How will you best learn in massage school?

Perhaps the most important thing to learn about yourself prior to starting massage school lies in your answer to that question. Being able to identify the ways in which information sticks with you – knowing your learning style- will show you how you need to study and practice in order to be successful, as a student and a therapist. This is very useful information to have as you go about your daily activities and responsibilities, but is crucial to gaining the information you need from your coursework.

young studentWhether your last educational achievement was a diploma or a higher degree, any of the teachers you had were teachers; they had to go through some sort of formal training and apprenticeship to learn their craft. In trade schools, that is not necessarily the case; most likely, you will receive instruction from a person who is successful in that trade, who also has an interest in sharing what he or she knows with new recruits to the field.

With the dual nature of a scientific, academic component and a hands-on practice, you will need to process information in a variety of ways as a student of massage, and you will not necessarily have an instructional staff who will be able to cater their presentation to your individual needs. Most likely, they will present information in a way that is compatible with their own learning style, as that’s how the information stuck for them; if your learning style matches theirs, the better for you.

There are seven identified learning styles, which I’ll describe briefly and apply to studying massage. While you may find one you recognize in yourself immediately, be open to the idea that you use each of them all the time, without your knowledge. The more I learned about learning styles as a teacher- in education courses and with my students- the more I was able to see how much all of us put each of the styles to use in varying situations throughout our experiences. Each learning style you use will provide you another option for learning what you need to know, so be open to all of them.

1. VISUAL LEARNER: this person remembers what she sees, using a type of photographic memory. Do any of these sound familiar to you? You can remember what time a concert starts because you visualize the poster in your mind; you answered a test question right because you remember the doodle you drew in your notes next to this information; you can describe in good detail a person who passed you on the street. This learner takes in information through what she sees, and has a good grasp on the spatial relationships between various details. If you can identify with this, then you can put it to use in your massage education. Take great notes; try using different color inks to codify information, drawing pictures, highlighting important information, or whatever makes the notes visually appealing to you. For the bodywork portion of your learning, take “mental snapshots” of your instructors or yourself using good body mechanics or using good form in a stroke, and consciously store them in your mind. There are also many great apps available for smartphones that can assist in your visual learning, as well.

2. AUDITORY LEARNER: this learner remembers what he hears and can recall information by replaying the recording in his head from when it was delivered. If you can easily memorize song lyrics or movie lines, this style works for you. A good sized chunk of your massage education will be delivered in lecture, so this will give you an advantage in this area. Consider recording the lectures to listen to again while driving, or tape yourself reciting the information to do the same. Simply the act of saying aloud what you’re studying will greatly enhance your recall, as you will be hearing it as you say it.

3. LINGUISTIC LEARNER: this person is able to understand information through language. Do you have favorite words, or a book of favored quotations, or simply love to read? Listening to lecture is going to have the information already in your chosen format, and any reading you do reinforces your leaning in a meaningful way. Rewriting notes, creating charts for information, or simply talking about what you’ve learned helps. Taking it a step further, writing about it in your own words proves you have understood the lesson, and that knowledge has been gained.

4. KINESTHETIC LEARNER: this learner processes information best through movement. Clearly, this is an important piece of becoming a massage therapist, as you will be learning body mechanics and techniques based upon movement. However, movement can be incorporated into the academic piece of massage, as well. Touching the body parts involved in myology, moving the joints as you classify them while you study, or coming up with movements to accompany the functions of the twelve cranial nerves will make this information more accessible. Listing the muscles you’re using as you work out reinforces information in a meaningful way for you. There also has been a good amount of research done supporting the use of movement in general while learning and studying, as it fires more of your brain than while you are stationary, so this style can benefit everyone.

5. LOGICAL LEARNER: this learner puts things together in a cohesive way, finding relationships between and among aspects of knowledge that make sense to him. He will create categories to chunk information, making it simpler to recall. This can be applied in many different ways in regards to massage. Grouping muscles together by what body part they move, listing the movement followed by all of the muscles that create that movement, breaking concepts down and building them back up again to wholeness will help this learner. Be creative, and incorporate other knowledge you have outside of massage to make sense of things; I used my interest in anthropology and evolution to make sense of the nervous system, and the cranial nerves in specific.

6. SOCIAL LEARNER: this learner thrives in group settings and cooperative activities. Being part of a class in school is enough to engage this learner, and she will often have a leadership role among her classmates. Advocating for group activities in school will help, and organizing study groups or bodywork exchanges will also benefit this learner. This quality will also prove valuable once in the field, as the networking that is essential to success in this field will come naturally.

7. SOLITARY LEARNER: this learner likes time to process things on his own, individually and independently. He may absorb content in class, and then spend break time or study time off on his own, giving himself the mental space to process what has been learned. This type of meditative learning is very meaningful, and will help the therapist stay grounded in his work, and be able to communicate clearly with clients.

Again, while you consider these learning styles, please realize you probably already utilize all of them quite often without even thinking about it. Be open to applying them to your study of massage, as well as any other pursuits you consider. Use them in combination, as well; I may have driven my neighbors crazy studying on my porch, moving my joints as I named them, talking my way through muscles, but the result was deep and meaningful learning. In that simple act, I used a combination of kinesthetic, linguistic, auditory, and logical learning styles, and that knowledge has stuck with me all these months later, and can be recalled without much effort. So how do you know? Being able to answer that question will increase your success as a student of massage therapy, hands down.

Melissa Ryan is our 2014 Helping Others Scholarship award winner and a student at Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy in Albany, NY. You can read more about her here, and read more of her posts here.

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