Individual learning styles, preferences, and strategies

Here is something else I’m doing, both with the passages for reading and with the translate into Pali texts:
Copy-past JK’s pdf version into Word
Do some global replacements to get the diacritics right
Read JK carefully
Compare AB’s translation, and study his footnotes, editing my Word doc
Mark difficult segments ##
Study them further, working out the grammar only if necessary
If I’m still not happy post a question in the lesson thread.

Now that John’s other class is finished and this material is increasong in difficulty, I need to institute a schedule of daily rereading.


That’s exactly right, repetitive reinforcement is important, but passive learning of new bits that are not understood is also good. If kids like a rhythm or know the storyline they still enjoy the repetition and gradually learn the bits they didn’t at first know. So reading at/just above one’s challenge level has other additional payoffs.

Have you ever told bedtime stories to little kids? There’s lots of things going on at once, like hearing the understood, becoming familiar with the not understood, establishing context, gradually getting a feel for which sounds and words fit together.

The great thing about being an adult learner, especially one who meditates, is that we can monitor our own enjoyment and pause and adjust what we are doing depending on how we feel in the moment.

I remember reading Charles Dickens with huge pleasure long before I knew what the longer words meant, and our HS French teacher used to bring us the Paris Match to entice us into extending our knowledge of the language through passive learning. (She faced down the nuns too, who strongly disapproved of the content!!)

Listening and reading together are also great. So it’s good to know that the new SC Voice software is coming along …

*repetition below your challenge level

is what’s need for the pedagogical technique described in the article. A good classroom language teacher will bring many different techniques into their class.


Of course. my point was that adult self learners might not consider it.


A good teacher should use different techniques to cover all types of learners. Also, some materials can be better understood with certain teaching techniques.

When we understand that, as a learner, we can use different techniques to help ourselves get an understanding as well as retain the knowledge.

Well, this might sound like a preaching of a wise person, but I just recited what I learnt a long time ago and… well, being old is my excuse for not be able to achieve much. :smiley:

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Exactly. When adults get together to study a ‘dead’ language they tend to focus on translation-translation-translation, but there are so many other things to try.

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I truly appreciate this thread. The main takeaway is that I will write out all the passages (into English). All the other suggestions are extremely helpful; I will incorporate.

I’m encountering my first “brick wall” about now. The constant reviewing is helping me with this as I experience the reward of recalling more and more every time (grammar and vocab). I go back to Lesson 9 exercises (and forward).

I find, for my own learning style, I need to use handwriting for the translations. Gratefully, these are already preserved in soft copy by Ajahn Brahmali and John.


I’ve found my habits changing over time.
I was much happier with pen and paper for a long time when I started Pali.
I don’t learn at all like I used to when I was young and I’m constantly trying to come up with different ways of reviewing because my aging brain can no longer learn anything with no context. I’m focussing on memorising example sentences and keying the grammar into them as vocab lists and grammatical paradigms won’t stick.


When I was young, I found it very helpful with my studies. It was so long ago that I forgot my own inherent learning preferences: activities and visual of written words.

Thank you for reminding me. I will buy a notebook today.


This reminds me that when I was young, I liked to associate ‘info’ with funny stuff. I even created my own funny sentences to exemplify grammatical points, such as:

You are now someone that I used to love. (a lovely song)

It can be used to show a relative clause as well as the meaning of ‘used to’, which is totally different from the present perfect in the sense of ‘I have seen him before’, which unfortunately in Thai use the same word.


This has all been a great discussion!

While everybody’s learning style may be somewhat different, I think there are two common threads here that would be helpful to everyone:
Write it down. Whether by hand or typed in a computer is a matter of style.
Repetition. Go over it again and again. And again!

On the related, but slightly different topic of how one should approach a completely new passage of Pāli and begin to make some sense of it, then Andrew Olendzki, formerly of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, had some helpful hints on getting started. See here:
Pali Translation Strategy.pdf (201.1 KB)


I added this to the resources thread, and while I was at it @bran’s nice Warder revision tool for memorising and self-testing for Warder.


I know I’m jumping into this conversation a bit late, but with the new Pali Course around the corner now, I wanted to chime in on this topic because it happens to be my area of expertise. I just finished a degree in “Mind, Brain, and Teaching” (basically the intersection of cognitive science and education. Sometimes called the “Learning Sciences”) through Johns Hopkins and have been in the education profession for over a decade.

