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1.3: Understanding Yourself as a Learner

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    Understanding Yourself as a Learner

    To succeed in college—or any situation where you must master new concepts and skills—it helps to know what makes you tick. For decades, educational researchers and organizational psychologists have examined how people take in and assimilate new information, how some people learn differently than others, and what conditions make students and workers most productive. Here are some questions that will help you understand yourself as a learner:

    • What is your learning style? For the purposes of this chapter, learning style refers to the way you prefer to take in new information: by seeing, by listening, or through some other channel. (For more information, see the section on learning styles).
    • What times of day are you most productive? If your energy peaks early, you might benefit from blocking out early morning time for studying or writing. If you are a night owl, set aside a few evenings a week for schoolwork.
    • How much clutter can you handle in your work space? Some people work fine at a messy desk and know exactly where to find what they need in their stack of papers; however, most people benefit from maintaining a neat, organized space.
    • How well do you juggle potential distractions in your environment? If you can study at home without being tempted to turn on the television, check your social media, fix yourself a snack, and so on, you could make home your work space. However, if you need a less distracting environment to stay focused, you may be able to find a nook on your college campus or in your community.
    • Does a little background noise help or hinder your productivity? Some people work better when listening to background music or the low hum of conversation in a coffee shop. Others need total silence.
    • When you work with a partner or group, do you stay on task? A study partner or group can sometimes be invaluable. However, working this way takes extra planning and effort, so be sure to use the time productively. If you find that group study sessions turn into social occasions, you may study better on your own.
    • How do you manage stress? Accept that at certain points in the semester, you will feel stressed out. In your day-to-day routine, make time for activities that help you reduce stress, such as exercising, playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, hanging out with friends, or just scheduling downtime to relax.

    Learning Styles

    Most people have one channel that works best for them when it comes to taking in new information. Knowing yours can help you develop strategies for studying, time management, and note-taking that work especially well for you.

    To begin identifying your learning style, think about how you would go about the process of assembling a piece of furniture. Which of these options sounds most like you?

    1. You would carefully look over the diagrams in the assembly manual first so you could picture each step in the process.
    2. You would silently read the directions through, step by step, and then look at the diagrams afterward.
    3. You would read the directions aloud and/or have someone explain the steps to you.
    4. You would start putting the pieces together and figure out the process through trial and error, consulting the directions as you worked.

    Now read the following explanations. Again, think about whether each description sounds like you.

    • If you chose (a), you may be a visual learner. You understand ideas best when they are presented in a visual format, such as a flowchart, a diagram, or text with clear headings and many photos or illustrations.
    • If you chose (b), you may be a verbal learner. You understand ideas best through reading and writing about them and taking detailed notes.
    • If you chose (c), you may be an auditory learner. You understand ideas best through listening. You learn well from spoken lectures or books on tape.
    • If you chose (d), you may be a kinesthetic learner. You learn best through doing, and prefer hands-on activities. In long lectures, fidgeting may help you focus.


    If you want to get more in-depth into figuring out your dominant learning style, try this questionnaire.

    Your learning style does not completely define you as a student. Auditory learners can comprehend a flow chart, and kinesthetic learners can sit still long enough to read a book. However, if you do have one dominant learning style, you can work with it to get the most out of your classes and study time. Table 1.3 “Learning Style Strategies” lists some tips for maximizing your learning style.

    Table 1.3 - Learning Style Strategies

    Learning Style Strategies
    • When possible, represent concepts visually—in charts, diagrams, or sketches.
    • Use a visual format for taking notes on reading assignments or lectures.
    • Use different-colored highlighters or pens to color-code information as you read.
    • Use visual organizers, such as maps, flowcharts, etc., to help you plan writing assignments.
    • Use colored pens, highlighters, or the review feature of your word-processing program to revise and edit writing.
    • Use the instructional features in course texts—summaries, chapter review questions, glossaries, and so on—to aid your studying.
    • Take notes on your reading assignments.
    • Rewrite or condense reading notes and lecture notes to study.
    • Summarize important ideas in your own words.
    • Use informal writing techniques, such as brainstorming, free writing, blogging, or posting on a class discussion forum to generate ideas for writing assignments.
    • Re-read and take notes on your writing to help you revise and edit.
    • Ask your instructor’s permission to tape-record lectures to supplement your notes.
    • Read parts of your textbook or notes aloud when you study.
    • If possible, obtain an audio book version of important course texts. Make use of supplemental audio materials, such as CDs or DVDs.
    • Talk through your ideas with other students when studying or when preparing for a writing assignment.
    • Read your writing aloud to help you draft, revise, and edit.
    • When you read or study, use techniques that will keep your hands in motion, such as highlighting or taking notes.
    • Use tactile study aids, such as flash cards or study guides you design yourself.
    • Use self-stick notes to record ideas for writing. These notes can be physically reorganized easily to help you determine how to shape your paper.
    • Walk around while reading; walk and talk into a tape recorder when drafting.
    • Use a physical activity, such as running or swimming, to help you break through writing blocks.
    • Take breaks during studying to stand, stretch, or move around.

    Defining Multimodal Learning

    In the college setting, you’ll probably discover that instructors teach their course materials according to the method they think will be most effective for students overall. Thus, regardless of your individual learning preference, you will probably be asked to engage in all types of learning. For instance, even though you consider yourself to be a “visual learner,” you will still probably have to write papers in some of your classes. Research suggests that it’s good for the brain to learn in new ways and that learning in different modalities can help learners become more well-rounded. Consider the following statistics on how much content students absorb through different learning methods:

    • 10 percent of content they read
    • 20 percent of content they hear
    • 30 percent of content they visualize
    • 50 percent of what they both visualize and hear
    • 70 percent of what they say
    • 90 percent of what they say and do

    The range of these results underscores the importance of mixing up the ways in which you study and engage with learning materials.

    You might also discover that you prefer more than one learning style. Applying more than one learning style is known as multimodal learning. This strategy is useful not only for students who prefer to combine learning styles, but also for those who may not know which learning style works best for them. It’s also a good way to mix things up and keep learning fun.

    For example, consider how you might combine visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles for a biology class. For visual learning, you could create flash cards containing images of individual animals and the species name. For auditory learning, you could have a friend quiz you on the flash cards. For kinesthetic learning, you could move the flash cards around on a board to show a food web (food chain).


    The material presented here about learning styles is just the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous other variations in how people learn. Some people like to act on information right away while others reflect on it first. Some people excel at mastering details and understanding concrete, tried and true ideas while others enjoy exploring abstract theories and innovative, even impractical ideas. For more information about how you learn, visit your school’s academic resource center.

    The following video will help you review the types of learning styles and see how they might relate to your study habits:

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Contributors and Attributions

    This page last updated June 3, 2020.

    This page titled 1.3: Understanding Yourself as a Learner is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .