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Learning Styles – How to Absorb Information to Make It More Memorable

Law Student Learning Styles

Successful law students increase understanding, retention, and recall through absorption learning preferences. They convert legal information to the unique formats most memorable to them. They use their preferences to advantage for wiser use of time and more extensive results.

What is Your Learning Style?

Evaluate your absorption learning preferences for free. The VARK questionnaire is available here. VARK evaluates four learning preferences: (1) visual, (2) aural, (3) read/write, and (4) kinesthetic. The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) evaluates the verbal (same as read/write) and visual absorption preferences. (ILS also evaluates six processing learning preferences that focus on organization of material; those preferences will be discussed in the March 2011 Advice from the Inside column.)

Some Basics about Absorption Learning Preferences

We have to deal with a variety of presentation formats because we usually do not control the choice of course material. By converting the initial information into our preferred formats, we can increase our learning. Absorption preferences indicate which formats are most advantageous to a specific learner.

For example, a law student has to read cases even if she is not a read/write or verbal learner by preference. That student can increase her learning by converting the verbal information into her preferred formats for better absorption: visual, aural, and/or kinesthetic.

Learners may have one absorption learning preference (single mode) or multiple learning preferences (multi-mode). Single mode learners need to get as much advantage as possible out of that one preference. Multi-mode learners will combine all of their preferences to get the most advantage.

Learners within the same absorption preference are unique from one another. For example, visual learners may vary greatly on which visual techniques are effective for them. And for multi-mode learners, the score for each preference will vary depending on how they layer techniques for optimal learning.

Understand the read/write or verbal absorption preference. These learners use reading and writing to reinforce one another for optimal learning.

Tips for verbal learners include:

  • Be an active reader.
    • Ask lots of questions to engage with the material.
    • Condense the main ideas into margin notes.
    • Summarize the material in a brief.
  • Choose study aids to match the depth of understanding needed: commentaries versus commercial outlines, for example.
  • Use verbal memory tools: word acronyms, silly sentences to remember non-word acronyms, stories incorporating lists, rhymes, and sayings.
  • Decide whether handwritten class notes result in more learning than typed notes.
  • Determine the most memorable way of learning material:
    • writing or typing flashcards;
    • writing or typing rules multiple times; or
    • writing or typing a condensed version of a longer outline

Understand the visual preference for learning. Visual learners learn and retain material better when they see it rather than hear it or read it. Visual techniques vary greatly in their complexity.

Visual learners should consider the following techniques:

  • Use bulleted or numbered lists rather than longer paragraphs and sentences.
  • Indicate importance or hierarchy with bold, italics, underlining, all caps, different fonts, different font sizes, or indentations.
  • Use color to organize material.
    • Assign highlighter colors to indicate case categories: issues, facts, reasoning, dicta, dissents, concurrences, holding, or judgment.
    • Assign tab colors in a code book to indicate topics or hierarchy within topics.
    • Assign ink colors in an outline to indicate category (rules in green and policy in blue) or additional review needed (difficult material in pink).
  • Use visual graphic organizers to present information: tables, Venn diagrams, yes/no decision trees, mind maps, time lines, or other variations.
  • Use visual memory techniques to learn a list:
    • method of location (anchor visual images to furniture in the rooms of your house)
    • peg method (anchor visual images to coupled rhyming words and numbers); and
    • story method (anchor visual images to a story line).
  • Connect visual fact images with rules or elements and issue spot in an exam scenario by matching those images to the new facts.
  • Capture visuals that your professor uses or that you think of in class with pad and pen.
  • Chart your organization for an exam answer: columns for rule elements and rows for plaintiff and defendant; fill in each cell with facts, cases, and policies.
  • Condense code sections to bulleted or numbered steps in the book margins.
  • Use a dry erase board to create memorable graphics.
  • Use computer software to create graphics: Inspiration, OneNote, or other products.

Understand the two dimensions of the aural preference. The aural preference includes listening (aural) and talking (oral) components. Some learners consider these two components equally matched within the preference. However, other learners consider one component to be stronger than the other.

The following techniques work for both listening and talking learners. Listeners learn from hearing the inflection while talkers learn from speaking:

  • Stay engaged in class discussion.
    • Answer the question silently in your head.
    • Compare your answer to the classmate’s answer.
    • Listen to the professor’s comments.
  • Read difficult passages out loud to assist in understanding.
  • Explain a case out loud to test your understanding.
  • Recite rules out loud to aid your memory.

Listening learners should consider the following tips:

  • Choose a classroom seat with acoustics and focus in mind.
    • Avoid classmates who chatter during class.
    • Avoid acoustical “dead spots” and outside hallway noise.
  • Think about the class material rather than trying to transcribe verbatim.
  • Determine whether the audio study aids assist you in reviewing material.

Talking learners should consider the following aspects:

  • Participate in class whenever appropriate to add to your learning.
  • Discuss material regularly with classmates.
  • When confused, ask the professor if you can explain the material and get feedback rather than ask the professor to re-explain material to you.
  • Think before you talk rather than blurt out the first idea that comes to you.

Understand the kinesthetic learning preference. The kinesthetic preference also has two components: kinesthetic (movement) and tactile (touch). These aspects may be equally balanced or one may be stronger than the other.

Movement can increase these learners’ ability to focus. However, non-kinesthetic parents or teachers in the past may have complained about these learners fidgeting or taking frequent breaks.

Tips for kinesthetic learners are:

  • Differentiate between movements that aid focus and those that distract.
  • Consider whether focus is increased by typing class notes rather than handwriting them.
  • Be aware when short breaks with movement will allow one to re-focus.
  • Determine when repetitive movement aids a study task:
    • listen to an audio study aid while cooking dinner;
    • study an outline while on the treadmill; or
    • pace while learning flashcards.

Touch means manipulating the concepts and applying them to new fact scenarios. Thus, tactile learners benefit from practice questions because application cements ideas, identifies legal nuances, and incorporates exam techniques. Tactile students will want to choose hands-on learning situations: clinics, trial advocacy, negotiation, client interviewing, or externships.

Work with a learning specialist to determine an individualized study approach. Most law school academic support professionals can assist you in applying your combination of absorption preferences to advantage. Some law professors are also aware of learning preferences and can suggest approaches for their specific courses.

Amy Jarmon Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog . She is the author of Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers, which is published by the American Bar Association. She has practiced law in the United States and the United Kingdom.