Ever notice how some of your mates can read something in a book or look at a diagram and it makes perfect sense to them but just looks like gobble-de-gook to you? Or maybe you find that you can learn fine by reading something for yourself but listening to a lecture simply bores you to tears and afterwards you can't remember anything?
We all have different learning styles and by knowing your learning preferences you can make the most of opportunities. There are a number of different ways of thinking about learning styles and a lot of research is still being done - here are a few theories about alternative ways of learning. The web sites at the right will have more information about each and some have online tests that you can use to find your learning style.
Part of what makes up your unique learning style can be explained by hemispheric dominance - whether you are a left-brain or a right-brain type. The left-brain is best for language and logic whereas the right-brain is where we process visual and tends to be more holistic, intuitive and random. Here's a few things to bear in mind:
Another element in understanding learning styles is which sense(s) you learn best with - seeing, hearing or touching / moving.
There are two main types of visual learners. Those that learn by reading text e.g. visual-lingual learners, and those that learn from diagrams and pictures. If you're of the first type its particularly useful to write out the main points and use tools such as flash-cards and post-it notes. If you're of the second type you will find it easier to learn things if you can find image or diagrammatic ways of thinking of them or associations. It may help to draw up flow-charts to learn logical things or even to draw pictures.
Those who learn best by hearing will find all kinds of auditory tools useful. If you can, record your lectures or afterwards record your own notes. Make your own 'talking books' of notes for an exam which you can do with your computer and/or MP3 player. Putting things in your own words may really help 'fix' them in your mind.
Those who learn best in a physical context will prefer learning by lab-work or in the field. Of course this isn't always possible. Try learning from your notes while walking around or doing something repetitive with your hands. Find a physical expression of a concept to help remember it.
This learning style model was formulated by Richard M. Felder and Linda K. Silverman and assesses learning preferences on four dimensions: active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global.
Its important to remember that these are generalised concepts and that everyone learns and remembers things in combinations of these ways. If something is not working for you try it another way. Instead of simply reading your notes try reading them out loud, instead of just reading the text-book write the main points as notes in your own words. If you are working in a group, for example on a special project, you may have to make allowances for others' learning styles.
Check out our page about preparing for exams for some more web sites that might help with study techniques.