Learning is a process that takes place by absorbing information through our various senses; Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting. Every single piece of information that we are able to accumulate is given to us through one of these five senses.
Maths, in particular, is limited to three of these senses. We are not able to smell maths, nor taste it. And although it could be argued that we can’t “feel” maths either, it can certainly be said that we can physically write it down, which in turn allows us to memorise the content better by giving us something physical to do. The other two senses, seeing and hearing, are also fundamental to our ability to absorb, store, and remember the content we learn.
Why does this matter?
Most students, whether they are learning Maths, English, Science, Language, or almost anything else, tend to rely more on one particular sense. Students can often be placed into three (broad) categories.
Types of Learners
Visual learners tend to rely on their sense of sight, and usually need to see information in order to effectively process it. Such learners are often quite good at learning straight out of a book, and work will if they have pictures or diagrams to study and analyse. On the flipside, visual learners can often have difficulty learning from someone who prefers to talk rather than to show.
Auditory learners naturally tend to focus more on what they can hear. They are usually naturally talented at public speaking (even without preparation) and need to be told and explained ideas in order to memorise them. They often struggle trying to learn from a book, but can work quite well from spoken ideas, even if a teacher has offered no other props or examples. At the same time, auditory learners tend to have more difficulty writing for prolonged periods of time, studying in silence, or seeing significant details in diagrams or pictures.
Kinesthetic learners are the final stereotype. As a kinesthetic learner, you rely on your sense of touch and feeling above all. When applied to Mathematics, this usually translates to learning by ‘doing’. Kinesthetic learners learn by actually performing actions, such as problem-solving. They often struggle simply being “told” or “shown” what to do, they must actually work through the problem in question in order to understand it.
Generally, students will favour one of these styles over others. That’s not a problem. In fact, it’s totally normal. There is no sense in trying to alter a student’s preferred style of learning. However, if an auditory learner is predominantly taught by a teacher who favours diagrams and pictures to explain, the student is unlikely to strongly grasp the concepts.
So what to do?
There are many techniques that can be utilised in order to capitalise on your natural abilities. The most potent one, however, is utilising not only your “primary” learning sense but combining it with the others.
This approach is called multisensory learning and is very effective for memorising, learning, and understanding formulae and techniques. For example, speaking to yourself while writing down notes tends to be 5 or 6 times more effective than simply hearing the material. This is because speaking while writing combines all three of your Mathematical learning senses; you are simultaneously writing, reading and speaking, which activates your senses of feeling, sight, and hearing all at the same time.
Another useful strategy is sometimes known as the rubber duck method. This method is often popular among computer programmers to debug code, but the same idea applies to learning Maths. The strategy is very simple; try to explain and teach out loud what you are doing to a rubber duck (or other inanimate object). This method is a good way of ensuring you have the maximum understanding of the content in question.
Alternatively, try to teach your tutor. Being able to pass on knowledge is generally a very clear indicator of understanding. By teaching someone else what you know, you are proving both to your ‘student’ and to yourself that you completely understand the ideas and methods you have been studying.
Where to go from here?
Try to understand what type of learner you are, whether it be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, or perhaps somewhere in between. Contemplate what strategies might be effective for your learning, and what strategies might be somewhat less efficient.
Let your tutor know how you went, and what kind of learner you think you are. As a tutor, this knowledge is invaluable as it lets us tailor our lesson plans, methods and approaches to suit each individual student.
Also, try implementing some of the strategies mentioned above for multisensory learning. You could even come up with your own ideas. Again, let your tutor know about these; even when we teach, we learn. From your insights or idea may come some fantastic new techniques we can use not only for your development but for our own and all of our other students as well. Multisensory learning is by far the most efficient and effective way to learn.
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