Best Way to Learn


Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:57 pm

For some time, research studies have concluded that we do not learn/study in precisely the same way.  For this brief commentary, I have deliberately grouped both terms as similar.  While this common sense approach towards scholarship represents a welcomed message for parents and students, many teachers still teach a large number of pupils one way, more often than not, by using traditional teaching styles that might appear to be successful for the teacher but unsuccessful for a large majority of the youngsters seated in front of them.  This is incorrect teaching — proof that common sense continues to be not all that common within many of today’s classrooms.

My following commentary attempts to address this key issue, while at the same time, offering suggestions for possible classroom improvement.  If teachers require their students to receive domain-specific information in a way that does not correspond with their dominant learning modalities, to perform under classroom conditions that interfere with their preferred learning, or to demonstrate learning in such a way that fails them to use their more dominant intelligences, then such teachers create within their students forms of artificial stress, reduced motivation, and repressed performance.  Along this same line of thinking, there is a considerable body of research evidence suggesting that many special education students who have been formally categorized, for example, as learning disabled (LD) are, in fact, not LD students per se but assessed and taught incorrectly in terms of their dominant learning style.  Perhaps a more positive way of describing their LD is that they simply Learn Differently!

And now, after painting a negative but realistic image of numerous contemporary classrooms … the good news, and the good news is indeed promising!  An efficient classroom teacher will tend to teach in many different ways in order to reach all of her/his students.  Teaching something only one way (such as lecturing to one’s auditory learning channel) will miss all the students who do not learn best in that manner.  Simply put for this web comment, good teaching is teaching through a variety of learning channels.  Most students can learn the same content.  But how they best receive and then perceive that content is determined largely by their individual learning styles.  Simply defined, a student’s studying style is the way a student processes, concentrates, internalizes and retain novel and often difficult bits of domain specific content knowledge, usually for testing and examination purposes.  And as is the case with how one best learns information, many of the same elements, emotional, environmental, biological, sociological, and physiological must also be taken into account when studying.

Learning Elements

Emotional factors which may influence learning are: motivation, responsibility, and persistence. Through identification and modification, bad study / learning habits can be replaced by more productive habits. Knowing your current levels of these emotional factors, and working to positively reshape them can not only enhance your studying potential but change your outlook toward challenging courses.

Environmental factors such as sound, temperature, lighting, and physical arrangement can have a significant impact on your ability to learn / study.  Although some of us enjoy loud background music, many prefer a quiet place to learn, clear of distractions. Some students crank up the heating system whereas others seem to prefer a cooler studying environment. Some children prefer a low lighting system around them, while others have all the lights in the house on.  Others enjoy the traditional chair and desk study approach while still others seem to be able to study all curled up in the middle of a bed. In short, paying close attention to these environmental factors and establishing an environment conducive to studying can increase overall learning.

In the 1960s, Roger Sperry’s Nobel prize winning work suggested that the right and left hand sides of the human brain possessed specialized and different functions: the left being clinical and analytical while the right influenced the more artistic and sensing side of our nature.  That is, our left cerebral hemisphere handled, in the main, logical/linear functions and verbal/linguistic skills, and the right half of our brain developed a reputation as the artistic, imaginative, emotional, musical, and holistic side. Today, while that form of cerebral thinking is considered somewhat simplistic, it may have opened up additional avenues to greater exploration into the true nature of cognitive functioning and how all of us acquire, store and employ domain specific knowledge.

That split-brain hypothesis so prevalent at that time represented a challenge to the concept of intellectual quotient (IQ) which, in the main, purported to assess verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical skills, skills that were once considered to be handled by the left half of the brain.  Today, more advanced research suggests that IQ scores actually measure only some of our overall abilities. This fact is evidenced by the realization that good athletes, artists or musicians were once simply (supposedly) talented while those considered good in science and math were considered smart or intelligent.  In today’s 2009 world, all of them ought to be considered ‘intelligent.’

Most students are not aware of the sociological factors that positively affect their ability to study effectively. Some prefer studying alone, in pairs, or in teams with adults or any combination thereof.  Similarly, some seem to learn best in bright lights while others prefer darker corners.  And some seem to learn best while eating or drinking or with loud music on in the background.  While it is difficult for a variety of these sociological patters to operate simultaneously within one classroom, their value for efficient learning, especially studying, is of note here.  To sum, students benefit from utilizing a variety of different sociological settings, as some serve to enhance initial learning while others act as reinforcement for studying.

