Know Your Learning Style!

Modern arborists can be identified as professionals in the tree care industry who recognize the importance of staying current with research and best-management practices. They seek to improve their personal and professional potential through achievements such as earning industry credentials, such as TCIA’s Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and the ISA’s Certified Arborist.

Many arborists recognize the need to obtain these credentials for career advancement and increased pay. However, it can be a real challenge for the working professional to do so. Balancing busy personal and work lives creates opposing forces. This makes it demanding to find time to study and prepare, not to mention the mental- and physical-fatigue battle at the end of your workday. Since many working professionals fit the category of non-traditional student, which is identified as one or more of the following, life often gets in the way.

  • Married
  • Children
  • Veteran
  • 24 or older
  • Single parent
  • Already in the workforce
Figure 2. Learning styles can be a combination of different methods and techniques.

Also, how long has it been since you have been in a classroom setting? Most of us have long since graduated from formal classroom learning and are unprepared for the rigors of training and testing, which can create some anxiety as well.

Regardless of the challenges, the possibilities of becoming a credentialed arborist and staying current with improvements in our skills can be more efficient and effective with a few considerations. Success as a non-traditional student is the result of balanced time, energy and responsibilities – and knowing your style. As an educator most of my life, I have found that effective scholarship requires identification of your learning style.

Learning styles describe a person’s preference for how they like to learn and, more important, how they best retain the information. Once identified, it can be an advantage for efficient use of precious time in a busy schedule. For example, improving retention of new information for application at work or in preparation for an examination might include techniques such as writing notes, creating flashcards or just reading out loud instead of silently.

Let’s look at some learning styles. We all learn differently, and it is helpful to find the means and method that suit your style. Speaking for myself, I tend to gravitate more toward visual-learning methods along with auditory. The style might be just one technique, or it could be a hybrid or combination of more than one, like mine. Where do you fit in these descriptions?

One of the common models of learning-style identification is VARK, which includes the Visual, Auditory, Read/Write and Kinesthetic styles. The acronym VARK is used to describe four modalities of student learning that were described in a 1992 study by Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mills.

Visual learners

Students who retain information best when it is presented to them in a graphic depiction of symbols or images are described as visual learners. They may respond best to flow charts, diagrams and other visualizations, but not exclusively to photographs or videos. Because visual learners tend to process information better when it is presented to them as a whole rather than in segments, they tend to best remember when they are presented with summarizing charts and diagrams rather than slides of information, such as with presentations.

Learning styles describe a person’s preference for how they like to learn, and more important, how they best retain the information. TCIA staff photo from TCI EXPO ’21.

Auditory learners

Auditory learners are listeners. They are most successful when they are given the opportunity to hear information presented to them via such means as podcasts or audiobooks. Though students with this learning style may sometimes not take notes during class to maintain their attention, they are still absorbing the information. Auditory learners may simply have decided notetaking is a distraction and instead devote undivided attention to listening to remember the information. Group activities or working with a partner, where they are asked to discuss course materials with their partners, is a good technique, and reading aloud to themselves and to each other helps them retain new material as well.

It is important for educators to be aware of the different learning styles. This helps assist in communicating and teaching.

Reading/writing learners

Students who work best in the reading/writing mode express a strong preference for the written word. This includes both written information presented in the form of handouts and PowerPoint slide presentations as well as written assignments. Study guides and books are often their preference for adapting new course materials. Those with this learning type should be encouraged to take lots of notes during presentations or videos to help both process information and have an easier time recalling it later.

Success as a nontraditional student is the result of balanced time, energy and responsibilities– and knowing your style.

Kinesthetic learners

Kinesthetic learners are hands-on participants and need to take a physically active role in the learning process. Because of their active nature, kinesthetic learners often have a more difficult time retaining information and learning in the typical classroom. However, some concepts aren’t easily taught with this active technique.

Active learners have had success using flashcards for learning various subjects, such as tree identification or vocabulary. Flashcards for the more challenging topics in soil science or biology can be used by simply getting a partner to flash the image or diagram and then having you describe the concept. It’s a fun, interactive way to learn and everybody develops something out of it, especially when success is shared!

Figure 1: There are many different learning styles. What is, or are, yours?

Combine and conquer!

I would hesitate to think anyone falls into any single learning style and has only one way they can learn. Typically, it’s a combination of techniques that really solidify the things you need to know for work and life – and yes, for those credentialing exams. The most efficient and effective learning tends to occur with diversity in learning activities. Multi-modal learning styles can translate into using whatever works for you and then applying it to the task. One of my favorite teaching and learning techniques is group discussions, moderated by a mentor or instructor and then put to work with activities. There are so many positive outcomes with creative classrooms using hybrid learning models.

Networking, team building and sharing in each other’s success make studying a little more fun than just being alone in a room staring at words on a page. Never be afraid to ask questions or ask for the help of someone else who you feel is qualified to support your journey of learning. The only dumb question is the one never asked, because, most likely, someone else in the group has a similar question.

As a professional educator, my goal is to assist every student in achieving the best learning outcome. In teaching, I have taken the approach that, if a student doesn’t understand what I am saying, perhaps it isn’t the student who “doesn’t get it,” but possibly it wasn’t stated in the best way. This is where group learning environments are typically most effective! Also, don’t be afraid to ask the instructor to review, repeat or even pause when appropriate. A real teacher is about student success, not their own.

We live in a media-rich environment that has made multi-modal learning easier than ever. Search out those educational resources that best match your learning style and create your own custom “classroom.” There is so much information available on social media, YouTube, blogs, forums – the list goes on. But just one cautionary statement – be sure it is a credible and current resource. Check citations and credentials. Many search engines populate their results based on popularity rather than accuracy and credibility. Also, many search results are outdated and not current with the latest research and best practices.

Multi-modal learning has skyrocketed in accessibility due to the media-rich environment we live in. This gives individuals the ability to make their own custom “classroom.”


Let’s end with one more important learning tip that often doesn’t get taken as seriously. Feed your body and fuel the brain. One of the basics of mental health involves following a good overall health plan. It’s the typical stuff – rest well, eat healthy and self-care mentally, physically and spiritually. Your brain can better live up to its potential without unnecessary health distractions.

Finally, get your family or your support system involved in the learning process. The rewards are priceless, and the success in whatever you are tasked with is even more satisfying.

Lindsey Purcell is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA), an American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) registered consulting arborist (RCA) and principal with Lp Consulting Group, LLC, in Franklin, Indiana. He spent many years as an urban-forestry specialist in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and currently serves as the executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

1 Comment

  1. Nice little article, I’m a Venn diagram type learner too. I find that each portion helps incrementally with retention.

    As all modalities are a little different, I read that listeners often use doodling to focus their mind with the ingrained actions of their hands.

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