Adapting Learning Styles During COVID-19

by Genevieve Carlton
• 3 min read
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The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for college students.

With colleges switching between in-person and online learning, some students struggle to adapt their learning styles and stay on top of their work.

During this unusual time for higher education, students can help themselves succeed by understanding how they learn best — and how to adapt that learning style for the COVID-19 era. Here are some tips and tricks to help every learner adapt during the pandemic.

The Different Types of Learners

Educators and psychologists have identified four main types of learners: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.

The visual learning style responds best by seeing new information. Charts, videos, images, diagrams, and other forms of visual material help these learners absorb class material. Auditory learners succeed when they can hear the course material. They do well with lectures and often learn best when they read material out loud to themselves. Also known as physical learners, kinesthetic learners need to try things out with their hands and move while they learn. They thrive in experiential and hands-on learning environments. As the name implies, reading and writing learners absorb information best when they can read and write it. They learn most easily from books and can benefit from taking notes during lectures.

Understanding which learning style you have makes it easier to succeed in college. For example, auditory learners can modify their studying tactics to include reading out loud or listening to audio books, while kinesthetic learners can take a fidget toy to lectures.

In actuality, there are many more than 4 types of learners. For instance, some students learn best when they're using logic to classify and categorize information. Others need a social setting to reinforce their learning. Still others learn best when they have to teach the material to someone else.

It's also worth remembering that most people have a mix of learning styles. It's rare to be a perfect match for only one style.

COVID-19 and Learning Styles

Whatever your learning style, you've probably had to adapt a lot in the past year. In the spring of 2020, colleges and universities abruptly shifted to an online learning format. Many students — and instructors — had to learn a completely new way of doing college classes.

While some colleges returned to campus for fall semester, others offered a mix of hybrid and online classes. With many classes operating online for the foreseeable future, students can lean on these tips and tricks to succeed in the COVID-19 era.

When learning from home, visual learners need to minimize distractions. Instead of studying next to a window and getting distracted by the outside, create a dedicated workspace and make class the most engaging thing in your eyeline. Visual learners can also make their own diagrams, designs, or even doodles; taking visual notes helps them retain information. Auditory learners can thrive in distance learning environments because online classes tend to place a greater emphasis on sound and listening. Auditory learners may benefit from using headphones when attending class to block out other sounds. If their professors don't mind, sometimes turning off the screen can help auditory learners focus on the material. Reading material out loud can also help auditory learners absorb new information. Hybrid and virtual learning environments are particularly helpful for kinesthetic learners. Professors generally frown upon walking around during a lecture, but in a virtual environment, kinesthetic learners can turn on recorded material and move while they listen to or study it. A standing or walking desk can also help kinesthetic learners keep moving while actively engaging with their courses. Many college classes already gear their material toward reading/writing learners. In an online format, reading/writing learners can increase their productivity by taking notes during online lectures and discussions. Some online platforms create automatic transcripts for lectures, which reading-centered learners can use to follow along or review content later. Rewriting and rereading also helps these learners cement new information.

What works for one learner won't work for everyone, and successful students often use a combination of strategies. So go ahead and try a few different approaches to see what works best for you.

Table: How Learning Styles Can Adapt to Online Classes. Column one: Visual. Learns best by seeing new information. Goal: Lean into the visual side of class. Tips: Create your own designs and diagrams for data, minimize visual distractions during class, and take engaging notes. Column two: Auditory. Learns best by listening and reading out loud. Goal: Turn up the volume. Tips: Use headphones for virtual classes, listen to lectures with the screen turned off, and read material out loud. Column three. Kinesthetic. Learns best through hands-on experience. Goal: Incorporate activity into classes. Tips: Listen to lectures while walking, use a standing or walking desk at home, and keep a fidget toy handy. Column four. Reading/Writing. Learns best through reading and writing new information. Goal: Keep a pencil nearby. Tips: Take notes during online sessions. check for transcripts of lectures, and set aside time to rewrite and reread material.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Drazen_ | Getty Images

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