Physical factors which influence your studying / learning style are those that involve your senses: auditory (ears), visual (eyes), tactile (touch), kinaesthetic (motion), gustatory (taste), and olfactory (smell), the initial three being more predominant.  Visual students study best by watching a process, or reading materials.  Research suggests that most learning occurs here.  Next comes the auditory learning channel. Here, we study best by listening in class, discussing information in groups, and reciting study notes. Tactile students study best by hands-on activities, manipulating objects or flash cards, working problems or re-typing notes.  Kinaesthetic students study best by demonstrating movement in their work, exercising while reading, or walking while reciting their notes. Olfactory students involve their nose to distinguish specific elements. And finally, gustatory students study best by tasting the item under investigation.  These latter two factors account for only a minor part of overall learning.

How more auditory learners study 
Auditory students tend to learn mainly by hearing classroom information.  They seem to learn best through their ears, especially via verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to the words of others. They interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. When they have pages to read for homework, they need to quietly say the words aloud in order to hear the words as they read.  Often, written information has little meaning until it is heard. When they are learning concepts such as phonetic sounds, they need to hear the similarities.  For example, they may not realize “ph” sounds just like “f” unless they say the sounds out loud. Reading aloud, going over class notes and talking to oneself about the relevant points is important.  Before reading, set a purpose and verbalize it, after finished a task, be sure to summarize out loud what was just read.
These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.  Taping lectures or notes and playing them back to learn the information can be quite an effective way for an auditory student to understand and remember the information. The speaking of ideas into a tape recorder is like having a conversation with someone. If possible, such learners should talk to their friends about the material.  Because auditory learners sometimes encounter problems keeping columns aligned, math computations can be completed on graph paper. The extreme left-hand column in Table 1 below lists alternative strategies for the auditory learner.

How more visual learners study 
Visual students learn mainly by ‘seeing’ the material to be learned, that is, when the material is presented graphically, as in charts, tables, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flip charts, hand-outs, maps, etc. Such students often prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid irrelevant visual obstructions. When in class, visual people should look at the teachers when they are speaking, participate in class discussions and take detailed notes during lectures. Visual learners enjoy watching the teacher’s body language and facial expression. This enables them to better comprehend the content of the classroom subject under discussion. When studying, such students tend to study alone in a quiet place and try to transcribe their material on paper.  When possible, make designs, drawings, graphs or tables of complex abstract ideas and work alone.

Students who learn visually often have trouble working while having a dialogue, even if the dialogue directly pertains to the subject matter.  Any homework they can complete using diagrams, time lines, charts, or graphs will be better remembered.  As they read pages for homework, they need to either take written notes or underline important facts and dates in colors.  When they are learning such auditory concepts as phonetic sounds, they must see the letters to learn.

How more kinaesthetic-tactual learners study
Of all the types of classroom students, perhaps the kinaesthetic / tactual learners are the most maligned group; they learn best through a hands-on approach.  In other words, these are your touchers and feelers; they like to be physically involved as they find it extremely difficult to sit still.  They often get out of their desks, pace around the classroom, want to have music or television playing in the background.  In short, they are almost constantly finding themselves distracted.

They need to learn keyboarding skills, because these types of learners work well on computers where they can touch the keys as they type.  They learn well when they can do things, such as in a lab.  They need to actually use their hands and bodies while learning.  Kinaesthetic / tactual learners may need to walk around or pace or hop or whatever while reading.  When studying for tests, they need to make flash cards to remember important dates and facts.  Unfortunately, they often have a hard time in school because they have to sit still and listen to a teacher.  They need to learn to take notes in class in order to have something for their hands to do.  The two right-hand columns in Box 1 below contain additional alternative strategies for such learners.


Before asking you to identify your more dominant studying style, one comment.  All of us use the three above studying modalities but often to different degrees.  For instance, I seem to study best visually with a pen or highlighter in my hand, with a secondary studying style of kinaesthetic-tactual.  If asked to listen to auditory directions, I may understand the first item or two, but then I am lost, in more ways than one.  I have to either write down the directions as I hear them, or visualize the oral directions, often requiring the aid of a map.  When listening to lectures, I seem to learn best by taking numerous notes and sketching diagrams depicting the content under investigation.

My Studying Styles Inventory

Name: ____________________________________             Date: ______________________


Print out and read over the following three (3) lists of statements.  Using a highlighter or pen, circle or/and note the numeral to the left of every statement that you feel that best applies to you, at this point in time of your busy life.  As we all differ so markedly in how we acquire and retain knowledge and especially, for this note, how we best study, there are no right or wrong statements, only non applicable comments.  You may have as much time as you need to complete the three sections, so read over each studying characteristic carefully and, if it applies to you, note it in your own way before you complete the two remaining sections.

