, you need to keep your body in top condition as well. With a good night’s sleep, improved diet, less alcohol, and better hydration, your brain will reward you with more focus and more effective learning.

2. Mindset and Beliefs Have a Strong Influence on Learning

In the book Mindset: The new psychology of success, world-renowned psychologist Carol Dweck explains the influence our attitude can have on our growth.[1]

People with a fixed mindset—the belief that we are born with attributes that cannot be changed—tend to think in terms of “you either have it or you don’t,” which in turn can create a mental block that hinders their progress.

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But people with a growth mindset—the belief that we can develop and improve our abilities through passion and perseverance (what Psychologist Angela Duckworth calls “grit”[2])—are motivated to stretch their capabilities and work harder to improve.

As Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”

And this is true when it comes to learning. If you believe learning myths like “you either have it or you don’t” or “old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” you will create a negative placebo effect (AKA nocebo effect) that can make your learning slower or worse, make you want to quit.

3. Unrealistic Expectations Make Us Believe We Are Slow Learners

Whenever we want to pick up a new skill or learn a new subject, we assume that the learning process will go smoothly. But the reality is that learning is sometimes frustrating, stressful, and slow.

We forget this reality because, as adults, we don’t often get into new fields we know nothing about. You are likely already good at your job and the different things you’ve been doing for a while. So, you probably forgot what it feels to go through the learning process from scratch—and how much time and energy it really takes.

The bigger problem comes when we do not meet our unrealistic expectations of how fast we should be learning, we blame ourselves. We think we are slow learners, that we don’t have any talent, or that we are not as smart.

Our expectations about the learning process and our learning speed are, to a large extent, what makes us feel like slow learners—even if we aren’t.

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So, just as we should be aware of our mindset, we must also keep our expectations in check and make sure we talk to people in the field (teachers, advanced students, etc.) to have a more realistic perspective of the time and energy commitment required to learn what we are going into.

It’s also important to note that learning is a long term process. Some people go faster through the beginning stages but then slow down later on.

For others, it is the opposite: they learn slowly at the beginning stages but faster at intermediate and advanced ones. The point is that a fast or slow start is not a good predictor of your capabilities as a learner.

4. Previous Learning Affects Learning Speed

Who do you think will learn snowboarding faster, someone who is already a good surfer and skater or someone who has never tried board sports?

Previous learning affects how quickly we learn something new. The person who’s already a good surfer and skater has a foundation of board sports to transfer into snowboarding, which will make him learn the new skill faster.

In an oversimplified way, our mind works as a scaffold—everything we have already built serves as a base to build on top. Here’s where comparing ourselves to others can be misleading. We don’t know their background or what they’ve learned in the past.

We may think we are slow learners when we compare ourselves to classmates and colleagues, but they may already have knowledge and skills that allow them to pick up the new learning much quicker.[3] The strategy here to become a faster learner is to never stop learning. The more we learn, the faster we can learn new things.

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Closing Thoughts

For the most part, people are not inherently fast or slow learners. It’s not a matter of their capacity to learn but how efficiently and effectively they use that capacity.

Think of it this way: Imagine you want to move a wheel from point A to point B. But let’s also imagine that instead of rolling the wheel, you lay it on its side and push it. You’ll make the wheel move and take it where you want it to go, but that is not the best way to do it. It will take you more time and effort to get it from point A to point B.

How fast and easily you make the wheel move has everything to do with how you are using it and little to do with the wheel itself.

The same goes for your brain. You may think you are a slow learner, but most likely, you just need to learn how to use your brain more effectively. By improving your focus, mindset, and understanding of the learning process, you’ll realize you are a much faster learner than you thought.

More Tips on Learning Better

Featured photo credit: Kyle Gregory Devaras via unsplash.com

Reference

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Nick Velasquez

Bestselling author of "Learn, Improve, Master."

6 Science-Backed Tips To Learn How To Learn 4 Reasons Why You May Be a Slow Learner

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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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