Often, when we try to learn new certification materials, we don't think about the most effective way to approach the information—for example, with an efficient and repeatable strategy or system. Each time we encounter a new topic, we start over from square one, as if we're installing an OS for the first time. Developing a personal system for efficient learning is complicated, because we all learn differently. The system that works well for a friend or colleague might not work well for you.

Elementary-school teachers have identified five primary styles of learning that help them optimize instructional content and activities for their young students. This same optimization is equally applicable to adult learning situations and is especially valuable for the self-coached IT student. By educating yourself about the various learning styles and figuring out which style fits you best, you can develop a personalized learning system that leverages your personal strengths and properties.

The following short survey will help you determine your dominant learning style. Read the various characteristics in the sections below, and place a check before any traits or attributes that describe the ways that you like to study and learn new material.

Section 1

  • I love to read
  • I find questions fun
  • Worksheets are easy for me
  • I like to read or tell jokes, stories, or riddles
  • I can spend hours in a library or bookstore
  • I’m good at Scrabble and other word games
  • I use word association to remember facts

Section 2

  • I use flashcards or study guides to learn new material
  • I gain comprehension through art or writing
  • I often imagine a scene or skill in my mind
  • I tend to look at pictures or illustrations when reading
  • I'm good at reading maps, charts, and diagrams
  • I relate well to visuals and 3-D images
  • I can memorize by writing or typing information

Section 3

  • I often put questions in "If ... then" form
  • I use analogies to describe phenomena
  • I put things in sequence
  • I arrange facts in the order that the events took place to remember them
  • I use timelines to map out events
  • I use charts and diagrams to lay out or present information
  • I enjoying finding solutions to problems

Section 4

  • I act out main ideas to help myself remember
  • I often track text I'm reading with a finger or a ruler
  • I use my hands and body to express myself when I'm speaking
  • I become fidgety and need to move around while I'm studying
  • I like to exercise while reading or studying
  • I tend to mimic others as a way to remember facts
  • I go through a step-by-step process when studying
  • Section 5
  • I play background music when I'm studying
  • I put summary sentences to music
  • I repeat things to help myself remember
  • I read aloud
  • I memorize facts better when I hear information
  • I tape lectures to play them back later
  • I watch TV while studying
  • Now, look at your results, identify the section with the most check marks, and read on to learn more about your primary learning style. If you marked the same number of checks in more than one section, you might have more than one learning style.

    • Section 1—You're a verbal or linguistic learner. You use language to express what's on your mind and to understand others. You use language and verbal skills to learn new materials, and you grasp new information by discussing it with others. Interaction is the key component that helps you understand and retain information. To learn new certification material most effectively, you should seek out classroom discussions and interactive sessions with student peers. You'll also benefit from explaining what you've learned to others and teaching the topic to fellow students.
    • Section 2—You're a visual or spatial learner. You can see a spatial world internally in your mind. You often map things out, navigate, or use representations to learn new facts; you can remember data by writing, drawing, or seeing it in written form. To learn new certification material most effectively, you should write out flash cards, use available study guides or make up your own custom guides, make up your own test questions, and take notes when reading or listening to presentations.
    • Section 3—You're a logical-mathematical learner. You need to find the cause or underlying principals to understand new data. You understand new information by using numbers, quantities, and operations; you remember facts by using calculation, logic, and reason. To learn new certification material most effectively, you should create study questions, make charts or diagrams with information and facts, and explain the information to others in sequential and logic order.
    • Section 4—You're a kinesthetic learner. You use your whole body or part of your body to absorb new data. You use parts of the body to make something, solve a problem, or put on a production; you often have to move around when learning new information or go through the process step by step to completely understand the new skill or information. To learn new certification material most effectively, you should role-play problem and solution scenarios with peers, walk through the information carefully, move around or exercise while studying or memorizing facts.
    • Section 5—You're an auditory or musical learner. You can think in terms of music and sound. You can hear patterns in sound, recognize them, remember them, and manipulate them; you can to retain new information by simply hearing it. To learn new certification material most effectively, you should memorize by repeating facts out loud, record your own learning cassette tapes, and associate acronyms to music.

    Now that you know your learning style, you can begin to structure your study sessions by picking activities that are most complimentary to your learning style. I don't mean to imply that a kinesthetic learner won't benefit from listening to study cassettes or that an auditory learner won't learn from using flash cards. But using complimentary techniques will help you make the most of your time and self-study dollars.

    Develop your primary learning style into a system that you refine over time. Your learning style won't change, but training vendors will continue to introduce new study resources and media. Evaluate these new products in light of your learning style and add complimentary resources to your personal learning system.