Learning Styles: How Do We Learn?

Her pencil scratches the paper furiously as she takes notes on her post-its. She tries to catch every bit of analysis her Literature teacher explains about their current book, The Samurai’s Garden.

He listens attentively as his biology teacher, Supriya Moore, plays a video describing the early life and achievements of Darwin. While his fellow classmates grow bored listening, he is absorbing the information he hears.  

Wearing safety goggles, the chemistry students meticulously add small drops of base to the acidic solution for their titration lab. They observe the reaction, the amount of pink in the solution and quickly jot down notes.

Most MVHS students follow the same rituals everyday – waking up, getting ready for school, going to classes, learning, coming home and doing homework however, throughout this process, they are learning. Each student has a slightly different learning style that allows them to personally learn the best.

Types of Learning

 

At MVHS, students listen to presentations, participate in group projects, watch videos, conduct labs and write essays. However, each student likes to learn a little differently and has their own preferred learning style. There are many ways students can learn to their greatest potential.

Math teacher Michael Lordan raises his right hand to get the class’ attention. Around his head and neck, Lordan wears taped paper graphs made by his students that were used for the kinesthetic activity they participated in. Photo by Yoanna Lee.
Math teacher Michael Lordan raises his right hand to get the class’ attention. Around his head and neck, Lordan wears taped paper graphs made by his students that were used for the kinesthetic activity they participated in. Photo by Yoanna Lee.

 

When a student learns something, their brain becomes instantly active. Throughout life, these connections are made as cells grow, develop and change. According to studies conducted using PET scans and fMRI machines, Cornell University neuroscientist Nathan Spreng uncovered more information about what happens in the brain when new information is being observed.

He found that the areas of the brain that enabled the person to pay attention became attentive but gradually lessened, replaced by areas which day dreamed. At the cellular level, the neurons, or nerve cells in the brain, send signals to each other through chemical messengers. As someone learns something new the cells that receive and send information speed up and cause neurons to link and fuse together, making the overall system a lot more efficient. Through practice of a skill, people can improve the connections of the neurons and become better at what they are trying to achieve.

The connections in the brain occur when a student is learning actively, which is why this process is essential to the flow of learning.

Freshman Brett Park is a visual learner. He learns best by either visualizing the information he learns in his head or by physically drawing it out on paper.

“Quizlet barely helps [me to learn new words],” Park said. “Most of the time I make drawings for what the definition of a word reminds me of.”

According to learning-styles-online.com, a visual learner is one who likes to use images,  pictures, graphs and color to organize, present and communicate information. In many classes, MVHS students use this technique in order to plan out an essay by using a mind map among other tools.

On the other hand, sophomore Akriti Khandelwal feels that she works best when assigned a project.

“I am more of a hands-on learner,” Khandelwal said. “Most of the time when I pay attention in class is either when we’re working on a project or or lab for Chem Honors…I won’t understand a concept unless we have a project to work on.”

Khandelwal is a prime example of what is called a “kinesthetic”, “tactile” or “hands-on” learner. According to educationplanner.org, these are people who learn best by touching or feeling things hands-on, such as doing labs for their science class.

 

Another main and crucial type of learning is auditory learning. This refers to people who learn best through listening and hearing. Typically, it is easier for this type of learner to absorb instructions by listening than reading them on a paper.

 

Infographic by Sangita Kunapuli
Infographic by Sangita Kunapuli

While there are three main types of learning, students are usually not limited to following one of them. Often teachers make students learn using all of the techniques. One example of this is in biology, where groups of students participate by acting out the functions of various organelles (learning kinesthetically), while the other students learn through listening and watching the actors (auditory and visual learning). This example is one of the many instances where multiple techniques are used in the classroom. However, many students only manage to learn effectively using the style they feel the most comfortable with.

Regardless, Khandelwal believes that learning effectively is the key to learning well.

“Learning effectively is very important,” Khandelwal said. “I feel like I’m really paying attention and learning when I’m doing anything that requires me to actually engage myself into what we’re learning.”

What is Active Learning?

Every class has one student who either didn’t get much sleep the night before or doesn’t listen to the teacher when they’re talking and therefore zones out. This is a key example of a student who is not effectively learning.

According to Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence, active learning is anything that makes students “do things and think about the things they are doing”. This reinforces the content and overall makes the learning more beneficial for the student.

Inevitably, there are many ways that students often zone out and in many cases it is a use of a learning style different than their own.

Khandelwal has personally experienced this during her classes in MVHS.

“I try to pay attention most of the time,” Khandelwal said. “But sometimes I just can’t help myself and I just tune out. It’s usually when teachers are giving long presentations. I stop listening after a while.”

This is the case for many students. In fact, according to BBC News, students only have a ten minute attention span before they stop paying attention.

Park fits this characteristic of tuning out and sometimes finds himself not paying attention during long periods of time.

“I like group projects,” Park said. “However, I usually tune out when we are given work time for large projects [and block days].”

If lack of learning due to paying attention is a problem then how are students supposed to learn so much using techniques they don’t actively learn from?

There are a number of ways students can train their brain to work effectively and therefore pay attention more.

Infographic by Sangita Kunapuli
Infographic by Sangita Kunapuli

MVHS students spend a lot of their time learning. Whether a hands-on, visual or auditory learner, it is important to remember that learning effectively or using a technique in times of tuning out can be extremely beneficial.