When Learning is Hard: 3 Ways to Make it Easier (Guest Post)

August 4, 2020

The following is a guest post by Darya Jandossova Troncoso, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Dataquest.

Learning is a lifelong process. It starts when we're babies and follows us into old age. Education is essential to our development and to how we see the world. The desire for knowledge starts at a young age through an exploration of one's surroundings, followed by formal education and beyond.

Throughout life, we learn to retain information in a certain way and whatever your preferred style is, it's crucial to understand why it works for you. If you understand the basics, you can improve and build on them to further your knowledge. Some of the areas you might want to improve could be:

  • Learning faster
  • Better understating and retention of information
  • Making the learning process easier and more efficient 

Before trying to figure out how to go about improving these areas of concern, let's investigate the most popular learning concepts and models and how they may apply in different real-life situations, whether you’re learning from home or school. 

The Concepts

Experiential learning

The first concept on our list is a model of experiential learning, suggested by David Kolb. This American educational theorist emphasized the idea of continual learning. Kolb's learning theory sets out four distinct learning styles (or preferences) built upon a four-stage learning cycle. 

Image credit: BusinessBalls

According to Kolb, there are four learning styles: Accommodating, Converging, Diverging, and Assimilating. As Kolb understood it, the Accommodating learning style (doing and feeling - CE/AE) stands for 'hands-on' type and applies to Accommodators. They prefer to take a practical, experiential approach and learn from real experience. 

Converging learning style (doing and thinking - AC/AE) - refers to Convergers, who can solve problems and find solutions to practical issues by testing theories. Diverging (feeling and watching - CE/RO) - describes Divergers - sensitive people capable of looking at things from different perspectives, gathering information and using imagination when dealing with problems. 

The last style is Assimilating (watching and thinking - AC/RO). Kolb suggests  Assimilators prefer a concise, logical approach. For them, ideas and concepts are more important than people; they love working with abstract ideas and developing their theories.

The Learning Styles model by David Kolb was acknowledged by academics, teachers, and trainers back in 1984 when it was first published. His work set up the fundamental concepts aimed towards better understanding and explaining of human learning behavior, contributing massively to the understanding of how we learn.

Mind Styles Model

The next model that is widely accepted today is the Mind Styles Model, developed by Anthony Gregorc. This model provides an organized way of how the mind works. Anthony Gregorc developed his idea using Duality, a centuries-old approach of western philosophy. In his research published in 1977, Gregorc defined two modes of learning which he called preference modes. Later on, he came out with the Mind Styles Model. This model was presented similarly to Kolb's Learning Styles scheme. 

Image credit: The Peak Performance Center

The four different quadrants of learning preference modes, according to Anthony Gregorc, are Abstract Random, Abstract Sequential, Concrete Random, Concrete Sequential.

  • Concrete Sequential (CS) stands for the logical, objective, pragmatic, deliberate, and methodical mode. CS learners focus on tangible results. They are not creative, and they need a stable environment without confusion. 
  • Concrete Random (CR) stands for adventurous, impulsive, intuitive, and instinctive mode. CR learners can focus on both process and result. They are creative. They love changes and competition, and they need a challenging, stimulating environment; otherwise, they get bored and unmotivated easily. 
  • Abstract Sequential (AS) stands for analytical, reflective, conventional, and methodical mode. AS learners prefer to deal with abstract terms, symbols, theoretical concepts, and ideas. These people enjoy a quiet environment; they focus on the process over the result and perform very well when there is an intellectual challenge.
  • Abstract Random (AR) stands for empathic, spiritual, cautious, perceptive, and sensitive mode. AR learners prefer a vibrant, lively environment where they can express their feelings and emotions. Gifted with music, literary, or artistic talent, they use their feelings to make sense of their experience. 

VAK - Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners 

The Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners (often identified by the acronym VAK) model was proposed by psychologist Walter Burke Barbe and his colleagues who recognized three learning styles or "modalities" of learning: 

  • Visual (picture, shape, sculpture, paintings)
  • Auditory (listening, rhythms, tone, chants)
  • Kinesthetic (gestures, body movements, object manipulation, positioning)

Barbe stated that the most effective learning was possible through utilizing all three modalities in combination. Later, Neil Flemings expanded this model by adding "Read/Write Learning" as a fourth modality. He was clear that visual learners need visual aids while learning, such as graphs, charts, diagrams). Auditory can succeed through listening (lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.). Read/write learners achieve the best results through written words (readings, dictionaries, reference works, etc.) Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to obtain knowledge experience (science projects, experiments, world exploration, etc.).

The VAK/VARK model gained immense popularity and was widely practiced for an extended period. You can still find some recommendations based on this concept. However, as with some of the earlier models, it's now considered by some to be an outdated theory with a fixed outlook.  

Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Another theory that challenged the traditional perspective on intelligence was the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Briefly, this theory claims that each person has different ways of learning and various types of information they use in their daily lives. The concept of multiple intelligences originated with Howard Gardner of Harvard University. After conducting cognitive research, he identified seven stand-alone intelligences, adding two more at a later point.

  • Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence
  • Mathematical-Logical Intelligence
  • Musical Intelligence
  • Visual-Spatial Intelligence
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence.
  • Naturalist Intelligence
  • Existential Intelligence

According to Gardner's theory, every individual possesses a part of each intelligence, but some dominate and determine how each person learns and applies it. As Gardner wrote in his book 'The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach': "I argue that a contrasting set of assumptions is more likely to be educationally effective. Students learn in identifiably distinctive ways. The broad spectrum of students — and perhaps the society as a whole — would be better served if disciplines could be presented in a number of ways and learning could be assessed through a variety of means." 

The theory of Multiple Intelligences was developed by Gardner to challenge academic psychologists but it didn't present many educational suggestions. Still, many well-prepared, experienced educators have confirmed that with the help of specific modes of multimedia and instruction techniques, this theory's educational implication is capable of solving the most common learning problems and significantly enhancing the learning process for every child or a teenager. But how exactly does it work? The theory has provided eight approaches to learning that turn out to be very helpful when traditional teaching methods are becoming inefficient:

  • Words (linguistic intelligence) 
  • Numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence).
  • Pictures (spatial intelligence).
  • Music (musical intelligence).
  • Self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence).
  • A real experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence).
  • A social experience (interpersonal intelligence).
  • Experience in the natural world (naturalist intelligence).

Image credit: adioma.com

But how is any of this useful to you in your learning journey? There are many ways to make learning more comfortable with age. Let's talk about three tips to help you navigate learning a bit easier, no matter how old you are. 

Understand Your Learning Style 

Once you understand how you learn best, you can start building on top of it. Most likely, it’s a combination of several techniques. Some styles work better than others, and once you’re aware which techniques help you retain the most information or allow you to have fun in the process, you can weed out the parts that aren’t working for you.

If you’re struggling to retain what you’ve learned, it’s possible you’re not using the right tools. It could be as simple as using a note-taking app on your phone or tablet that provides you with ways to write things down or create visual learning cues to help you remember better. By writing down notes and drawing simultaneously, you’re using several modalities at once, visual, kinesthetic and semantic, basically processing information in three different ways, which is better than just one.

Understanding your learning style also allows you to figure out why you’re struggling and knowing how you learn best benefits not just your studies, but quite a few aspects of your life as well. All in all, instead of beating yourself down about the inability to learn and retain what you’ve learned, it’s better to approach this matter from a different angle and hopefully become aware of what it is that works best for you.

Don't Focus On Just One Way of Learning

Every student is different and there’s no reason why everyone should follow the same learning technique or style. Individualization needs to become the leading approach in modern education, whether it’s for school, university or self-study. The diverse kind of learning is essential for facilitating curiosity and improving the overall retention. 

Quite a bit is becoming possible due to the rapidly emerging technology. Students can gain knowledge through a variety of digital tools and have plenty of ways to demonstrate their skills. Another successful approach in obtaining high-levels of knowledge and skill is a hands-on learning style that lets students experience and learn in multiple ways. This also leads to higher retention rates. 

As the name suggests, this approach is all about providing students with the ability to learn in a practical hands-on environment. When they are taken from a lecture hall and offered a chance to use what they’re learning in real-world circumstances, the percentage of information retained increases by quite a bit.

This approach can be applied to learners of any age, and it works for learning almost anything. 

In the context of learning data science and programming, for example, many learners watch video lectures and struggle to grasp the material. Switching to a more hands-on approach where they’re challenged to write code for themselves in incremental steps can improve understanding and increase retention.

This same technique can be applied to a variety of things. It doesn’t matter what it is that you’re trying to learn, going out and trying to do it is often the best approach.. 

Train Your Brain

Keeping your brain sharp is also very important. Here are a few critical tips on how to improve your cognitive functions, including memory recall, concentration, and attention to detail. 

  • First of all, don't skip regular physical exercise. Do yoga, get yourself a bike, or take swimming. Besides all the other benefits, exercising involves thinking, processing, and learning, and it can boost your overall brain activity. 
  • Different ways to improve cognitive functions is through learning new hobbies. It could be anything from drawing to knitting, writing fiction or learning a new instrument and composing music. Basically doing something creative is a great stimulus that allows you to overcome periods of mental stagnation and learn a new skill in the meantime. 
  • Join online courses like this one, offered by Harvard Medical School experts. It offers a convenient way of improving your ability to concentrate and sharpen your memory through learning helpful strategies and using different techniques that will help you to keep your mind and consciousness in shape. 
  • Stay healthy - by having a good sleep, eating healthy and including dark chocolate in your diet, playing logic games or computer gameskeeping a diary or blogging and reading - all great ways to keep your mind sharp and occupied. 

Applying just some of the recommendations from above will help you become a better learner. Just be patient because such improvements won’t happen overnight. It might not be a bad idea to evaluate your "readiness to learn" at the current stage and do another evaluation in three or six months from now. 

Conclusion

Learning can be difficult no matter what age you are, but there are ways to make it easier. It's a long, but rewarding journey. Just make sure you’re not too hard on yourself, figure out how you learn best, and use multiple ways to gain this knowledge while staying healthy. 

About the Guest Author:

Darya Jandossova Troncoso is a photographer, artist and writer working on her first novel and managing a digital marketing blog - MarketSplash. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, creating art and learning everything there is to know about digital marketing.


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