UMASS Blog

Learn how you learn

Learn the Ways in Which You Learn
Firstly, identifying your learning style is imperative to effective studying. How well do you know yourself? Have you ever thought about studying yourself, not to mention studying how you study? Think about the times in which you have truly understood things and have performed well. What did you do? What worked for you? Why did it work? Asking yourself reflective questions like those is the first step to furthering your understanding of anything. I learned quite a bit about myself after attending a My Learning Essentials workshop on ‘discover[ing] your approach to learning’, in which learning styles were defined as “an individual’s unique approach to learning based on their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.”
Do you know the kind of learner you are? Are you an active learner who learns by doing and likes to get hands-on, and talk things through in groups? Or are you a reflective learner who likes to think through things alone and understand before acting? I am a reflective learner. I am also a sequential learner, which means that I learn in linear and logical steps, and work in an orderly and systematic fashion. You may be the opposite – a global learner who does not really need precision or clarity every step of the way, and yet somehow it all comes together for you. You might be prone to sensing and prefer hard evidence, facts and figures. Or you may take a more intuitive approach to things, preferring instead abstract ideas, their relationships to other things, and seeing the forest for the trees. Lastly, you might be a visual learner (like me) with an obsession with mind maps, charts and diagrams. You might, however, be a verbal learner (also me) who strongly believes in the capacity of the written or spoken word to do wonders for the mind. Notwithstanding all these categories, you might not be completely one thing or the other, or you could fall within various categories in different situations, like I do. The point is that you should know yourself well enough to know what works for you and when.

Learn Exactly the Way You Learn
Once you know how best you learn, stick to it. In Sixth Form, I enjoyed making colourful mind maps and posters and because I was studying English Literature, I had been used to annotating texts. When I arrived at university to study something new, I mistakenly discarded some of my most effective learning styles. I’m not saying watching one too many episodes of Suits had anything to do with it, but somewhere down the line I thought I could thrive on a photographic memory – a skill that only works for me when doing last minute revision on the morning of an exam. I realised this wasn’t good for me. I realised you should abandon a method when it is not appropriate for the task, or it does not work for you. In saying that, be careful not to make excuses for yourself. Many a time I have heard a student say that they work best under pressure, which is often simply an excuse for procrastination and poor time management.
Another part of knowing yourself is not just identifying how you learn, but also identifying obstacles to your learning. What are your barriers to effective studying? Social media? Food? Netflix? Socialising? Whatever the distraction, it is important to either set apart time for them, keep them to a minimum, or eliminate them altogether. Doing well in your studies will always require some measure of sacrifice because you only get out what you put in. So get rid of distractions and prepare the folders, binders, notes, and all the materials you need to put your best foot forward. Knowing yourself is about creating the conditions under which you flourish.

Learn Patience in Learning
Just as important as being able to identify the ways in which you learn, and sticking to it, is the time it takes to learn. As a student with a specific learning difficulty, namely dyspraxia, this has been a recurring lesson for me. Learning takes time for everyone, but I especially have had to learn to be patient with myself, and take things one at a time.