In my free guide, The 20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students, one of the secrets is about maximizing learning styles for nursing school. And while it’s useful to know your preferred learning style (or styles), you should probably be aware you’re going to be using most if not all of them in nursing school. 

The truth is, when you are working as a nurse, data is going to be coming at you in a variety of formats…and none of them ask ahead of time what your preferred learning style is. For example, some of the data formats at the bedside are:

  • Visual data that you take in when you look at your patient
  • Numerical data such as the patient’s vital signs or lab values
  • Auditory data from monitoring devices
  • What you hear when you listen to heart, lungs, and bowel sounds
  • Language-related data from what the patient or others say to you
  • What you feel with your hands when you touch and assess your patient
  • Data that you read in the chart or the medication administration record

In other words, in the clinical setting, there is a lot of data that you will need to assimilate and mentally process when working with patients. 

"I sailed through my dosage calc exam! THANK YOU Nurse Mo!! I had a tough instructor for Dosage Calc but CCB made it seem easy! Can you teach all my classes?" - Amanda

In the classroom, you’ll also be taking in data in a variety of ways. Different classes or subjects are often going to be closely connected with certain ways of learning. And while you may have one or two learning styles that resonate well with you, try not to box yourself into those. You’ll be using different tactics throughout all of nursing school. If you’re not sure what your preferred learning styles are, it’s helpful to take a learning style assessment, like this one.

So let’s talk through the main learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, reading/writing) and how to maximize each of these learning styles for nursing school success.

Visual Learning

Visual learners absorb information best when they can visualize images, ideas and relationships between concepts. You can maximize visual learning by using concept maps, charts, tables and graphs, and by paying careful attention to any images in your textbooks. Those who rely heavily on visual learning will do better in in-person classes with live lectures vs online modules (unless the modules have video as a main component).

  • You can use concept maps to show the components of a disease condition or plan of care for a patient
  • Charts and graphs are going to help you understand data and how it relates to your patient or a disease condition
  • Tables are great for comparing and contrasting those disease conditions that share similarities or are polar opposites (such as Cushing’s vs Addison’s disease).
  • Look in your textbook (or even search online) for photographs and illustrations of the disease condition, anatomy, or physiologic pathway
  • Visual learning also comes into play with videos, animations and demonstrations.
  • In clinical, pay close attention to what you are SEEING. How does the patient LOOK, what does the nurse or respiratory therapist DO when they’re assessing or performing a skill? How does the patient RESPOND?

Auditory Learning

With auditory learning, you’ll learn best from listening to information and from talking through concepts out loud. 

If you are a heavily auditory learner, a great way to maximize this learning style in nursing school is to see what happens when you don’t take notes during lecture, but instead focus all your attention on just listening. Of course, you would then go back through your lesson objectives to write out your notes after lecture. Chances are, if you’re a true auditory learner, you’ll get so much more from this approach than from trying to write notes during the presentation. If you want to try this approach, try it with an online module or recorded lecture first…just to make sure it works for you. 

Auditory learners will also benefit from listening to lectures more than once (if possible), or by recording yourself reading through your notes and listening to it on repeat. 

Other ways to maximize auditory learning are: 

  • Utilize the Straight A Nursing and Study Sesh podcasts.  Tune in to episode 193 to hear the episode for this article.
  • Join a study group of other auditory learners to discuss concepts or take turns teaching each other. 
  • Make up a song to memorize an important concept such as the RAAS pathway or cranial nerves.
  • Make up stories to help you remember key information about a disease condition or medication, like I did with psychopharmacology.
  • Translate visual information into statements. For example, write out a paragraph describing an image, chart or diagram in your textbook. Then, say this statement out loud to reinforce it.
  • Read out loud to yourself or use an app to read your digital textbooks to you.
  • In clinical, pay very close attention to auditory cues. This could be the sounds the patient makes, the words they say, the things you hear with your stethoscope, the monitors, and other conversations about the patient. You’ll gather so much information this way.

Kinesthetic learning

There is a wealth of kinesthetic learning in nursing school. This is essentially the hands-on learning that you will do in skills lab, simulation, and clinical. You can maximize your kinesthetic learning by DOING as much as you can. Here are some tips to help you maximize your kinesthetic learning opportunities: 

  • When you learn an assessment skill in the lab, practice on an actual person over and over and over again.
  • The same goes for learning how to assist patients with ADLs. Recruit a willing family member and practice over and over again.
  • Even doing something physical WHILE you review material can help kinesthetic learners retain information. One way to do this is to listen to your lectures while tossing a ball or using a fidget toy.
  • When you are in clinical, jump in and DO as much as you possibly can. 
  • Overall, get your hands busy and keep them busy…your brain will stay busy, too!

Reading & writing learning

There’s a vast amount of reading and writing in nursing school, so even if this isn’t your preferred learning style, you’ll need to use it to some degree. Of all the types of learners, those who align heavily with reading and writing are more likely to do well with distance learning and online modules.

Here are some tips for maximizing reading and writing as a learning modality: 

  • While there are some students who do benefit from reading every word of their texts, this isn’t a reality for most students. Learn how to read for nursing school by checking out this video. The key is to skim read effectively and use your text as a valuable resource.
  • Stay engaged as you read. Use highlighters and take notes…but do so systematically! Don’t just highlight everything, but develop a system for what you highlight and the colors that you use for specific types of information.
  • Just like the auditory learner, write out descriptions of images, graphs and charts.
  • Maximize reading/writing by rewriting your notes after lecture and translating bullet points into your own words in paragraph form. 
  • Create your own study guides using the lesson objectives. 

I hope this helps you understand that nursing school is going to require a lot of different styles of learning and how to maximize each one. 

I also want to share another secret from my free guide, and that is this: successful students take advantage of every single learning opportunity. 

In my book, Nursing School Thrive Guide (#ad), I tell a story about a time when I had two nursing students working with me in the ICU. One of them leapt at every opportunity, while the other declined a task stating she had “already done that before.” Can you guess which one I was more impressed by?

Successful nursing students view absolutely everything as a learning opportunity. And yes, this includes things you’ve already done before. And that’s because not only does it show your work ethic, but things absolutely do not always go as planned. In fact, I’d say that, more often than not, things DON’T go as planned. And that’s when the real learning occurs. The troubleshooting and problem solving that come into play when things don’t work the way you expect are absolutely priceless.

So, if you’re in clinical and someone asks if you want to help or observe, say YES! If your clinical rotation isn’t in your “dream unit”…guess what? You will still learn a ton! And yes, even with limitations that may be placed on you by the school or hospital itself, you can still maximize your clinical time by focusing on the things you CAN do, even if you end up doing them a dozen times.

Another way to maximize learning opportunities is to learn from your failures. When you receive a poor grade or have a rough day in clinical or the lab, you have a couple of different options. You can go on about your life and risk stumbling again in the exact same way. Or, you can reflect on what went wrong and come up with a plan to behave differently in the future. Guess which method will set you up for success? You got it! If you want to learn more about bouncing back from a failure, check out this article here.

If you’d like more secrets of successful nursing students, you can get all 20 here.

"I entered nursing school feeling on top of things and ready to conquer." - Grace