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All learning styles are not created equal

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27th-Aug-2017       
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Joanna Hughes :
Success in school relies on many things. One aspect many new college students may underestimate when first starting out? Their individual learning styles. The truth is that all learning styles are not created equal: We each learn, absorb and master information differently. The more you know about how you learn, the more prepared you'll be to seek out classes, professors, programs, and schools which best suit your unique preferences.
About Learning Styles
According to an article published in the Current Health Sciences Journal, the term learning style "refers to the fact that each person has a different way of accumulating knowledge." This concept was first proposed in the 1970s, with a number of different models emerging to represent the way researchers believe human beings learn.
It's important to note that while learning styles may indeed reflect individual preferences for how information is received, there's no conclusive evidence indicating that identifying a person's preferred learning style impacts outcomes. Still, many schools assess learning styles to help teachers and students alike better understand the process.
Understanding Learning Styles
Proposed by Fleming and Mills in 1992, the VARK model is one of the most commonly accepted classifications of learning styles. It comprises four modalities, including the following:
1.    Visual (V)
Do you feel like you learn better through graphics? If so, you may be a visual learner. This mode includes the depiction of information via "maps, spider diagrams, charts, graphs, flow charts, labeled diagrams, and all the symbolic arrows, circles, hierarchies and other devices, that people use to represent what could have been presented in words."
Visual learning methods typically include patterns, shapes, designs and whitespace, but do not include pictures, photographs, videos, movies or even PowerPoint presentations. While words in boxes may be preferable for different types of learners, visual learners prefer that information be conveyed via diagrams, meaningful symbols, and other graphic formats.
For visual learners, seeking out courses which incorporate lots of visuals is a great start. Drawing visuals of problems; using graphing calculators; and developing your own visual aids, such as cognitive maps and charts, can further enrich your learning experience.
2.    Aural/Auditory (A)
Do you feel like you take in information better when you hear it spoken aloud or say it out loud to yourself? If so, you may be an aural/auditory learner. According to VARK-Learn's definition, individuals in this category learn best from "lectures, group discussion, radio, email, using mobile phones, speaking, web-chat and talking things through."
Also included in this learning mode? Email-because it is often conveyed and received "chat-style." Aural/auditory learners also prefer sorting out their thoughts and questions aloud-often repeating what they've heard aloud in their own words.
If you fall into the aural/auditory learning mode category, recommended study strategies include attending lectures; reading textbook information aloud; recording text materials as well as lectures; and choosing classes with opportunities for oral discussion.
 3.    Read/Write ®
Are you all about words? Do you remember what you read better than what you hear? If so, you likely have a preference for the read/write learning modality. One of the most popular modes of learning for teachers and students, this category comprises "text-based input and output," such as reading and writing assignments, essays, reports and manuals. Commonly relied on resources for read/write learners include dictionaries, quotations, the internet, PowerPoint, and lists.
Study strategies for students who prefer this learning style include reading textbooks; taking good notes; and choosing courses which focus on writing assignments.
4.    Kinesthetic (K)
Do you learn best by doing? If so, your preference may be the increasingly prevalent kinesthetic model, which prioritizes the use of experience and practice over concepts and theory. According to VARK-Learn, "people who prefer this mode are connected to reality, either through concrete personal experiences, examples, practice or simulation."  This active, tactile approach includes everything from demonstrations and simulations to videos and movies. Case studies, applications and practice (either real or simulated) are also preferred kinesthetic learning methods.
Kinesthetic learning can be particularly valuable to STEM students, according to edutopia, because it helps them breach mental barriers, accept different approaches to information, and ultimately assume a more "receptive state required for learning."
Manipulative study strategies work well for kinesthetic learners, including writing, making visuals and models, using your fingers, and preparing index cards. Furthermore, incorporating movement while studying-from chewing gum to tapping your pencil-can help support focus and attention.
One last thing to keep in mind? Learning styles aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, research indicates that many students amalgamate a mix of learning styles. Even better? There's no proof that a single learning style or combination of learning styles is more effective or less effective than another. Rather, it's all about what works best for you.
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).

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