By Karly Kolaja 2016-06-13 16:05:38
Understanding how your brain wants to be trained can have a tremendous impact on your success as a student. THINK BACK TO YOUR LAST TIME IN A CLASSROOM. Was it fun? Were you happy to be studying the subject matter? Chances are, during all your years of schooling, you took some classes that you enjoyed more than others—you probably even had favorites. Favorite teachers, favorite subjects, favorite projects. But did you ever think about the fact that you may have a favorite way of learning? But in this case, we don’t mean a “particularly-well-liked” favorite. There may be one (or more) ways of learning that actually appeal to your brain—ways that truly help you retain what’s being taught. School nutrition is a complex business, and you constantly have much to learn. Whether you’re earning CEU hours to renew your Certificate in School Nutrition, memorizing the appropriate components of a reimbursable meal under changed regulations or role-playing customer service techniques, you’re always being asked to absorb new information. Do you feel that you “get” some details better than others? It may not have anything to do with the subject matter, but be related to how details were conveyed and received. If you are a “physical” learner, do you make sure to bring a notepad with you any time you’re being taught something new? If you’re a “visual” learner, do you ask the instructor to demonstrate the concept? By identifying your preferred learning style (or styles), you can become a better student—making learning more fun and more effective. ONE SIZE HARDLY FITS ALL Experts in education tend to agree that there are seven different learning styles: visual, aural, verbal, physical, solitary, social and logical. There’s no style that’s “better” than another. “Every person is different,” says Toni Aiken, SNA’s senior manager of professional development. “Some people are better off if they’re hearing content, others if they are seeing it and still others if they’re doing some kind of hands-on activity.” Also, the term “preferred learning style” is somewhat misleading. It’s not a matter of personal choice. Your brain gravitates to one or more learning styles over others in a way that is as inherent and irreversible as being left-handed or right-handed. Your brain also reserves the right to “prefer” certain learning styles in certain circumstances. “You may not learn in one specific way,” says Aiken. “For example, I am good at hearing content and writing it down and understanding it. But that’s not the only way that I learn.” So, which styles are most effective for you? Let’s find out by taking a closer look at the characteristics of each of the major seven. Reflect on your personal learning history as you read through these. Which come closest to describing your most positive and successful learning experiences? If you think you’ve identified your preferred learning style in certain situations, we’ve also included some tips on how to apply this awareness the next time you head into a training or other educational session. PICTURE THIS As the name suggests, visual learners learn by seeing pictures. They respond best to images, colors, maps and other visual mediums and remember information when it’s associated with images. Visual learners can picture what they’re learning in their heads, easily imagining objects, plans and outcomes. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that you have a photographic memory; it just means your brain retains information when it is associated with something that can be seen or registered through the eye. So, how can you put that visual learning style to work? First, always keep in mind that you need some type of visual cue. Try color-coding your notes. Assign different subjects certain colors and either write your notes about each in that color, take notes on specifically colored paper or just attach colored sticky notes. (This might be a good time to break out those cool, colorful highlighters you’ve been saving.) This way, when you think of the subject, you’ll first remember the color and then what’s associated with it. Visual learners also should take the time to write down key instructions, words or ideas. If you’re trying to remember a specific recipe, for example, don’t just read it. Copy it! This is a physical activity, but it’s also a visual one. The act of writing will imprint the information onto your brain. Similarly, try drawing pictures to help remember certain concepts. You don’t have to be an artist—your particular brand of doodles and symbols will mean something to you and don’t need to be shared with anyone. Make a set of flashcards. Reading is a visual act, and creating cards with just a few words or a mix of text and pictures can be very helpful in memory retention. Also, always try to sit near the front of the classroom or demonstration area. You’ll want to be close enough to clearly see anything presented on a screen or demonstrated by hand. At this point, you might be thinking that visual learning really doesn’t sound like your style. Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to work for you. Remember, there’s no perfect style. Let’s explore some other options. DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR? Are you really good at remembering things you’ve heard? Do you have an easier time understanding spoken instructions than written ones? Do you remember every word from that whole-grain baking webinar? You might be an aural, or auditory, learner. Aural learners learn by listening. They store information based on the way it sounds, tucking soundbites away into their brains. They often read aloud because they prefer to hear things spoken, even by themselves—and there’s no shame in this, it’s simply how they best retain details! Auditory learners might even talk to themselves if they become bored—this doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention, it just means that they can better work their way through tasks if they narrate them. If you’re an aural learner, make use of that instinct to read aloud. Study written material by reading it out loud; similarly, help yourself remember assignments or directions by repeating them aloud. Find a study buddy willing to