Just recently, I cleaned out the study, packing up some of my old uni notes and folders to make room for Hot Husband to store some of his own study materials in the shelves.
This little pile (which I had accumulated during my postgraduate studies in mid) was what was left after discarding most of the scrap paper, and printed lecture notes. The notebooks and folders for my nursing and science degrees are already boxed up in the attic (why? I don’t know. Maybe one day when I’m 50, I’ll feel compelled to revisit the Kreb’s cycle, and thank goodness, I’ll have those notes!), and these ones are going to join them.
Flicking through the pages and pages of handwritten notes that saw me through multiple exam periods, and essays, and other assorted academic exercises, I started thinking about learning, and how we do it.
Clearly, I benefit in some way from writing a whole lot of shit down. Or more specifically, in my case, from writing, then re-reading, then re-writing the stuff I think I need to know. As a study strategy, it served me well.
Well, according to Dr Google, I am what’s known as a visual learner. Which means I absorb information best in it’s written form. And it’s true, I think, because I tend to actually THINK in word sequences, rather than pictures or sounds. Apparently, some visual learners like graphs, charts and other visual tools. Not me. I hate charts. Give me all the words, and I’ll be just fine.
When I need to know something, to this day, I’ll default to websites, practice guidelines, policy documents and textbooks to find what I need. Written information, especially in the form of lists and guidelines makes so much sense to me.
The other kinds of learners out there, or so Google tells me, are the Auditory learners (the listeners) and the Kinesthetic learners (the do-ers).
Hot Husband is, without a shadow of a doubt, an auditory learner. He is like the KING of podcasts. He listens to podcasts every day; in the car, mowing the lawn, laying in bed. He is literally the happiest man alive when he discovers that there is an audio recording of a lecture series he’s interested in, and he’s hard core to the point that he listens to those things on DOUBLE SPEED. Like, every time.
He doesn’t mind reading a book from time to time, but he learns more from listening to this stuff, and engaging with others in conversation.
At times, we get into his car, and his current podcast will be blaring, sounding like some kind of excited chipmunk under the influence of too much caffeine and a couple of pingers, and I’m sitting there, like “what the Hell is he saying??” and Hot Husband has a moment of enlightenment as he discovers the missing link to theory he’s been studying, and I wonder what exactly it was that he was hearing when I was hearing nothing but angry forest creatures wrestling.
Whereas, if I read the words that were being spoken, written down on a sheet of paper somewhere, I’m fairly confident I’d get it (well, maybe not, because he listens to insanely technical I.T stuff that isn’t very appealing to me, but all the same…)
I actually recall being back at uni in my first iteration of being a student (circa 2002), and some of our old-school lecturers used projectors with those clear, plastic sheets that they’d be drawing on, and writing on, and projecting to the room on the retro looking overhead. I loved those classes, because as I madly scribbled down everything they wrote, stuff seemed to sink in. It didn’t take me much to recall those projector notes, as scrambled as they may have seemed.
As the uni got more technologically advanced and started encouraging us to listen to lectures online, I found myself struggling to focus. I’d be halfway through an online lecture, finding myself thinking about the grocery list, or constructing figurines out of my half eaten apple core, realising that there really wasn’t much point to the exercise at all, More often than not, I’d give up, print off the lecture notes that were usually posted the next day, and I’d learn it by reading it, then re-writing it. I’d have the same issue if I attended a lecture without a notebook or a copy of the notes. It seems I just need to be able to write stuff down for it to burn somewhere into my brain.
The other kind of learners, are the Kinesthetic type; those who prefer to do something for themselves, or who benefit from a physical demonstration of something.
I suspect the Boy Child may be a kinaesthetic kind of learner, seeing as he’s bored senseless by the two other forms. You couldn’t pay him to sit down with a book, or listen to a podcast. Yet, get him involved with his own two hands, and you’ll see him light up: swinging a golf club; creating videos, building lego. Hands on stuff just makes sense to him.
Working in the nursing and midwifery field, it’s really handy if you are able to recognise where your strengths lay in learning, but to also be aware that becoming a skilled practitioner requires a combination of all the types.
If you’re a new nurse, or maybe even a student, take a moment to think about how you learn best.
It’s one thing to be the best theoretical nurse ever, but at the end of the day, without getting in there and actually doing the practical skills yourself, the book learning won’t mean much. You might be able to remember instructions perfectly after being told once what you need to do, but if you don’t actually know HOW to follow through on those instructions, you’ll find yourself struggling to provide good patient care. On the flip side, if you jump too quickly into the hands on stuff, without considering and understanding the hows and whys, you may well end up making a nasty mistake, potentially to the detriment of the person you are caring for, and to yourself.
Being visually driven (and a big believer in the shortest note being better than the longest memory), I prefer to start every day with a time planner (even though I know the likelihood of sticking religiously to that time planner in the midwifery setting is fairly unlikely). Taking 5 minutes at the start of my shift and writing out my planner is like taking a big breath and grounding myself before hitting the floor for the day. It gives me a visual form of the things I know I need to complete for the day, with the opportunity to highlight areas of priority. It also gives me a prompt about things that may not have been completed during the shift, for when I’m handing over to the next shift.
Whenever I’m working with students or junior staff, I always make a point of chatting about the benefit of a time planner. Some use them. Some don’t. I suspect the ones that love them like I do, may well be visual learners like me.
Additionally, because I know that I prefer visual prompts, before I attempt a new practical skill, I read over the practice guidelines to make sure I really grasp why I’m about to do what I’m about to do, and usually I’ll seek out another staff member who is competent in that skill to either demonstrate, or supervise it. If I haven’t performed a skill in a while, I go back to the guidelines wherever I can, to make sure that my understanding of that skill is still current. And I may ask for auditory prompts, particularly if I’m working in a sterile field, or with particularly fiddly equipment,
Although visual learning is a strength for me, all three learning styles are necessary, and beneficial to my job.
Obviously, my perspective as a nurse may be different to someone working in another trade or role. It may even be different to other nurses, depending on where they are working. Different vocations may be swayed more heavily to one learning style over another, but I think that at the end of the day, to do most jobs well requires a combination of learning types.
So, how do YOU learn best? Are you a double-speed pod-casting machine like Hot Husband? Or perhaps a book-nerd like me? Or are you a hands on kinda person?