In school, we learn so much about math, science, geography, psychology, etc. yet, it is rare to learn how to learn. Are you going away to college for the first time? Do you have a major exam coming up that could be career changing? Or, do you just want to improve your retention rate of information coming to you on a day-to-day basis? Learning how to learn can help you pinpoint ways to listen, to study, and to either retain or recite the information at hand. Learning how to learn is key in identifying what type of learner you are, when you learn best, and what works for you to retain the information. Knowing how you process information will allow you to maximize your performance. What works for your partner or cubical neighbor may not work for you, which is why it’s so important to learn your exact way of learning.

What type of learner are you?

There are four different types of learners. You can be an experiential learner, where you have to actively participate in order to retain information. There is the read/write learner where you have to read information several times or write it down. There is a visual learner, where you can simply look at something and remember what it looks like and the information on the page. Some might refer to this type of learner as having a “photographic memory”. Lastly, there is the auditory learner, where you have to hear the information out loud in order to remember it.

Experiential Learner

If you find yourself needing to actively participate as you learn, you should find yourself a study group. Take the lead in teaching the group (best if paired with auditory learners) the information at hand. Ask questions in the classroom. Be the volunteer for any activities the instructor might have for the class. Create discussion on the topic with classmates or group members. If what you are trying to learn is less informational and more hands on, get your hands dirty and participate in the activity. For example, if you’re learning how to sew, don’t just watch a YouTube video on sewing and then a few days later try to sew. Instead, you will have to sew along with what the YouTube video is doing.

Reading or Writing Learner

A reading and writing learner will benefit greatly from buying and thoroughly reading all of the materials that are provided. A writing learner should take notes during class and while reading. To listen is not enough for reading/writing learners, you must physically read the information yourself or write it down. When studying, a reading/writing learner should set aside enough time to be able to go through all of the material enough times that they remember it. Knowing how many times is enough for you is key. If you’re able to understand the information through reading it, you may not have to waste time going to class and listening to an instructor. In the sewing example from above, you will benefit from taking notes as you watch the YouTube video then following your notes later when you go to sew something.

Visual Learners

A visual learner is different from a reading learner in that you like to see pictures of things. Charts or graphs are a visual learner's best friend. Also, having something specific on each page that you’re reading from can be helpful, even if the specific item is a doodle. Visual learners can also fall under what is called a vicarious learner, where you see someone doing something and can pick up on how to perform the activity just from watching. Like reading/writing learners, visual learners may not have to spend time with the instructor teaching. Instead, they can organize the information in a way that makes sense to them and learn it that way. From the sewing example, a visual learner can get away with just watching the YouTube video and then applying the information to what they’re doing at a later time. “How to” videos are helpful for visual learners.

Auditory Learners

In order to remember information, you simply have to hear it. Some auditory learners may have to hear the information several times, others can hear it just once and remember. Auditory learners do well studying with experiential learners, as one can teach and the other can listen. Auditory learners will benefit greatly from sitting in a class. You don’t necessarily have to participate, but just listen. Auditory listeners should invest in the audio version of things when applicable. A great teaching tool for auditory listeners is Podcasts. Recording interactions such as meetings or classes can be helpful for auditory learners. Be sure to get the permission of both the leader of the class and other class members prior to recording, though.

When to Learn

Are you a morning, afternoon, or night person? When do you function at your highest potential? Everyone has a different ‘prime time’ of functioning. Whether you’re in college and scheduling classes, or setting up that important meeting or exam, you should know when you are able to retain the most information. If you’re in college, make a semester where you take all your classes in the early morning, then take a semester with classes in the afternoon, and then take a semester with evening courses. What semester was your best GPA? What semester did you feel most confident in your learning abilities?

If you’re not in school, try teaching yourself something at different times of the day. When did you feel you learned the most? The time of day may shift throughout your lifespan. Reassessing yourself for time of day that you learn best can be beneficial.

What Do You Need to Learn?

What type of environment do you need when you’re trying to learn something? Do you work best in a noisy coffee shop or in a quiet library? Do you do well in groups or need to be by yourself? Are you a multitasker? If so, what is your maximum/minimum amount of stimulation before you’re not able to learn? Do you learn better on an empty or full stomach, caffeine or no caffeine? How long can you go before you need a break? Do you do best in short spurts of time with frequent breaks or need long hours of learning with little to no breaks? What do your breaks consist of- stretching, eating, sex, cigarette, exercise, etc? Do you need to fidget with a pencil in your hand or tap your leg? Do you need to be upright in a supportive chair or on a comfy couch? What’s the best temperature you need in order to be able to concentrate and learn the best?

Miscellaneous Basics That You Should Know

Research shows that being a procrastinator and “cramming” for a test doesn’t work. If you want to learn information and retain it for longer than it takes to take your math test, you’re going to have to spread your learning out. Smaller amounts of information over a longer period of time are what works best for most people.

Healthy diet and exercise have been linked to increased concentration, better long-term memory, and higher comprehension levels. Doing a short exercise before you learn (a few jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups), and then a longer exercise after you learn (20 minutes of cardio, some upper and lower body exercises totaling in about an hour of exercise) is what is recommended.

Putting the information that you are trying to learn into your own words can be helpful. One way to do this is by implementing the information you’ve just learned into your everyday life. Compare an activity to the one you just learned, or apply the new information to a task that you are participating in.

If you’ve read this article and applied the information yet you still can’t manage to comprehend or remember what you need or want to, it may be time to see a healthcare provider. Sometimes, our learning capabilities are out of our control. Some examples of disorders that may play into your learning abilities are Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dysgraphia, Central Auditory Process Disorder, or Visual Processing Disorder. Use this article as a starting point to begin discussing with your healthcare provider the underlying issue that may be the cause of your inability to learn and perform the way you’d like to. Disclose specific tasks that you’ve done after reading this article and then state what you’re continuing to struggle with. For example, if you’ve found your prime time for functioning to be in the afternoons, yet you’re still unable to focus in your afternoon meetings, this may be a sign of ADHD.

Now that you have a good idea of what type of learner you are and you’ve answered the question of when you learn best and what you need to learn, work to set your schedule up so that you’re learning crucial material at the paramount time for you. If you can’t arrange for learning to take place at your most opportune time, which is likely to happen from time to time, take the information and look it over, or reteach it to yourself when it is your opportune time.