Understanding Your Individual Learning Styles in Relation to Learning to Code

If you are like me, you have tried dozens of courses and resources that promise you will learn to code quickly and easily. I’ve already debunked that myth (here), as have others (here and here). Learning to code has many layers from learning the actual programming languages to learning how to think like a programmer. Complicating the learning process is the fact that everyone learns differently. In education, the concept of differentiation is critical and means that teachers provide instructional strategies that support the various learning styles of their students. But what are learning styles? How do you recognize your dominant learning styles? How do you find the best coding resources to meet those needs? In this post, I’ll address all three of these questions.

Learning styles are simply your preferred method of learning new material that enables you to comprehend and retain content. Learning styles are not fixed. Meaning, you can have multiple dominant styles, and these styles can change depending on the material you are studying. Knowing which are your dominant styles can help you choose the right coding resources to be more successful.

There are seven widely recognized learning styles.

Verbal/Linguistic

Characteristics of learning include reading, speaking, and writing. Generally, most courses and resources for learning to code emphasize this type of learning since reading documentation is key to becoming a great programmer. Therefore, I highly recommend the FreeCodeCamp program where you learn by reading snippets of documentation and then immediately apply what you have learned. Join the FreeCodeCamp community on Facebook, and you can discuss problems and solutions, and share your progress. Sign up for newsletters and blogs. I really like JavaScript Weekly and CSS-Tricks. Resources like W3Schools and Mozilla Developer Network are also perfect for you. But not everyone learns this way; so if you need a more differentiated approach, keep reading! Don’t discount FreeCodeCamp just yet, because they have enough differentiation to meet all of your learning style needs.

Visual/Spatial

Characteristics of learning include using color, graphic organizers, reliance on images and pictures, and use of visual media. Visual learners love their text editors because most editors use color to consistently indicate specific code. Try mimicking that process by taking notes in color, specifically on new vocabulary words. Creating wireframes (here) is a great way to visually conceptualize your development projects. Choose coding resources that were created with diagrams and images. My favorite visual resource is The Ultimate Flexbox Cheat Sheet. The positioning of the images with the color blocking in this Cheat Sheet makes learning Flexbox more accessible. If you are working through FreeCodeCamp, I recommend looking into The Daily Programmer YouTube series. Here, Cody Seibert walks you step by step through assignments using a white board to tease out concepts before you code.

Auditory/Musical

Characteristics of learning include listening to audio books, podcasts, and lectures, linking sound with meaning, and adding rhythm and rhyme. Good speakers convey meaning through use of tone, inflection, and speed. This is important for coders because of the amount of new vocabulary we have to learn. Hearing the vocabulary in context makes it easier to pick up. I happen to love Jose Moreno’s YouTube videos that accompany the FreeCodeCamp curriculum. Mostly, Jose talks through the instructions. Something about his voice and hearing the words out loud enable me to access that part of my brain and solve the challenge. If you are looking for great coding podcasts check out this link. I am enjoying Start Here FM, a relatively new site, mixing audio, video, and a book club based on various topics.

Physical/Kinesthetic

Characteristics of learning include movement, manipulation, and hands-on activities. Kinesthetic learners don’t mind broken code because they enjoy fixing it. Here, learning takes place in the transformation of information into a product. Building is critical when learning to code, and you can start building the minute you learn some basic HTML and CSS. Take courses that encourage you to build your own projects rather than just copying the code from an already completed project. FreeCodeCamp provides such tasks at the end of every unit. You may start with a simple Tribute Page, but you will end up creating a Simon game, a calculator and much more. Try to build something everyday just to experiment. If you run out of ideas, find inspiration at Rosetta Code.

Logical/Mathematical

Characteristics of learning include systematically and sequentially working through problems, understanding cause and effect, and running simulation-type games. Logical thinkers tend to like workflow applications, read documentation, and utilize libraries (like Bootstrap) that rely on an understanding of hierarchy. Arguably, we can say that learning to code is all about problem solving, so take the opportunity to get involved with puzzles, challenges, and gaming at CodeFights, CodeWars, HackerRank, and CodeInGame.

Interpersonal & Intrapersonal

Regardless of your preferred learning styles, most people fall into one of the last two categories: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal.

Interpersonal learners like the social aspects of learning such as study groups, so why not participate in a local Hackathon, attend a programming meet-up, or join a study group (FreeCodeCamp has study groups all over the world. My group meets every other Sunday, and it is my favorite part of the program). Women — join the WomenWhoCode organization and get involved in your community. Give back by working on open-source projects on GitHub.

Intrapersonal learners prefer to work alone and often focus on self-reflection, so why not participate in a challenge like #100DaysofCode or #30Days,30Sites. I participate in both challenges, and everyday, I post an update on my Twitter feed to hold myself accountable. Start a reflective blog about your learning experiences (exactly like I did), and join GitHub to participate in open source projects on your own time.

Wrapping Up

I have no doubt that as you read, you identified with several learning styles from your journey as a student. If you want to analyze your learning styles more formally, take this learning styles inventory. One last note, to make the most out learning to become a programmer, you should address as many learning styles as you can. Build up your knowledge base with resources that match your dominant learning styles, and then venture out into different styles, but be patient with yourself. Learning to code is not quick and easy. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

I’m always interested in hearing other people’s stories about learning to code, so I challenge you to write a comment or send me an email telling me what your dominant learning style is and your best resource for that style.

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