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Different ways of learning

Are different ways of learning supported in Higher Education?

Posted on: 08/01/20 | Written by: Alyson Hyslop, Marketing Executive

Studying at computerWhen looking into different ways of learning I expected to come across varying preferred methods but what I didn’t expect to find was some opposing views. There is a lot of debate around the processing of information with some arguing it doesn’t matter in what form the information comes. What is important is not just what we learn but how.

How we learn

There seems to be a variety of sources from which the current variation of learning styles stem. Arising in the 1970s, the indication of different learning styles has made its way into education but conflict on this has arisen. When researching this topic, I discovered a helpful article by Greg Toppo on Insidehighered.com that explores the questions surrounding the scientific basis for this idea; none the less, this has made its way into modern teaching. If I were to have a preference, it would be to learn things actively. I find it easier to commit a picture to memory than words or numbers. The article also highlights, the debate on whether these styles have any relevance to taking in information. I feel that an organised and pragmatic approach to learning is important. Crucial life skills in themselves, they assist in navigating a subject by helping you to structure an essay, for example, or to be methodical in showing your workings. When speaking to friends and colleagues, this approach seemed to be particularly beneficial to their learning experience. They felt that this allowed them to make sense of their material and follow a logical path from one piece of content to the next.

Independent Learning

Student Voices research suggests students would like to see; “more practical & interactive elements within their studies.” When learning today we have access to a vast range of tools, both digital & traditional. Having the autonomy to choose within this range of tools is key to engaging with the material. In my learning experiences, even from a young age, I have always preferred to actively experience something for myself, rather than solely have it explained to me. I think the experience of learning is crucial and this is what digital solutions now give us the opportunity to do. We have the capability to perform online experiments and quiz ourselves. We can interpret research data and use these opportunities for deeper learning to evolve our critical thinking.

“Students believe that the most important feature of any digital learning resource are test yourself and practice questions.” according to Student Voices. Instant feedback is a very powerful tool for students, this allows learning to be much more efficient. I always remember a sports coach once said to me ‘practice makes permanent’. It is much harder to undo bad habits than it is to correct yourself during the initial learning process. Receiving feedback from a quiz instantaneously allows you to critique your own performance and make changes straight away, thereby committing the correct information to memory.


In my research into preferred learning styles, I discovered this illuminating Ted Talk What if schools taught us how to learn?. Within the talk, experienced entrepreneur Jonathan Levi, published author of ‘Become a SuperLearner: Learn Speed Reading & Advanced Memorization’ discusses how to be a more efficient learner by improving memory techniques, which can apply to learning at all stages of life.

We need to be able to, not only understand information, but also to recall and use it to make informed decisions on a subject at will. As part of his talk Levi argues that we’re told what we need to learn but not always given guidance on how to learn. The current ‘cram and forget’ method has garnered much criticism over the years as this is not an effective way to assist students in learning and retaining information. The question is not just how we take material onboard but more importantly how we keep it there. Levi goes on to discuss his use of the mnemonic technique of the Memory Palace. This involves picturing a place you’re very familiar with, for example your home. In your journey through your home you store specific pieces of information, in specific locations. You can then go to this location later to retrieve what you need. I have heard of this technique before and attempted it myself but, to be honest rather half-heartedly, so with limited success. However, it seems crucial, does it not, for us to know how to learn?

When studying in higher education we aren’t just wanting to pass an exam but learn important skills that will one day help us in our chosen careers. The question around support of learning types is difficult to answer due to the varying doubts surrounding their significance. However, what is clear is that higher education providers are now focusing on both the learning and retention of knowledge, concentrating on supporting students’ confidence. Students are provided with different ways to learn from textbooks to podcasts, quizzes to eBooks. It is fundamental to emphasise to students that these resources are available to help them not only with their revision but with their learning too. For the information you learn now to be relevant in years to come, you don’t just want to learn it you want to be able to use it.