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Beautiful woman in Paris, reading a book

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

Ever wonder why some things come to you more easily than others? This may have something to do with how the material is presented to you.

The way you absorb information is important to your ability to understand it. You have a specific learning style. We all do. The way the person sitting next to you on the subway learns is probably different from the way you learn.

For example, maybe they’re reading a book right now. If you try to read that same book, you may not soak up the information the same way. That book might be difficult to get through. However, let’s say you download the audiobook version. All of a sudden, you might be retaining that information more easily. This is a simple example of how learning styles can be different for different people.

Unfortunately, not fully understanding your learning style can come back to bite you.

For example, let’s say that you assume that you are retaining the information from a class lecture or office meeting just like everyone else in the room. However, the speaker calls on you toward the end of the presentation and asks you about the material. You draw a blank. If everyone else in the room was a visual or auditory learner, it may have been easier for them to retain the presentation information. However, with no actionable learning exercise in the discussion, kinesthetic learners could have a harder time recalling the information.

While this wouldn’t be your fault, you might come across as being disrespectful or less intelligent than the other people in the room because you didn’t know that you are a kinesthetic learner, and couldn’t ask for the presenter to include a hands-on example during the discussion.

Once you find your learning style, you can use it to your advantage and hack many different facets of your day-to-day life. Knowing how you best retain information can not only help you learn more efficiently, but could also help you make important life decisions like choosing a career or a college major.

But first, let’s learn more about what the different kinds of learning styles are.

Visual Learning Style

The young man with magnifying glass

When someone tells you how to do something, you quickly forget it. Even if they have you perform the task, you don’t fully grasp it for a while. However, you can learn how to do something if the step-by-step instructions are written out for you, or if you have a diagram or chart to go off of.

This likely means you’re a visual learner. Visual learners learn by seeing, and they prefer to have everything written down for them. Visual learners like to take notes and create diagrams to understand certain material. They usually also use colors to organize and break down information.

If you’re a visual learner, you likely have a lot of notes on topics you’re interested in and learn by reading. You prefer to have a transcript of a meeting sent to you instead of listening to what’s being said. You find comfort in having the written next steps in front of you.

Auditory Learning Style

You don’t like taking notes or learning from textbooks. You are comfortable understanding a task when someone tells you what to do. You’d rather talk to someone and have them explain information instead of reading about it.

This means you’re probably an auditory learner. You enjoy working with others because you get to hear what they have to say. Sharing ideas and having an open discussion is the best way for you to learn new information. If you must get information from a book, you prefer to read it out loud or download the audio version.

You enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts. YouTube videos are helpful to you because you can hear information being explained and feel like you’re directly being told how to carry out a process.

Kinesthetic Learning Style

Explaining teacher with a student in a woodwork class

You learn by doing hands-on work with a task. If someone told you how to format a company document, you’d be likely to forget parts of the explanation. If someone wrote down the instructions and added diagrams, you’d have a difficult time paying attention to the lengthy document. However, if someone walks you through the process and has you perform the formatting yourself, you’d be able to easily recall these steps at a later time.

This means you’re a kinesthetic learner. Being a kinesthetic learner means you prefer to use your body to learn. You have to actually carry out the action to learn how to do it. This happens because you learn from experience. Instead of hearing about something, you need to have the hands-on experience of doing it to be able to recall that skill later.

Find Your Learning Style

You should determine which learning style is yours if you want to find more life-hacks in your day-to-day. However, it might be difficult to pin down exactly which learning style you identify with. If this is the case, there are a few things you can do to determine your learning style.

  1. Take a Test

Simple questionnaires can be very helpful when it comes to finding out how you learn. They generally ask you about how you consume content, live your life, interact with others, and participate in certain tasks. The quizzes categorize information about you so they can accurately tell you how your brain works.

  1. Observe Yourself

The next time you learn something, think about how you did it. Did you write out the instructions? Does someone tell you how to perform a task? Did a chart or graph suddenly make it all clear to you?

Don’t just observe how you learn, but also observe the effectiveness of the way you’re learning. Do you find the information leaves your memory right away? The way you’re currently learning information might not suit your learning style. You may find out you have to change your learning style altogether, which is where testing out other learning styles can help.

  1. Try Each One

Try to figure out your learning style by trying each one. Take three different topics that are equally interesting to you. For one topic, try listening to an audiobook or go to a lecture and listen to what the professor is saying. For another topic, read a book about it or look at some tables and charts on the information. For the final topic, partake in it and learn by actually performing the thing you’re learning about.

