ACTIVE AND REFLECTIVE LEARNERS
· Active learners tend to retain and understand information best by doing
something active with it--discussing or applying it or explaining it to
others. Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first.
· "Let's try it out and see how it works" is an active learner's phrase; "Let's
think it through first" is the reflective learner's response.
· Active learners tend to like group work more than reflective learners, who
prefer working alone.
· Sitting through lectures without getting to do anything physical but take
notes is hard for both learning types, but particularly hard for active
Everybody is active sometimes and reflective sometimes. Your preference for
one category or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. A balance of the two
is desirable. If you always act before reflecting you can jump into things
prematurely and get into trouble, while if you spend too much time reflecting you
may never get anything done.
How can active learners help themselves?
If you are an active learner in a class that allows little or no class time for
discussion or problem-solving activities, you should try to compensate for these
lacks when you study. Study in a group in which the members take turns
explaining different topics to each other. Work with others to guess what you will
be asked on the next test and figure out how you will answer. You will always
retain information better if you find ways to do something with it.
How can reflective learners help themselves?
If you are a reflective learner in a class that allows little or no class time for
thinking about new information, you should try to compensate for this lack when
you study. Don't simply read or memorize the material; stop periodically to
review what you have read and to think of possible questions or applications.
You might find it helpful to write short summaries of readings or class notes in
your own words. Doing so may take extra time but will enable you to retain the
material more effectively.
SENSING AND INTUITIVE LEARNERS
· Sensing learners tend to like learning facts, intuitive learners often prefer
discovering possibilities and relationships.
· Sensors often like solving problems by well-established methods and
dislike complications and surprises; intuitors like innovation and dislike
repetition. Sensors are more likely than intuitors to resent being tested on
material that has not been explicitly covered in class.
· Sensors tend to be patient with details and good at memorizing facts and
doing hands-on (laboratory) work; intuitors may be better at grasping new
concepts and are often more comfortable than sensors with abstractions
and mathematical formulations.
· Sensors tend to be more practical and careful than intuitors; intuitors tend
to work faster and to be more innovative than sensors.
· Sensors don't like courses that have no apparent connection to the real
world; intuitors don't like "plug-and-chug" courses that involve a lot of
memorization and routine calculations.
Everybody is sensing sometimes and intuitive sometimes. Your preference for
one or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. To be effective as a learner
and problem solver, you need to be able to function both ways. If you
overemphasize intuition, you may miss important details or make careless
mistakes in calculations or hands-on work; if you overemphasize sensing, you
may rely too much on memorization and familiar methods and not concentrate
enough on understanding and innovative thinking.
How can sensing learners help themselves?
Sensors remember and understand information best if they can see how it connects
to the real world. If you are in a class where most of the material is abstract and
theoretical, you may have difficulty. Ask your instructor for specific examples of
concepts and procedures, and find out how the concepts apply in practice. If the
teacher does not provide enough specifics, try to find some in your course text or
other references or by brainstorming with friends or classmates.
How can intuitive learners help themselves?
Many college lecture classes are aimed at intuitors. However, if you are an
intuitor and you happen to be in a class that deals primarily with memorization
and rote substitution in formulas, you may have trouble with boredom. Ask your
instructor for interpretations or theories that link the facts, or try to find the
connections yourself. You may also be prone to careless mistakes on test because
you are impatient with details and don't like repetition (as in checking your
completed solutions). Take time to read the entire question before you start
answering and be sure to check your results
VISUAL AND VERBAL LEARNERS
Visual learners remember best what they see--pictures, diagrams, flow charts,
time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words--
written and spoken explanations. Everyone learns more when information is
presented both visually and verbally.
In most college classes very little visual information is presented: students mainly
listen to lectures and read material written on chalkboards and in textbooks and
handouts. Unfortunately, most people are visual learners, which means that most
students do not get nearly as much as they would if more visual presentation were
used in class. Good learners are capable of processing information presented
either visually or verbally.
How can visual learners help themselves?
If you are a visual learner, try to find diagrams, sketches, schematics,
photographs, flow charts, or any other visual representation of course material
that is predominantly verbal. Ask your instructor, consult reference books, and
see if any videotapes or CD-ROM displays of the course material are available.
Prepare a concept map by listing key points, enclosing them in boxes or circles,
and drawing lines with arrows between concepts to show connections. Color-
code your notes with a highlighter so that everything relating to one topic is the
How can verbal learners help themselves?
Write summaries or outlines of course material in your own words. Working in
groups can be particularly effective: you gain understanding of material by
hearing classmates' explanations and you learn even more when you do the
Adapted from the work of:
Richard M. Felder
Hoechst Celanese Professor of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University
Barbara A. Soloman
Coordinator of Advising, First Year College
North Carolina State University