What's Your Learning Style -- and How Can You Make the Most of It?
Knowing your learning style is important because it deals with how you manage information, how you prefer to study, and how you go about solving problems.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Everyone learns a bit differently. We all have preferences in the way we take in information. Researchers have developed several schemes to categorize the various ways of learning, and learning-style theory does not seem to favor any one scheme. Learning styles can encompass how you manage information so you'll remember it, how you prefer to study, and how you go about solving problems.
Some people don't predominately fit into any one learning style but learn in multiple ways. No one style of learning is better or worse than any other; however, some learning styles mesh better with how teaching is typically conducted in the college classroom.
You may find it extremely useful to identify your learning style so you can make the most of it to succeed in school. Once you grasp your learning style, you'll probably develop a much greater understanding of problems you've had with academic success. Be aware that your preference may be for a mix of styles. One style may dominate with another closely behind -- or perhaps no one style stands out because you like several ways of learning.
You can find a number of free, online assessments and inventories to help you determine your preferred learning style or styles. Here are some of the more popular schemes:
The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) scheme measures categories that include active versus reflective learning, sensing versus intuitive learning, visual versus verbal learning, and sequential (also called analytical) versus global learning. You can assess yourself based on these categories at Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire and learn more about them at Learning Styles and Strategies and Identifying Your Learning Style Strategies to Help You be a Better Student.
Another set of categories is the Multiple Intelligences Inventory, consisting of Linguistic, Mathematics, Visual/Spatial, Body/Kinesthetic, Naturalistic, Music, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. You can assess yourself based on these categories at Multiple Intelligence Inventory and learn more about them at Eight Styles of Learning.
Still another set is the Memletics Learning Styles Inventory, encompassing Visual, Aural, Verbal, Physical, Logical, Social, and Solitary learning styles. You can assess yourself based on these categories at Free learning styles inventory, including graphical results and learn more about them at Overview of Learning Styles.
The concept of "learning style" also deals with your environmental preferences for learning. Knowing these preferences will help you work more effectively. Do you like it quiet when you study, or must you have lots of background noise? Do you prefer bright lights, or soft, dim ones? How sensitive are you to temperature? Does a room that's too hot or too cold cause you to lose focus? Does a formal setting such as a desk and chair work for you, or are you just as effective studying in your bed? Do you like to move around? What motivates you to study? How important is it to finish a task in one sitting once you've started it? Do you need a great deal of structure in the instructions you receive about assignments, or does a lot of structure make you feel suffocated? Do you prefer to study alone or do you need to study with others? At what time of day do you most like to study? Do you like to eat or drink while you study?
The most common set of learning-style categories is Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic/Tactile, based on the Barsch Learning-Style Inventory.
Another well-known set of categories encompasses Global and Sequential/Analytic learning styles from the ILS scheme.
To determine where you fit on the Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic/Tactile scale, try these assessments:
- A Learning Style Survey for College
- What's Your Learning Style?
- The Personal Learning Styles Inventory
- What Is My Learning Style?
For a very quick way to determine your style, see this chart.
The learning styles of global and analytical/sequential learners overlap with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile learners. In other words, you can be a visual learner and also a global learner, for example.
Learn more about global vs. analytical/sequential learners at these sites:
Once you've determined your learning style, go to our mini-article on that style to learn about in-class strategies, and study strategies for that style. Also suggested are the types of courses you might want to select for their suitability to your learning style. Now, obviously, you will not always have the luxury of choosing classes that match your learning style -- nor is it easy to find out whether various classes offer the characteristics that fit your style. But you will clearly stack the deck in your favor if you can identify at least a few classes during your college career that work particularly well with the way you learn. To find out about characteristics, ask around among your friends and talk to professors. If you take a class that meshes well with your learning preference, consider taking more classes with that professor.
Learning Style Mini-Articles
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She is also Creative Director and Associate Publisher at Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.