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Developing Study Skills, Part 3

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As discussed in our previous posts on the development of study skills, always remember that study skills, as with all skills, require both teaching and practice. In Part 2, we discussed how to Set Study Goals, Keep Organized, and Get Motivated.

In this post, we’re going to focus less on general tips for study sessions, and focus more upon specific advice regarding how to approach studying as a Visual, Auditory, and/or Kinesthetic Learner.

Contrary to the way many classrooms are run, all students learn, retain, and contextualize information differently and at different paces and levels. Oftentimes, students and their learning styles are grouped into the three primary categories of Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic, though individual students are obviously much more nuanced and unique than any one of these categories suggest.  In other words, just because some students may respond more favorably more often to a visual learner approach, it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be better off in certain subjects by utilizing an auditory or kinesthetic approach.  (For more information on these categories and approaches, also check out Maryland Community College’s online guide to effective study habits.)

Now, as you more critically consider this diversity in students, you may feel prompted to ask: What’s the point of these categories if students falling under one column may also benefit from methods used in another?

According to NPR’s (2011) “Think You’re An Auditory or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely,”

…Doug Rohrer, a psychologist at the University of South Florida … reviewed studies of learning styles, [and] he found no scientific evidence backing up the idea. ‘We have not found evidence from a randomized control trial supporting any of these,’ he says, ‘and until such evidence exists, we don’t recommend that they be used.’


[Dan] Willingham suggests it might be more useful to figure out similarities in how our brains learn, rather than differences. And, in that case, he says, there’s a lot of common ground. For example, variety. ‘Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention,’ he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better.”

In other words, while taking method advice and ideas from these different learning styles may still prove useful, students and teachers really ought to begin thinking less in terms of one learning style versus another and more in terms of what components of different styles work best in combination. So, if you know you’ve been dealing in maps and power points  a lot lately, maybe it’s time you tried putting some study materials into a song and singing it to yourself, or maybe it’s time that you sought out a game-version of a lesson plan (such as through building models or interactive foreign language challenges and puzzles). Mixing and matching might just be our best bet at maximizing all students’ abilities to learn and succeed.

So, as we go through what it can mean to learn visually, auditorially, and kinesthetically, don’t try and pigeon-hole yourself into any one category. Rather, use these to think about what methods you most typically utilize and then try experimenting with a method from a different category for a bit – let these labels, in other words, be a means of helping you explore and think more creatively about different ways of learning and studying.

Visual Learning

For visual learners, information is often best retained when it is presented on the page, board, map, or screen – visually, in other words. The typical advice for students who respond best to visual approaches are to use a variety of colors and doodles in their class notes, use diagrams and illustrations whenever possible, create infographics of lecture and book notes, and to seek out videos and maps of information whenever possible. These are all great pieces of advice and can definitely be of great help to anyone who may otherwise have difficulty remembering details or how specific pieces of information fit together into a larger narrative.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Auditory Learning

For auditory learners, information is usually easiest to retain when it’s spoken aloud, whether with another person, in a lecture, or read/recorded. Thus, these students are often told to pay special attention during lectures, in group discussions, to books on tape, and so forth.  Of course, it’s also useful to read texts aloud to yourself (you can even make your own taped recordings of readings and insert your own ideas and observations along the way for future reference), always participate in class discussions, propose informal debates with friends and classmates over course topics, create songs or jingles of study information, and try explaining or teaching class ideas to others not in the class.

Kinesthetic Learning

For kinesthetic learners, information may be best absorbed when the learner in question is in motion or action, whether they’re talking with their hands, acting something out, or taking frequent study breaks to walk or cook or so forth.  So, a lot of advice kinesthetic learners often receive is to try: taking notes, flashcards, or lecture recordings out while you walk whether it’s on an exercise machine or through a park; make physical models of what you’re learning whenever possible; spend time looking and interacting with relatable things such as at a museum or through a school club or other activity; take frequent study breaks but make sure study time remains structured and utilized to the fullest extent; and always keep your hands busy whether by squeezing a stress ball, petting an animal, playing with a bit of clay/play dough, or typing up notes you’ve already written in long-hand.

Of course, as you may have noticed, if we were to break down walls of Visual versus Auditory versus Kinesthetic, then we’d be able to see just how well these tips and ideas could crossover and work for all students. Why wouldn’t a supposedly “visual” learner benefit from visiting a museum or by participating in a debate? Why wouldn’t a supposedly “kinesthetic” learner benefit from singing a song they’d created over study materials or from translating class lectures into infographics and diagrams? Why wouldn’t a supposedly “auditory” learner benefit from using flash cards while on a walk or from watching videos related to course topics?

The truth is that these barriers are fallacies in large part, and can often box students in and keep them from thinking creatively about how to approach what they’re learning in and out of school.

So, why not do away with the auditory/visual/kinesthetic columns, and just let students approach the world as Learners–as Learners eager to discover the world in every way they can?

Further Readings:



  1. Excellent resource, thanks for posting! Take our Learning Style Assessment

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