Savvy Parenting

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Knowing a Child’s Learning Style Improves Memory Skills

Parents who understand a child's learning style can teach them more effectively.

Memory and learning go hand in hand. Although the two terms are not synonymous, they are highly interrelated. In order to remember, a person’s brain must first learn (encode) the information they will later remember (retrieval). When it comes to learning concerns, whether a child has ADHD, a learning disability, anxiety or some other emotional difficulty, parents’ most common question to me is “How can we improve his or her memory”?

 Memory is highly impacted by learning style. Once a persons’ learning style is understood and accommodated for, memory will improve. When people understand their learning style, they can adapt how they learn to most efficiently use their brains, including and improving their memory capability.

 Here are ways to determine a person’s unique learning style:

1. Psychological or neuropsychological testing offers formal insight into the brain through a set of standardized tasks that are administered and scored according to testing standards. The results are compared with normative data offers a unique profile of a person’s strengths and weakness in learning style compared to same age peers. Basically, the test results offer a snap shot into a person’s brain functioning as it relates to their behavior and learning style.

2. The informal or non-standardized way of determining learning style is by recognizing what type of learning is easy and intuitive compared to what type is difficult for a person. This means recognizing what comes easily and naturally and what does not.

When it comes to improving memory, knowledge of learning style is essential and here are some basic guidelines:

1. Auditory learners are people that are best at listening and learning. These are the kids who love to listen to and comprehend difficult stories, but aren’t able to comprehend and therefore recall at the same level if they read the information from a book. They remember what they hear, especially in context. They pick up languages easily because of the auditory component and their ability to copy and memorize the sounds of what they hear. Auditory learners hear the information and when it's time to remember it and they recite an auditory script in their head as part of recalling it.

2. Visual learners benefit from seeing what they need to learn and remember. They do better by watching a visual of information or reading information. They also tend to be inclined to problem solve with their hands. They like to see and manipulate visual information, therefore learning visual problem solving strategies that can be recalled and applied in other situations where visual learning is required. Visual learners prefer to see the information to be recalled and can create a visual file in their brain to retrieve this information when necessary.

3. People with attention and executive functioning weaknesses are challenged by being presented with different types of learning simultaneously. For example, if they are introduced to a new person, they may not recall their name because they are hearing the name while visually processing their face. These two inputs compete in an already overloaded brain, causing forgetfulness of the name. In addition, ADHD people tended not to recall rote facts such as names of unfamiliar people because they rely on contextual cues to help them make the information more meaningful and memorable.

4. People with executive functioning and or learning disabilities (not with learning preferences such as auditory and visual learning preferences as described above, but actual disabilities) often require repetition of information through a variety of modalities- visual, auditory, tactical, sensory, as part of the encoding and retrieval process required for memory.

Most people do not have learning disabilities or executive functioning weaknesses and yet memory remains a challenge. Some people do not have a preferred learning style; however, most people have some variability with strengths and weaknesses in their learning profile. The basic strategy of knowing and using ones preferred learning style to reinforce memory is not practiced routinely today and yet it should be.

Given the rate and the pace of life today it behooves people to know their learning style and the learning styles of those around them with whom they rely on and communicate with routinely. People communicate most efficiently when information is presented in a manner that is consistent with a person’s learning style. Many miscommunications occur in relationships, both parent –child and parent-parent because of misunderstanding of each other’s learn styles and capabilities; all of which impact memory. 

Kate Roberts, Ph.D., is a consulting school psychologist and former professor of psychiatry at Brown University.

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