Aug 29 2010

What Does Being an Aural Learner Mean?

My learning style according to the University of PhoenixA few weeks ago at BlogHer, the University of Phoenix was offering a learning assessment you could take to find out what your learning style was to win an iPad (which I did win – holy cow – but more on that in a future entry, there’s a funny story to share). As you can see from my results here, I tested nearly completely as aural, with a big chunk of logical, some solitary, and a teeny weeny bit of visual. I was told that was pretty much dead opposite of the rest of BlogHer attendees, which I found pretty fascinating. I knew my learning style was considered more masculine than feminine, but I would have said it was because I was visual/spatial (or what I thought of as left brain vs right). Mind you, spatial isn’t on this learning style chart, could mean the same thing as visual, and maybe one doesn’t exclude the other (anyone know?), but I barely registered as a visual learner.

I have always been very musically oriented, from starting to play the piano when I was 4, to learning a bunch of other musical instruments just because (not saying I was good at them, but they were fun to play with), to singing in any chorus, choir or musical that would have me. And of course, if you know me, you know my love for Broadway. A good song, or even just an amazing voice will easily bring me to tears, but I never really thought about whether or not that meant anything.

I was staying with my parents while I was in NYC at the conference, and when I told my mom (who’s a lifelong academic/educator, now a college professor and school superintendent) what the test said, her response was simply “of course!” Oh. Revelation to me, known fact to her.

Some people have eidetic (photographic) memories, where they can take a quick look at something and recall every single element of it. I can do something similar where my brain takes single snapshots of certain moments and can recall details of those snapshots, no matter how old they are. My memories are full of mental pictures. If I’m remembering notes on a page, I have to remember where those notes are on the page before I can remember the content of the notes. I’m also terrible at foreign languages, and thought all of this made me a visual learner.

Now with the learning assessment results in mind, I realize that my “visual snapshot ability” (it’s in quotes because I don’t think it’s considered any kind of “real” ability) doesn’t even come close to what I do with audio. People with eidetic memories can remember every single detail of something they’ve seen for a brief moment, which I can only do on occasion, and I can’t make it happen, as much as I’ve tried to “train” it. It just happens, sometimes due to an emotional event associated with the moment, and sometimes for no good reason at all.

However, I can recall audio I’ve heard for a brief moment down to the most minute detail, sometimes with visuals, sometimes without. I know the proper pitch, the vocal tone, I can identify single notes in chords in my head, I often remember the lyrics, and although I may not be able to accurately recreate the audio due to my inability to play the piano or sing even half as well as I used to (I mentioned all of this briefly in the 25 things you don’t know about me post/meme/thingy), I know the tune inside and out. It used to drive my piano teachers crazy (they call it “playing by ear”), if they made the mistake of playing a song for me before I learned it by reading the music, I would never look at the music again and play from audio memory. I’ve always thought that was due to a lot of training (both vocal and instrumental), and music theory classes, but I now think it’s more than that. In hindsight, the learning assessment results make perfect sense. Why else would I still be able to recall every single helper verb I had to memorize in 6th grade to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (“be being as is have has could, do does did, may might must….” and so on). My teacher said we would never forget, and she was right.

I also learned years ago that I cannot do much of anything without sound in the background. It doesn’t really matter what the sound is, just something my mind can grab on to so the rest of me can concentrate on something else. When I was younger, this was a pretty big problem due to the common belief that you must have silence to be able to study. Once I got older and figured it out, concentrating became much easier. I blamed that on my general tendency towards hyperactivity (or ADHD, or whatever you want to call it). I’ve never been good at sitting still, and have never grown out of the “ooh, shiny!” distractibility.

The same goes with me in the office and at home. If I’m at home, the TV is on, no matter what I’m doing. CNN is on right now, has been for hours, but it’s just background noise. I do know part of my head IS listening, though, for example, I just heard the words “Clay Shirky” and looked up. And now (it’s probably hours later, I’ve been doing other things while writing/editing this entry) I just recognized a voice, looked up, and it’s Marc Saltzman, who used to work with us at Pseudo years ago, wow, hey Marc! How on earth is possible that he looks younger now? I sure don’t. But he’s on CNN! See, random bits and pieces catch my attention. But is my attention being swiped by the TV ADHD, or my ability to learn almost subconsciously through audio?

At work, if I’m trying to concentrate, my headphones are on. I’m not really paying attention, but just like CNN right now, I will be affected by what I’m listening to. I tell you, there’s nothing like fighting tears while writing a spec (I swear, I’m not crying over specs, even if Jira does love to suggest that I tag all my specs “pain”). And nothing on earth will keep me from falling asleep more than a sound I can just barely hear, no matter what it is, my mind will not stop trying to interpret it into something I can recognize, put to a pattern, and end.

Everyone gets a song or a jingle stuck in their head every once in a while. I’m the same, except in my situation, I cannot get the tune out of my head until I completely memorize it. I will hear commercials as I’m wandering around the house (I fast-forward through them when I’m actively watching TV) and end up memorizing them, or even worse, memorizing bits and pieces. It doesn’t matter what the song or jingle is, anything musical has to have an ending, otherwise it gets stuck on a loop in my head.

That is also why I tend to listen to full musicals or albums that run together (like Queensryche’s Mindcrime) while I’m working (and monotonous TV when I’m reading or writing or something), I don’t notice the switch from one song to another as much, and am able to easily stop in the middle, since it can then continue through to the end in my head.

If I don’t know the ending of a song or jingle, or if it ends on a discordant note or in the middle of a beat or something (like nails on a friggin chalkboard to me!), I’ll end up mixing it in my head with a song I do know that hits the same note or a complimentary one in the same key.

Fortunately, I tend to forget the mix once I learn the song, since I do come up with some really weird ones, I don’t know how my head pulls the songs together. I’ve wondered before if really good DJ’s train that ability to select songs that match, and that’s how they mix music so well (I don’t do it intentionally, and have never tried), but that’s another blabber for another time. I do get well done mash-ups (ones that match more than just a beat) stuck in my head pretty easily, and tend to avoid them as a result.

As a silly example, last September when I was on vacation to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, we kept hearing “See You Again” by Miley Cyrus everywhere. It has a funky chorus with off beat lyrics, and got hopelessly stuck in my head. I bought the song as soon as possible (I think I got it from iTunes while I was still at the Vegas airport), put it on repeat many times over a few days, worked out the piece of the song I was having trouble memorizing, even looked up the lyrics I couldn’t clearly understand, and was done with it. I can still run though the whole thing in my head, it’s actually a cute, catchy song, but the point is…I don’t have to.

For the most part, I discover interesting music this way. The annoying piece is when I get bits and pieces of TV jingles stuck in my head, or songs I really don’t like – the solution is still the same as with the Miley Cyrus song. I’m also often amused when I discover what song goes with what tv commercial, there’s rarely any relation between the lyrics of the song and what the commercial is pitching.

Strangely enough, this all started out as an entry about my trip to South Africa, but it’s safe to say that this is already far too long of a single blog entry from a girl who’s already been told her entries get too long. Oops.

Until an actual “all about my trip to Cape Town” entry (of which there will be many), I leave you with this…gorgeous, isn’t it?

Table Mountain

Disclosure: I wrote most of this entry on an iPad I won from the University of Phoenix at BlogHer because I took the learning assessment described in this entry. I think I’d be writing this entry anyway, because the findings were really interesting to me, but maybe it wouldn’t be quite so rambly if I hadn’t had the iPad on some very, very long plane trips. You decide if that is a good or bad thing. I’m too jet-lagged to care. There ya go, FTC – full blogger disclosure.

WordPress Themes