Improving your learning

Improve the way you learn

How do you learn best?

If you are finding learning your college subjects difficult, it is probably a good idea to spend some time reviewing your studying habits. Identifying what is and isn’t working for you, and then spending some time investigating possible new study methods, will help you to become a more successful student.

Understanding your style of learning

A good place to begin is to develop an awareness of your ‘learning style’. Everybody has different approaches to the way that they learn.  There are various models that have been developed that classify the different styles of learning. The simplest and one of the most commonly quoted is the VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) model. This uses the idea that everyone has a dominant sense that they prefer to use to receive and process information. So for example if you are a visual learner then incorporating diagrams, charts and colour into your study notes would assist you in your learning. The table below summarises the three different learning styles in the VAK model. There are learning style questionnaires available either in the Learning Centre or online (see references at the end of this guide) that will help you assess your style.

VAK Learning style model

Learning Style Preferred way to learn Best study techniques
Visual learners Learn by looking Use coloured highlighter pens in your revision notes to identify key words

Add diagrams or sketches in the margins of your work

Use mind maps

Auditory learners Learn by listening Playing soothing music when you are studying

Record key points on a voice recorder and play them back

Make up rhymes or raps to help you with your revision

Kinaesthetic learners Learn by doing Physical actions with body parts

Add post-it notes around your room so you can move around and read them while  you are learning

Learning is a skill that needs to be constantly developed. An appreciation of your learning style should be used as a guide to help you identify new study techniques. Bear in mind that not all the ideas will work for you, and that you may need to use different approaches for different tasks. You may also find that your preferred ways of learning changes overtime.

Coping with difficult concepts

At college many of your subjects will require you not only to understand a topic, but to demonstrate how you will apply what you have learned, solve problems, or think creatively about new or different approaches.

If you cannot think of a way of tackling a piece of work then there are many different strategies that might help you think more creatively about how to approach a topic. Six thinking hats is a concept created by Edward De Bono. He suggests that if you separate out different thinking processes by pretending to put on different coloured hats, it will simplify thinking by allowing you to consider a problem from one angle at a time. It is worth exploring concepts such as this to see if they are of any help to you.

Six thinking hats concept

White hat Assemble facts and assess them on a scale of likelihood
Black hat Negative criticism
Red hat Emotional and intuitive thinking
Yellow hat Positive criticism and thinking with hope and optimism
Green hat Creativity and new ideas
Blue hat Overall thinking- To organize, control or guide all our thinking processes

Strategies for improving your learning

A good study environment is somewhere that you feel comfortable and you can work without too many distractions. Try and plan to do most of your difficult college work in your preferred study environment. Studies have shown that you learn best when you study for short periods with regular breaks.

Learning is a complex process, but if you constantly reflect on how you learn and what you are learning, and stay motivated. Then you should find that your study sessions will become more effective as well as more enjoyable.


The Learning Styles Questionnaire (80-item version) by Peter Honey available in the Learning Centre

Improving your memory

Everybody occasionally forgets things, but some people seem to forget all the time. The good news is that with a bit of effort it is possible for everybody to improve their memory.  Setting aside some time to do this will help you in your personal life and your studies.  A better memory will help you solve problems; study more efficiently; and pass exams.

This guide provides some ideas on how you can start improving your memory. Bear in mind that everybody thinks differently, so you will need to spend some time working out what suits you best.

How do you learn best?

Developing a self-awareness of how you learn best is a good place to start when you’re thinking about improving your memory. This means asking yourself questions about your own strengths and weaknesses, for example: Do you learn best by undertaking practical activities or by reading a book? Do you prefer to draw or sketch an idea or write about it? Do you learn best in a group?

There are various online tools that can help you understand your learning style, such as:

Once you have an appreciation of your learning style you can begin to focus on the activities that are going to benefit you most.

Sharpen your mind

The more you use your brain, the sharper it will become. The best way to do this is to keep challenging your brain. There are lots of ways to do this, why not: Download a brain training game onto your mobile phone? Start doing the crossword in the newspaper? Play challenging board games?

Training your brain will not only help you to remember stuff, it will also help you think faster. Look at the Further Reading section at the end of this guide for ideas of where to start looking.

Memory tools for studying

Often if you find a subject dull then it will be harder to learn the facts. Sitting and reading and re-writing notes probably won’t help that much. You need to find your own ways to make the subject more exciting.

Mnemonics are memory tools that help you remember things that you might otherwise forget. Examples are simple rhymes, mind maps and acronyms. Generally mnemonics work best if they are funny, colourful, dramatic, or connected to something that interests you.

A mind map is a type of diagram that some people find useful as a memory tool. The central idea is placed in the middle of the map, with associated words and concepts radiating out.

Good notes are a great learning aid. When taking notes it is really only the key words and phrases that you need to help you memorize a subject. If diagrams help you learn then try and break up your notes with some useful diagrams or pictures.

Feed your brain

When you’re stressed out, tired and not eating properly then your concentration will be poor, and you are more likely to forget things.  Alongside training your brain you need to look after yourself, take regular exercise and get organised. You learn best in short concentrated intervals of study. Frequent study reviews will greatly increase your chances of remembering what you’ve learnt.

Further reading

Look for books in your local Learning Centre, or go to one of these online resources:

Study Skills