Auditory studying style

1. If I hear someone’s name, I remember it easily.
2. Rather than reading a book, I prefer to listen to a tape or someone read the book to me.
3. I can pay attention and remember easier when others read out loud to me.
4. I find that songs and jingles help me to remember things.
5. I use oral explanations and ask students to repeat or paraphrase.
6. I use audio recordings whenever possible.
7. I give oral instructions most of the time.
8. I explore and develop information through class discussions.
9. I remember songs after hearing them only a couple of times.
10. I often read and study by repeating information aloud to myself.
11. When taking a class test or term exam, I am easily distracted by background noise.
12. I like to study for tests by having someone quiz me aloud.
13. I like to talk and listen.
14. I work out my math story problems by talking through them aloud.
15. I participate in class discussions/debates.
16. I make speeches and presentations.
17. I use a tape recorder during lectures instead of taking notes.
18. I read text out aloud.
19. I create musical jingles to aid memorization
20. I create mnemonics to aid memorization
21. I discuss my ideas verbally.
22. I dictate to someone while they write down my thoughts.
23. I use verbal analogies, and story telling to demonstrate my point

Visual studying style

1. I prefer to have a clear view of my subject teachers when they are speaking.  In this way, I can see their body language and facial expression.
2. I use color to highlight important points in a textbook or in a handout.
3. I take notes and I ask my teachers to provide handouts.
4. I illustrate my ideas as a picture or brainstorming bubble before writing them down.
5. I write a story and illustrate it.
6. I use multi-media (e.g., computers, videos, and filmstrips).
7. I study in a quiet place away from verbal disturbances.
8. I prefer to read illustrated books.
9. I visualize information as a picture to aid memorization.
10. To see if I have spelled a word correctly, I write it out to see if it looks right.
11. I can remember names if I see them written on name tags.
12. I enjoy reading books, looking at the pictures and using visual materials such as pictures, charts, maps, graphs, etc.
13. Before doing a project, I prefer to read the instructions or look at the illustrations.
14. I take down class notes to help me to remember what the teacher says.
15. I usually write down my assignments to help me to remember its contents.
16. I like to use flash cards to practice vocabulary words.
17. My desk and locker is neatly organized.
18. I am able to sit and watch TV or work on the computer / internet for a long time.
19. I understand things better when I read them than when I listen to them.
20. I prefer being given a list of duties to complete rather than being told.
21. I seem to be able to picture things in my mind easily.
22.  I learn best via visual aids (e.g., chalkboard notes, visual illustrations, charts, graphs, concept maps, outlines, graphic organizers).
23.  I seem to understand knowledge best via video recordings.

Kinaesthetic-tactual studying style

1. I take frequent study breaks.
2. I move around to learn new things (e.g., read while on an exercise bike, mould a piece of clay to learn a new concept).
3. I enjoy working in a standing position.
4. I chew gum while studying.
5. I use bright colors to highlight reading material.
6. I dress up my work space with posters.
7. I listen to music while I study.
8. I skim through reading material to get a rough idea what it is about before settling down to read it in detail.
9. I emphasize and clarify ideas through gesture, facial expression and dramatization.
10. I enjoy active learning and direct experience and experimentation.
11. I prefer completing tasks which imply physical movement.
12. I prefer doing class assignments that involve project work.
13. It is hard for me to pay attention when I must sit still for the entire class period.
14. I enjoy sports and being active.
15. I count on my fingers or with other objects to do math problems.
16. My favourite classes are those where I can move around a lot.
17. I choose to play outside rather than sit inside and read a book or listen to tapes.
18. I have a hard time staying neat and organized.
19. I am good at skills that require precise movements, for example, walking on a balance beam, serving a volleyball, or playing ping-pong.
20. I prefer to learn a new activity by being shown how to do it rather than by reading about it or listening to a tape about it.
21. I would like to act out stories rather than talk about them.
22. I have a good sense of balance and rhythm.

Summary Instructions

Your three (3) above totals may suggest your possible dominant studying style.  That is, if your highest total is visual, you likely study best by SEEING, that is, you tend to remember best by using your eyes for studying.  If your highest total is auditory, you likely study best by HEARING. In other words, you remember best by using your ears to study.  And, if your highest total is kinaesthetic-tactual, you probably study best by DOING things, that is, you remember best by movement or physical activities that involve many parts of your body, in particular, your hands and feet.  Box 1 (immediately below), outlines some of the many alternative ways of studying that I have found to be successful.

Some Auditory
Some Visual
Some Kinaesthetic
Some Tactual
 tape / CD / DVD recordings  advertisements  newspapers  learning circles
 speeches  journals / diaries  mock TV shows  crossword puzzles
 debates  plays  radio broadcasts  pictures / posters
 panel discussions  scripts  videos / DVD’s  murals
 commentaries  poems  demonstrations maps / visualizations
 discussions  songs  dramatizations  costume making
 interviews  stories  role playing  charts / schematas
 lectures  letters / reviews  pantomimes  graphs / models
.  editorials   reader theatres  dioramas / games
 news stories  field trips  cartoons / puppetry
 reports .  box movies / masks
internet files  coding puzzles
.  photographs / slides
.  mobiles paper items
.  word puzzles

Box 1: Some Alternative Ways for Students to Study

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