Once you’ve done all three, test your knowledge on each topic. Which one did you remember the most about? Which learning style was most enjoyable for you?

Understanding your learning style will give you the ability to absorb knowledge more efficiently. Then, it’s all about using this understanding to hack your life.

Below are some suggestions for using each learning style to your advantage.

How to Learn: Visual Learners

Read as much as you can. Ditch the audiobooks and podcasts, or at least only use them for supplementary learning materials. Your strength is visual explanation. Your dominant learning style comes from seeing information in a book, viewing a diagram, or watching someone demonstrate a complicated process.

Organize your information in your notes by using colors and charts. Make everything you want to learn visually appealing. Use dry erase and bulletin boards to place your information in an order that makes sense. Play around with structure on the page so you can really see the information in ways you couldn’t before.

Understand driving directions better by looking at unfamiliar routes on a map before you get behind the wheel. Visual learners tend to prefer to see the physical path they’re taking to a place, so those audio cues from your GPS will only help so much.

For random, everyday tasks that require you to listen to information, you can also use a simple audio-to-text app to transcribe the information without taking the time to write it all down. Apps like TranscribeMe (iOS and Android) or Transcribe (Chrome) easily let you do this from your phone or computer.

How to Learn: Auditory Learners

Talk with other people to learn. Go to classes and listen to what the professor is saying. Sit down with a co-worker and pick his or her brain about a specific task at work. Set up meetings with people in an industry you’re interested in. Use video chat to collaborate with others and have conversations. Being able to hear the information you’re after is the key to your learning ability.

Plug in your headphones and start listening to audiobooks. You can also listen to podcasts to become an expert in certain industries. Use your commute or time at the gym to listen to and become engrossed in the information. Watch interviews and documentaries, or just have the audio from them playing in the background.

Need to take notes on a topic, but hate writing them down? Remember the information better by using a voice-recording note app like Evernote (iOS and Android) or VoiceNote II (Chrome).

Or, if you’re someone who often overlooks visual popups and reminders for events, enable sound notifications within your different apps and software programs so you’re always on time.

How to Learn: Kinesthetic Learners

Don’t sit back and expect to absorb information by reading a book or listening to an interview. If you get bored sitting still, use all that energy to learn. Are lessons offered in the topic you’re interested in? Engage in practice exercises to be more involved in the learning process.

Are you trying to improve a skill? Don’t just read about it – do it. For example, you can fix your golf swing by performing the correct posture and motion.

Go into the field and learn by experiencing the job. Shadow a worker and perform the work with them. Instead of reading about how to do something, actually do it and learn from your mistakes.

When you want to learn how to cook a new dish, keep your phone by the stove with you so you can perform each instruction as you read it. Rather than reading all the steps first and messing something up later, do each step correctly the first time so you’ll be able to remember the process for future cooking.

And how many times has someone grabbed you with an, “Oh hey, when you get a second…” request, only for you to forget the specifics of what they wanted by the time you got a chance to work on it? To better remember random instructions and requests from coworkers or clients, create a physical gesture or action to help you remember it. When your boss sees you at the water cooler and asks for edits to a report, make a typing motion in the air (preferably when no one is looking). It sounds silly, but simple acts like this can be a good mnemonic device for kinesthetic learners.

Get to Know Yourself

Understanding your learning style is a process of self-discovery. The more you understand about your learning habits, the more you’ll be able to use this understanding to find efficient ways to do daily tasks. With these simple life-hacks at your fingertips, who knows how efficient you can be?

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.


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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. I had trouble with some learning techniques. Some techniques which seemed great for some did not work for me at all. When I would share some techniques which worked for me, people gave me feedback that they were terrible.

    It took me some time to figure out how learning works for different people. You have summed it up really well in this article.

    Good work.

  2. @Joe: Nope. Facts are facts and indeed the motivation of the guys above who chose to share their opinion on this (and pointers to the research, thus the facts) doesn’t matter.

    Another way to look at it is that they try to do good for all those who read this post and save their time by not going into the wrong direction, by not creating false narratives for themselves preventing them from finding a good solution for their problems. Having said that, if it’s only a learned preference, one might get a better result by trying any of the methods listed above. Or even a combination of them. But these should be looked at just as ideas/methods that may work for you and not as something that’s set in stone, being ‘your style’.

  3. All this “debunked” stuff reeks of someone that’s pretty miserable and sits around trying to figure out how they can build themselves up by “proving” someone else wrong.

    At any rate, I really learned something here…I have always been about reading and writing information. I can’t watch a bunch of videos. These things had always led me to assume that I wasn’t a visual learner.

    Thanks for this…things make much better sense!

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