read aloud to you—not just the source material or notes, but sample quizzes, too. Another tip is to record learning sessions on your phone and then play them back later. And don’t just try to memorize information—put that auditory skill to work! Come up with an acrostic (a “poem” in which the first letters in each line form a word or sentence) to help you remember key information. For example: Have your thermometer handy. All foods should be checked often. Check at different stages. Cold foods cold, hot foods hot. Pen or pencil to record temps. Next, try setting this—or any other series of key words/phrases—to the tune of a familiar song or make up your own jingle. After all, there’s a reason many of us still remember grammar, math and civics lessons having grown up with “Schoolhouse Rock!” (Need more examples? Go on YouTube and search for “Harry Potter’s” Daniel Radcliffe performing the Elements song to remember chemistry’s Periodic Table or find the chronological list of the U.S. Presidents set to “America the Beautiful.”) Sit closer to the front of seminars, classes and conferences so you can best hear the instructor. If possible, avoid auditory distractions. If someone is continually whispering to their neighbor during the session, get up and change your seat. WHAT’S THE WORD? Somewhat similar to auditory learners are verbal, or linguistic, learners. Like their auditory-inclined compatriots, verbal learners respond well to words. Their learning style, however, doesn’t correspond only to the spoken word— they also learn well through writing. Linguistic learners generally find it easy to express themselves through writing and speech, and they often have a love of reading and a facility for writing well. They also tend to have well-developed vocabularies and learn new words quickly. If you think you’re a verbal learner, try using studying techniques that involve writing and/or speaking. Like an aural learner, you’ll benefit from reading aloud to yourself. Just make sure to take time to really focus on the words in front of you—verbal learners absorb information best when they can both see and hear words. You may find it useful to read out loud to yourself and then rewrite the subject matter in your own words. Instead of simply reading through a handout on the benefits of using a cycle menu plan, for example, read it out loud in a dramatic, theatrical fashion, which will help you really focus on the words. Then, write down the information you just learned in a way that makes sense to you. Not only will you remember the dramatic reading, you’ll be able to draw upon your own writing skills. Once again, find study buddies willing to review lessons and assignments aloud together—the verbal exchange will help you commit them to memory. Because verbal learners thrive on working with words, they’ll often benefit by using word-related mnemonic devices. Like the acrostic poem that helps an auditory learner, a mnemonic device is a word-play technique to help remember information As a verbal learner, you’ll probably respond well to acronyms— you know many of these in school nutrition (SNA, USDA, ANC, HACCP, FIFO, etc.). Since verbal learners enjoy wordsmithing, you should easily be able to create your own acronyms to help yourself remember what you’re studying. And you’ll have fun, too! Don’t let yourself get trapped by a learning style preference. Every style has strengths and opposing weaknesses. You may excel at auditory learning and struggle with logical learning. That’s OK. THANK YOU, MR. SPOCK Not exactly the opposite of verbal learning (but certainly different) is logical, or mathematical, learning. As the name would imply, logical learners prefer using reasoning, logic and systems to learn. While verbal learners are often great writers, logical learners excel at math. They possess strong reasoning skills and notice patterns quickly, linking information that sometimes goes unseen by others. Logical learners retain information best when they can draw connections between subjects. Rather than just memorize facts, they prefer to understand the reasoning behind them. A logical learner working on memorizing a new recipe, for example, probably won’t be satisfied by just memorizing the steps. He or she will focus on why each step is taken in its sequence. (“You want all the flavors to be properly mixed together before the meat is added, so it absorbs the flavors equally and uniformly. If you added the oregano and pepper after the meat, then some bites of the meat will have more pepper and less oregano and so on.”) If you’re a logical learner, your natural curiosity can be a huge advantage! It can help you thoroughly understand what you’re studying and not just memorize the fact of it. Explore links between related subject matter. It may help for you to think of what you’re studying as part of a system. For example, try viewing food allergens in the greater context of keeping kids safe and all the steps in the preparation process that put them at risk. This will help you to understand the principles of preventing cross-contamination. While a logical learner’s curiosity can be a distinct advantage in the learning process, you must take care it doesn’t become an impediment. It’s easy for logical learners to sometimes get bogged down in the details and miss the bigger picture. Sometimes, logical learners focus so intensely on solving a problem that they let other projects fall by the wayside and time management may become an issue in their studying. In the hours before the pop quiz, you’re confident that you know Chapter One cold, inside and out, but realize the test will cover Chapters One through Five! Take frequent breaks in your study time to raise your awareness about how much time you’ve spent on any one concept. YOU’VE GOT THE TOUCH Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “OK, this is all well and good, but none of these really sound like me—I really just prefer to learn hands-on.” Never fear—there’s a name for that, too: physical, or tactile, learning. Physical learners learn by doing and touching. They understand and remember things best when some kind of physical movement is involved, and they tend to prefer classes and seminars that involve some kind of physical