The bottom line is that the existence of learning styles is one of the most pervasive and stubborn myths in education. Cognitive scientists have repeatedly looked to test the learning styles hypothesis and have not found any evidence for it. Most cognitive scientists consider the notion of learning styles to have been definitely debunked by 2009 with the Paschler et al. paper Learning Styles: Concepts & Evidence

Worse yet, not only are learning styles a myth, but new research is showing that believing in them may be actively detrimental to learning:

So, not to be completely unhelpful here, I wanted to chime in also to say that although learning style and multiple intelligences (two different things, often conflated) may not be useful concepts, cognitive science has indeed illumined several principles that have a large evidence base behind them. The folks over at “The Learning Scientists” have identified their “Big Six”: Retrieval Practice, Interleaving, Spaced Practice, Elaboration, Concrete Examples, and Dual Coding. Here are their videos about them:

Flashcards are a great way to take advantage of retrieval practice and spaced practice. Talking with others (like on this forum or in class) about your learning is a great way to achieve elaboration.


So, does this mean that if a Pali student says, ‘I just can’t learn declensions, my mind doesn’t work like that…’, they are fooling themselves? :grinning:


Hi Stephen,

Somehow your statement reminds me of a story of a monk who was a goldsmith and wanted to disrobe (?) because he was told to do the asubha meditation, and he couldn’t just do it. Then, the Buddha taught him to use the image of a golden lotus as his meditation object, and he got enlightened after seeing the gold lotus degraded.

Do you remember the name of the sutta?


I’m not familiar with that sutta (I’m sure someone here will come up with it), but it reminds me of the Suzuki violin method.
Briefly, it discounts the idea of ‘talent’ and stresses that students can learn to a high skill level if taught well. It places much of the burden on the teacher to unlock the student.

Ajahn Sona talks about this story in his retreat on kasina meditation that you can find on his youtube channel! Although I think he said it was a flower not a lotus

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It’s not a sutta but the Dhammapada Commentary’s Suvaṇṇakārattherassa Vatthu (or in the Thai edition, the Sārīputtattherassa Saddhivihārikavatthu), which is the origin story for Dhammapada verse 285.




My learning style, now that we have reached Chapter 20 of Warder, is reduced to this:

Read the passage. Translate the passage. Review. (Which most days is fairly motivating. Today not so much. Probably last night’s insomnia.)



It’s helpful to distinguish between styles and strategies.

Learning styles (even if they don’t exist or, more likely, are less fixed than has been thought) refer to longterm propensities of individual minds.

Learning strategies are short-term things students do, that change easily, eg in response to new circumstances, or by following advice from teachers and others. For successful learners they probably shift considerably during the progression through beginner-intermediate-advanced.


is a very effective learning strategy to transfer from Warder to Gair and Karunatilake. However this is something that Beth is doing rather than a description of a way her mind may (or may not) work in general.

The discussion in this thread ranges across learning styles and strategies, so I’m about to edit the tread title to reflect the shifts in discussion. I trust you have no objection @Dheerayupa.’

This paper (and the orientation of the other is similar) seems to me not to attack the notion of learning styles per se, but rather the effectiveness of teachers taking perceived (or claimed – there’s a difference) learning style into account when choosing pedagogical strategies. Thank you for contributing to the discussion James; can you suggest any papers that review the situation from the point of view of students, especially independent adult learners? (There are no child learners in this thread and much educational research is naturally focused on the young.) :slight_smile:


Hi Gillian, you made some good points.

Indeed! The “Big Six” I referenced are in fact learning strategies that are well supported by cognitive science and have substantial experimental backing. It’s also useful to note that there are many notions of learning styles, the most well-known and thoroughly disconfirmed one being the notion of “visual, auditory, and kinesthetic” learners. That is not to say that other notions of learning style that are less thoroughly tested or well-known might not exist, but to date there is no evidence supporting any learning style notion that I am aware of.

It’s important to also differentiate between learning style and learning preference. Learning preferences exist for sure, but the interesting thing is that when cognitive scientists have tested whether people learn better when their preference is accommodated, it turns out that answer is also usually no. Unfortunately, the evidence has shown that people are quite bad at knowing when they are learning the most, and will avoid the most effective learning strategies because they don’t feel easy enough. This idea is known as incorporating “desirable difficulties” into learning. Interleaving is a great example of this. It feels like you are learning less when you switch between different modes of practice because it’s harder than blocking your practice, but it’s actually the opposite. Convincing people of this is sometimes challenging.

Actually, one of the most valid criticisms of the learning sciences is that most of the studies it relies on are not conducted on children, but on adults. Granted, most of them are university aged adults, not older adults. Those big six strategies are validated most strongly in adults.

Two books that summarize the best way to engage with evidence-based learning strategies come to mind. The first is “Make it Stick” by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. The second is “Outsmart your Brain” by Danial Willingham.

One piece of advice I have for anyone trying to learn something with a lot of information is a quote from Daniel Willingham: “Forgetting is the Friend of Learning”. In other words, give yourself time to forget something (spaced practice) and then try to recall it again after that amount of time (retrieval practice). Rinse and repeat.

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