When I was at school (cue violins!) not much was known about individual learning styles. As a result, we were all taught the same way, sitting at desks, looking at the blackboard and listening to the teacher. The only experimentation that went on was in the science lessons, dissecting cow’s eyes and constructing milk bottle xylophones.
So much more is known now through advances in neuroscience. We know that we all receive information through our five senses but what varies is that we will favour one sense above the others. If you favour visual information, the blackboard and book approach will be ok. But if you if your preferred input is kinaesthetic, ie what you touch and feel, you will learn better by experiences and experiments.
Our learning is also affected by our personality traits. Some people like ‘big picture’ information while others learn better from detail. Extraverts like group discussions and making presentations while introverts prefer individual study.
If you are revising for exams at the moment, here are some tips to make your study more effective:
1. If you have been revising and the information isn’t sticking, try something different. If you are very visual, mind maps will be useful. If you prefer sounds to images, try recording your revision notes and listening back to them. If you are kinaesthetic, try walking with your notes or tracing key words in the air with your finger.
2. Exercise first thing in the morning to increase your brain power. Exercise increases levels of hormones that are important to neurotransmitters and generates new brain cells. Study the subject you find most difficult after exercise.
3. Have some peppermint or rosemary essential oil in your revision room. Both scents have been shown to stimulate the brain. If you find it helpful, you can put some on a tissue to take into the exam room.
4. Baroque music is frequently used by trainers as background music to aid learning. You can try playing Bach, Handel or Vivaldi while you are studying.
5. Have a laugh! The Von Restorff Effect predicts that material that is outstanding in some way is easier to remember. That distinctiveness can come in the form of humour or by making something bizarre or funny. So if you are having trouble remembering something see if you can put it into a joke or cartoon or make a humorous mnemonic for it.