activity. They often need to break up long periods of sitting, preferring to get up and move about. Physical learners do best when they’re able to move, touch or build as they learn. So, if you think you learn tactically, it’s crucial that you get physically involved in what you’re studying. If you’re taking a culinary class, for example, ask your instructors to let you join in as they demonstrate cooking techniques. Be the first to ask a trainer of new equipment to let you give it a try under their supervision before they leave the building. While tactile learning may sound like it’s only useful when the subject matter involves physical steps, it’s actually applicable to a wide variety of learning situations. As a physical learner, the very act of writing notes— by hand or typing on a computer—is a physical action that helps to cement what you are hearing and seeing in your memory. Have you been accused of restless fidgeting because you shake your foot, squeeze a stress ball or tap your pencil while listening or reading? Explain that this is something that helps to ground your attention and keep your mind from wandering. It imparts a sense of physicality to what you’re doing. Fidget away! ME, MYSELF AND I Do one or more of these descriptions sound familiar and comforting? Don’t get too caught up in identifying the one that characterizes you. It may be that you are an auditory learner in most circumstances, except when it comes to understanding financial concepts. For that, visual aids become an essential tool. Similarly, variances in learning styles aren’t limited to subject matter alone. There may be situations that require a different approach for you to respond effectively. Let’s consider a few more styles that can affect how you best approach various educational opportunities. Solitary, or intrapersonal, learners prefer to study and learn alone or in private, one-on-one settings. Often, rather than be taught, they may prefer to teach themselves. They rarely seek help when studying or problem solving. Solitary learners concentrate well and have an ability to stay highly focused on the task at hand. If you’re a solitary learner, you’ll want to embrace your instincts and find a peaceful, quiet place to study— don’t be afraid to tell others that you need some time to yourself. Solitary learners tend to be very self-aware and thus respond well to self-set goals and can manage their time effectively. So go ahead, and set goals and check your progress regularly. In group settings, use that time and access to the instructor and other students to clarify what you don’t understand, so you don’t waste too much time trying to figure it out on your own. Every one of us, from time to time, has to take a class or study a topic that doesn’t interest us all that much. This is a danger zone for solitary learners who may not feel engaged to self-motivate and aren’t comfortable relying on the energy from others. Do what you can to identify some kind of personal investment, even in the most boring or loathsome of topics. Apply your self-awareness to find an aspect of the subject that speaks to your personal beliefs and goals. Maybe it’s just a little self-competition. (“I want to prove that my fear of bugs is not going to impact my completion of the pest-management section in our food-safety training.”) Creating a personal interest in the topic will help you focus. YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS On the opposite end of the spectrum from solitary learners are social, or interpersonal, learners, who do best when they learn in groups or with others. They enjoy bouncing ideas off other people and tend to have superb verbal and written communication skills. Interpersonal learners also easily understand another’s perspective. They don’t just enjoy studying with others; they actually heighten their learning by sharing their thoughts and observing how others respond and react. If you think you’re a social learner, try to work with others as often as you can and take opportunities to meet with your instructors. Join study groups and get input on your class, work and notes from other social learners. If you’re taking a class without an official study group, create your own. Chances are, other social learners will want to join. Group work sometimes can cause conflicts. This is natural and actually can be beneficial, if handled correctly. Instead of letting such conflicts escalate and turn personal, treat them as another way to learn. View differing points of opinion as just simply different ideas, each as valid as the next. If you can’t see eye to eye, sometimes more than one answer is right. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve made a mistake—errors can be helpful to the entire group. OWN YOUR STYLE Don’t let yourself get trapped by a learning style preference. Every style has strengths and opposing weaknesses. You may excel at auditory learning and struggle with logical learning. That’s OK! Similarly, you may be a student in a situation where the information is being conveyed in such a way that it’s difficult for you to adapt. That’s OK, too! Recognition of the obstacles is the first step to overcoming them. Start by identifying your learning weaknesses and then working on ways to improve your abilities. After all, most lefties have learned how to operate in a right-hand-dominated world! Practice and adaptation can work wonders. Find work-arounds when the situation doesn’t lend itself to your natural learning style. As often as you can, however, apply the practices and techniques of your preferred styles. Doing so will improve the pace at which you learn, your success in understanding and retaining information over time—and your stress about what’s being taught! As a result, you’ll come to enjoy greater curiosity and boosted confidence that you can learn. WHAT’S YOUR LEARNING STYLE? 2.0 Want to dig deeper into understanding what style of learning suits you best? SNA’s Professional Development staff have created an online assessment to help you identify your top preferred styles. To access this assessment, visit https://schoolnutrition. org/Styles. Karly Kolaja is a freelance writer based in Bethel, Conn.
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