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Student Insights

What’s your learning style?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 02 Dec 2021

Kind of learner main

Are you a visual learner, or do you prefer a more hands-on approach? Understanding your learning style – and borrowing tips and tricks from others – could help boost your study success.

A popular concept in psychology and education, ‘learning styles’ describe the preferences individuals have for taking on new information. One of the most widely used models, VARK, was developed in the 1980s by New Zealand educator Neil Fleming, and categorises learners as visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinaesthetic.

According to Fleming’s theory:

  • Visual learners learn best by seeing, and prefer information represented graphically in maps, diagrams, graphs, charts and symbols (though this doesn’t include ‘real’ photographs and videos)
  • Auditory learners prefer information that is heard or spoken, and learn best from lectures, group discussion, radio and podcasts, and speaking out loud, particularly talking things through in their own way. This can also include non-formal written communication such as email and chat
  • Reading/writing learners prefer to take in information that is displayed in words. This covers reading and writing in all its forms, such as manuals, reports, lists, articles and web pages
  • Kinaesthetic learners learn best by doing, and prefer ‘real’, hands-on experiences – whether direct or observed – such as practice, demonstrations, simulations, videos and case studies.

Let’s imagine, for example, that you need to find your way from the train station to the exam centre. If you’re a visual learner, you will probably choose to use a map, with directions and reference points represented by arrows and symbols. If you’re an auditory learner, you will most likely ask someone for directions, and repeat or rephrase them out loud to make sure you understand. If you’re a reading/writing learner, you will prefer to have a list of written directions, while if you’re a kinaesthetic learner, you will rely on previous experience, trial and error, or someone physically showing you the way.

In practice, of course, most of us would choose a combination of these approaches, and are likely to use more than one – asking for directions perhaps, and then checking a map to confirm our understanding – or switch our style depending on the situation. Fleming refers to using multiple approaches in this way as ‘multimodality’.

Although you may have a preference for the way you take on new information (or revise existing knowledge), it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will learn better that way – in fact, there have been numerous experiments to test the theory, and there is no evidence to suggest that being delivered information in your ‘preferred’ way makes you more likely to retain it. What research has shown, however, is that the best learning experiences are those that involve multiple different ways of understanding the same thing – the multimodal approach.

Employing as many different methods of learning or revising something as possible means you’re more likely to succeed, so ‘borrow’ tricks from other types of learners: if you have always written notes on flashcards, for example, try drawing pictures, or create audio versions with voice memos; and if you’re struggling to read pages and pages of text, try listening to it instead (don’t forget our Digital learning materials have a text to speak function).

Try these study tips:

  • Visual: colour code your notes; use pictures, formulas and diagrams; organise notes using outlines, headings and bullet points; create mind maps; use sticky notes
  • Auditory: discuss topics with a study partner or group; record lectures to listen back later; read aloud; listen to podcasts; use voice memos; create songs and rhymes
  • Reading/writing: take lots of notes; re-read information multiple times; rewrite information in your own words; summarise charts and graphs in words; organise ideas, concepts and key terms into lists
  • Kinaesthetic: use physical flashcards; try role play; walk, move around or keep your hands busy while you read or listen to notes; study in short blocks of time with regular breaks; try to relate what you’re learning to real-life experiences.

Our digital learning materials allow you to learn in the style most suited to you, from reading out loud to highlighting sections of text and notes. Read more on how our digital learning materials can help you learn, including all the functions and features.

We also have a range of resources to support you with each exam, including an introduction to the exam, tips for success and retake guidance view: ACA exam resources and ICAEW CFAB exam resources.

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