Learning Types and Strategies for Success

Updated | Published
by J.Adderton J.Adderton, BSN, MSN

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 29 years experience.

Nursing students often realize past study habits are not as effective in nursing school. Understanding your preferred learning style will help identify what class and study strategies will best support your success.

Can I be more successful by knowing my learning style?

Learning Types and Strategies for Success

Students accepted into nursing programs are successful learners and meet impressive admission criteria. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to discover what has worked in other learning college courses seem ineffective in the strange new world of nursing school. Students start second guessing the learning and study strategies that brought them to this point. If this is your story, there is good news! Understanding your preferred learning style may ease your anxiety and pave the way for new study strategies.

It is highly unlikely that faculty can teach to every student's preferred learning style. It is important that you, as the learner, adapt to your instructor's method of teaching. Being aware of your own learning style will ease the frustration of nursing school. Let's take a look at each learning type and strategies for success.

Important note: Most students do not fit into just one category. Think outside of the box and discover a variety of strategies....it is all about what works for you.

The Visual Learner

Visual learners need to "see it first" in order to grasp new concepts. Students often want to see a new skill performed before they move forward. Other helpful tools may include graphs, charts, handouts, videos, written directions and step-by-step instructions.

In Class Strategies

  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues that signify important information during class (I.e. instructor body language, gestures, changes in voice volume).
  • It is easier to pick up on your instructor's non-verbal cues if you sit in the front of class.
  • Watch closely for information that is starred or unlined in the instructor's powerpoints, handouts and other teaching tools.
  • Take detailed notes and make lists, charts or sketch images to use when studying.
  • Use colorful highlighters to notate important information.
  • Request in-class demonstration when appropriate.
  • Participate in lab and take advantage of practicing skills during lab "down-time".

Study Strategies

  • Rewrite your notes and try using symbols or sketches to highlight important information
  • Create your own visual study aids.
  • Try using Prezi (Prezi.com) or powerpoint to present your notes. Be sure to use images, pictures and other visual aids.
  • Use flashcards made with brief bits of important information for review.
  • Create your own practice exam with potential question from the module materials.
  • Schedule time outside of class to use checklists to practice skills in the lab.

The Auditory Learner

Auditory learners prefer to learn through listening and often use phrases such as, "tell me how", "talk me through it". Information is best retained when they can hear it first. They also benefit from videos, audiobooks and recordings. When reading, auditory learners can often be heard reading aloud to themselves.

In Class Strategies

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions in class.
  • Ask your instructor if you can tape lectures for later review.
  • Participate in class or lab discussion.
  • Sit in the front of the room to hear lecture clearly.

Study Strategies

  • Find a place you can read text, read assignment instructions and study out loud.
  • Rephrase your notes and information in your own words.
  • Join a study group and discuss or talk through concepts out loud.
  • Find a buddy to reteach concepts to each other.

The Tactile or Kinesthetic Learner

Tactile learners use touch (hands on) experiences to learn. These will be the students who enjoy learning in the lab and nursing clinicals. The hands on activity helps tactile learners to concentrate and retain information. These learners like to "jump right into" a learning activity without waiting for instructions and often volunteer to demonstrate or perform a new skill.

In Class Strategies

  • Take notes, but don't resist the urge to draw or doodle. Doodle activity actually improves concentration and memory in the tactile learner.
  • When the class is asked, volunteer to demonstrate a skill or role play.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues that signify important information during class (I.e. instructor body language, gestures, changes in voice volume).

Study Strategies

  • When studying, use your hands to gesture and emphasize key information
  • Rewrite or type class notes in your own words
  • Move around when studying and take frequent breaks.
  • Participate in lab and take advantage of practicing skills during lab "down-time".
  • Make flashcards and use them to play a game with a study buddy.

The Mixed Learner

Mixed learners are flexible and can benefit from strategies associated with other types. However, the mixed learner usually has a dominant learning style. When learning difficult concepts, mixed learners should use study strategies specific to their dominate type.

Nursing school is tough and it is easy to become overwhelmed. Knowing and understanding your learning style will assist you in using the most effective class and study strategies. You can reduce your frustration by focusing on the behaviors and activities that will help you most.

For more information download the NCLEX Study Guide ebook...

allnurses® Ebooks Library


Learning Styles: Columbia College

Quick learning style questionnaire: VARK | a guide to learning preferences

Florida State University Learning Style Tips

RN, MSN with over 20 years nursing experience in a variety of settings. Enjoys writing articles to assist students and about own journey as a recovered alcoholic nurse.

167 Articles   495 Posts

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2 Comment(s)

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in Public Health, TB. Has 37 years experience. 2,328 Posts

From the Atlantic: Are 'Learning Styles' Real? - The Atlantic

"... of learner or another. In a study published last month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Husmann and her colleagues had hundreds of students take the vark questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they supposedly were. The survey then gave them some study strategies that seem like they would correlate with that learning style. Husmann found that not only did students not study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, those who did tailor their studying to suit their style didn't do any better on their tests."

I think we all benefit from using a variety of learning styles, and not be pigeon-holed into one specific one.

J.Adderton, BSN, MSN

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 29 years experience. 167 Articles; 495 Posts

Thanks for sharing... great insight. I agree, most use a combination of learning strategies.

Joe V

Specializes in Programming / Strategist for allnurses. Has 26 years experience. 10 Articles; 2,179 Posts

I'm definitely a MIXED learner but my dominant style is VISUAL.