Study and Learning

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Learning Styles

Education for students in the health sciences has traditionally relied upon standard textbooks to deliver knowledge content. Though textbooks remain an important part of the educational process, students utilize a variety of learning modes to acquire and reinforce new knowledge. The four basic learning modes include:

  • visual

  • auditory

  • reading/writing

  • kinesthetic

Educational research documents that the majority of medical students are multimodal learners and that each of the different modes of learning is utilized by over 70% of them.

Utilizing more than one learning mode at a time increases learning capacity over a single mode. However, this does not include multitasking, which tends to diminish attention and diminish performance for each task.

Learning Outcomes

What is the relative efficiency of different learning styles for acquisition and retention of knowledge? There is a gradient from passive to active styles of learning, with greater gain in knowledge for more active styles.

10% - Reading
20% - Hearing
30% - Seeing
50% - Hearing and Seeing
70% - Saying
90% - Doing

Reading by onself, unless accompanied by note-taking or other more active methodology, yields the least return on investment of time. Hearing and seeing in a lecture is mainly passive, and rarely yields the 50% gain because of inattention, but more likely no better than 20%. Hearing and seeing in a small group learning activity that focuses attention likely comes close to the 50% yield, and active group participation by saying gets knowledge gain up to 70%. The kinesthetic mode of learning with doing (either the real thing or a simulation) yields the highest gain of all, because it is the most active.


Lujan HL, DiCarlo SE. First-year medical students prefer multiple learning styles. Adv Physiol Educ. 2006 Mar;30(1):13-16.

Dale E. Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, 3rd Ed., Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York, 1969.

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