Using Your Learning Style When Preparing for Certification Exams

Humans learn in a variety of different ways. There are learning modalities that correspond to the physical senses.  Visual learning takes place as we read a book, flip through a slideshow, or watch a video.  Auditory learning happens when we listen to a lecture or as the second modality engaged when watching a video.  Kinesthetic/tactile learning happens when we use the senses of touch, taste, and smell.  Taste and smell may be less than intuitive, but tactile learning happens when you take notes, perform some sort of hands-on exercise (such as working through command line exercises), setting up a virtual machine, or installing and working with Linux-based cybersecurity distros such as Kali Linux.

The more modalities you engage, the better you retain all the information you need for the exam.  I first learned about the three learning modalities from my studies of Neuro-Linguistic Programming as taught by Tony Robbins.

I recently read an article on Digital Journal about the VARK model learning styles that corresponds to the learning modalities that I have discussed with my students for many year.  What follows are excerpts from the article.

The VARK model is an acronym for visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic types of learning styles. Neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, was key to Fleming and Mill’s research. Sometimes described as the “users manual for your mind,” NLP has also been characterized by the Association for Neuro Linguistic Programming as a combination of theories, models, and techniques that can be used strategically to improve learning outcomes.  Many educators also believe that people can build and strengthen different types of learning styles, even if they may not come naturally at first.


A majority of learners are visual, or spatial, learners. Visual learners connect well with patterns, shapes, graphs, maps, and charts. Creating a visual image of what you are trying to learn is a way of retaining this information. Think of this type of learning as the swapping of words for visuals. For example, explaining the difference between a pint and a gallon with images of different water jugs can more clearly illustrate how much can fit into each vessel.

Not all visuals are created equal for this type of learner, though. Videos or movies, PowerPoints, and photos fall short for some. Using tools like a flow chart can also help visual learners grasp more abstract concepts, according to insight from the Bay Atlantic University in Washington D.C.

How do you spot a visual learner in the workplace? In an article for Inc., Molly St. Louis says these are the folks in meetings often seen doodling or taking notes, or thriving off of whiteboard discussions.


According to the VARK model, auditory learners comprise a smaller population than visual learners. These learners retain details through auditory modes, including listening to live or recorded lectures, taking part in group discussions, and hearing information via radio, audiobooks, and podcasts. Auditory learners often read aloud or create songs as ways of memorizing materials when studying for tests. Auditory learners generally find strengths in storytelling and public speaking.

How to know if your co-worker is an auditory learner? Typically, they’re the ones asking questions and brainstorming in meetings.

Reading and writing

The ‘R’ in VARK refers to reading and writing, specifically text-based input and output. Textbooks, manuals, handouts, lists, PowerPoint presentations, as well as taking notes are the preferred ways for read-and-write learners.

These learners generally gravitate toward information by reading, similar to how auditory learners retain information through listening. Written assignments are where these learners excel, communicating thoughts effectively over email or direct messaging. Bay Atlantic University suggests “text is more powerful than any kind of visual or auditory representation of an idea” for these learners.


Not familiar with the term kinesthetic? VARK-Learn describes this modality as the “perceptual preference related to the use of experience and practice (simulated or real).” Think hands-on learning. Only a small portion of the population are kinesthetic, or experiential, learners.

Kinesthetic learners grasp information by performing the task about which they’re learning. Movement and muscle memory are also key for kinesthetic learners. For example, when learning to ride a bicycle, the physical motions become innate after much practice. When conveying information to a kinesthetic learner, consider using examples, simulations, and recreating experiences.

Contrary to popular belief, kinesthetic learners aren’t mere fidgeters who have a tough time sitting still. Usually very high-energy workers—learners ready to dive into challenges that require “doing” and getting out in the field—like having coffee meetups with clients and colleagues to hammer out minute details.

What kind of learner are you?  Knowing how you learn best can improve your understanding and retention of new information, and help you to pass certification exams.

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About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

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