International students, did you know there isn’t just one way to learn? In fact, experts recognize that there are at least four different types of learning styles, meaning we, as individuals, absorb, remember, and understand new information differently. At US universities, instructors will likely use a variety of teaching styles to reach all types of learners. So, knowing your learning style can help you choose the best courses to take, study more effectively, and be more successful in your college career.
“The idea of learning styles is an individualist way of considering education, which matches the individualism in US culture,” says Rachel Yee Quill, director of teaching and learning for academic affairs at Shorelight. “If you come from a culture that focuses on how people can all complete their studies in the same way, it may feel uncomfortable at first to consider how your learning style makes you different from other students.”
The first year can be challenging for an international student trying to discover which learning style works best for them. “However, if you explore your learning style, you may find that it can help you to identify what you need to do to succeed as you deepen your knowledge during your university studies,” says Quill.
Four Learning Styles
Though some experts argue that there may be as many as eight learning styles, we are going to focus on the four predominant learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Writing/Reading, and Kinesthetic. Each defines how we process new information as individuals.
“If you know your learning style, you can find the best way to review information and solidify it in your brain, even if it hasn’t been presented to you in the way that’s easiest for you to digest,” Quill adds.
1. Visual Learning
Are you more successful in classes that use graphs, charts, maps, or images as teaching tools? If so, you’re likely a visual learner. According to Quill, “visual learners do best when information is presented in a graphically logical way. You will benefit from lectures that have interesting slides and readings that include supporting images.”
As a visual learner, seeing is learning, and you are better at absorbing information you can visualize. If, however, “new information is not presented visually, it can help you to develop your own visuals and graphic organizers to go along with the content. You can imagine what visual you would add to illustrate the information or organize it into a flow chart or a mind map,” says Quill.
Some things you can do as a visual learner when taking notes in class are:
Replace words with your own symbols or personal shorthand.
Draw or use shapes that represent the subject material.
Write in different patterns, rather than horizontally on your paper.
Color-code your notes to create a visual difference in the writing.
When it comes to choosing coursework, Quill notes that “you may find it easier to study disciplines that use charts and graphs (like economics), are visually oriented (like art history), or rely on visual design (such as architecture).”
2. Auditory Learning
Do you easily remember what someone says to you? If you find that you best absorb information by listening to it or discussing it with others, you may be an auditory learner. It just so happens that “almost every discipline relies on teaching through lectures, so being an auditory learner is helpful in college,” explains Quill.
The best ways to study as an auditory learner involves vocalizing the subject material so you can listen to it. Quill recommends:
Record lectures so you can listen to them again, and ask for clarification and repetition so that you can confirm your understanding.
Discuss ideas with others; ask a classmate to review material with you and debate aspects of it to deepen your understanding.
Read aloud as you study so that you hear the words as well as see them.
As for which courses to choose, Quill believes that “auditory learners can study any discipline, but may enjoy majors where they can interact with others, like journalism or teaching, or participate in discussions, such as political science.”
Do you love to read? Does writing something down help you remember? Your learning style may be reading/writing.
“Reading and writing is the core of academic learning at the college level,” explains Quill. “Every student must learn to write effectively, and reading/writing learners have the advantage of liking to take notes and reread when they are studying.”
With so many textbooks to read and notes to take, college courses tend to suit reading/writing learning styles well. Writing lists can be incredibly helpful when it comes to absorbing new information. As an international student, you may want to add words in your native language as you take notes in English if it helps you to process the information.
Quill also recommends reviewing notes regularly. “A good practice that helps deepen your understanding is to reread your notes and reorganize them in a new way to show connections between ideas,” she says. “You can also reflect in writing about what you have learned, to solidify your understanding.”
When deciding what to study, those who align with reading/writing learning styles “may want to major in a discipline that explores ideas through language, such as philosophy, social sciences, or literature,” notes Quill.
Do you learn best by being hands-on during a lesson? Are you better able to remember things you have done, compared to what you have just read, seen, or heard? You may be a kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners thrive when they can use all their senses to understand new information and find ways to personalize the information for easier recall — and may struggle with classes that focus heavily on book work and writing.
Quill recommends some study habits that may help with this learning style:
Recite or study while you move, such as listening to recorded lectures while taking a walk.
Stand and present information to an imaginary viewer.
Act out historical events as you learn about them.
Use physical (not online) flashcards to stay focused when studying.
It is important to “pursue a degree in which you can learn by doing, such as science (where you can do lab experiments), engineering (in which you can build and test models), or art and design (where you create new works from your own mind),” Quill explains.
If you are struggling with learning techniques, you are not alone. “Colleges are filled with people who have thought a lot about teaching and learning,” Quill says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and ask different people for help — professors, tutors, advisors, and so on. All of them also have different learning styles and may be able to help you find the resources that will help you the best.”
Finding Your Learning Style(s)
Since it is widely believed that each person learns differently, you may find you don’t exactly fit into just one learning style. In fact, according to Quill, “most people have more than one way that they learn best. Typically, the more ways material is presented in a classroom, the more students can access it and master the information.”
“For example, there is research that shows that people understand more of what they are learning if they both hear and read about it. People remember even better when they make a personal connection to ideas and/or experience the concepts, like when a student completes a laboratory experiment,” Quill explains.
Every Learning Style Leads to Learning
Take the time to find the style, or styles, that work best for you, then create study habits and take courses that align with those styles. Remember, though, there is no wrong way to learn.
Quill emphasizes, “even though everyone has ways that they learn better, we all take multiple paths to reach understanding. Even if you prefer to take the train, you can still get there by walking or driving a car sometimes. The more you practice different ways of learning, the better you will be at all of them.”
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