How Do You Learn?

Did you know that you learn information in different ways, or how you are most effective at assimilating this information? In order to find ways to study more effectively, you first need to understand how you learn. First, take some time to understand how you assimilate new information into your long-term memory.  Then you can take the following Learning Style assessment to determine what type of learner you are and how best to adapt the class and your studying habits to most effectively learn and understand the material.  Then take one or more of the Study Habits assessments to determine which study habits may be weak for you.

Diagram of Learning and Memory

What Is Learning?

Learning means that you take inputs from your environment and encode them into your long-term memory. The diagram above demonstrates the process required for taking something and getting it stored permanently in your long-term memory. The key to learning how to use your time in class effectively is to understand that it takes an effort to learn material. Simply sitting in a class is not enough.

  • First Store Sensory Inputs into Sensory Memory
    As you take in sensory inputs, such as the sights and sounds from a lecture, you have to actively attend to the inputs in order to move them into long-term memory. The first step involves the brief storage of sensory inputs into your sensory memory. Your sensory memory has a large capacity but can only hold information for a brief time. If you do not give these new inputs attention to move the information into your working memory it will fade away. You do not have time in class to take each piece of new information and act on it; therefore taking notes is essential to learning new material. Without them you will have no chance to later rehearse the information in your working memory.
  • Next, Move Information into Working Memory to Build Long-Term Memories
    When you move information into your working memory, you simultaneously retrieve related information and schema from your long-term memory. By acting on the combination of the old and new information, you build new long-term memories. Because the effectiveness of your working memory depends on retrieving the schema related to the subject, it is important that you understand the schema for the subjects you are studying.
  • Result: You will learn the material so that you can use it later.   These long-term memories will now be available to you the next time you need to learn new material and when you need to recall them for exams.


Understanding Your Learning Style and Preferences

Understanding your learning style and preferences can help you plan strategies for attacking course materials.  Sometimes a struggle in learning material comes from a discordancy between the way material is presented and your own preferences.  Recognizing this can help you develop ways of reformatting material in ways that better match your style.  

We recommend the VARK learning style assessment.  The VARK is free for students. 

Study Habits Assessments

Study Habits
Take Virginia Tech’s assessment to determine which study habits may be weak for you and your attitude about them.