(Note to educators: In the following article, I use astrology to present a non-pathologizing view of differences in learning style among individuals. I hope you find it useful.)

Mercury, ruler of Gemini, is the part of your chart that tells what your learning style is.  If you know what element your Mercury is in, you can get some marvelous clues to using your learning style to your advantage, so you can learn faster and more thoroughly.  Obviously no one part of the chart can tell us everything about a person and so your Mercury sign cannot encompass all of you any more than your Sun sign can.  Keeping in mind that you are a vast being of which your Mercury sign & element are just one small (if important) part, let’s examine this interesting planet and its influence on you and your learning style. And if you don’t know what sign Mercury occupies in your chart, you can use Astro.com to make your own chart and find out.

When you have Mercury in the Fire signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), you learn by pratfall and adventure.  Fire is spontaneous and action-oriented—you need the freedom to just try stuff and be ok with failing.  You need to apply what you learned right away, so you can really take it in.  Mercury in fire has a visual learning style and will do best when presented with the big picture first and the details later—in fact, the details will make no sense to you without the big picture to contextualize them and you won’t be able to retain them without it.  You’ll also learn best if you can put your own creative stamp on the project, infusing it with your own personality.  Fire signs enjoy being seen and showing off, so doing a presentation to the group about what you’ve learned can be a way of cementing your understanding of what you’ve learned.

Mercury in the Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) learns best by doing. Mercury/Earth is a kinesthetic learner.  If this is you, you’ll do best when you can proceed slowly and deliberately and learn in a deep, thorough way.  Other types (especially Air) may have grasped the material while you can end the course feeling that there’s still so much to learn and that the class only scratched the surface.  Earth also does well when presented with a pre-created structure, a conceptual set of bins or a toolbox, into which the new ideas can fit.  When presented with the structure first, you Earth types learn eagerly, because you’re enjoying getting cool tools that go into the toolbox.  Mercury/Earth types like learning things that have a real use and will retain information best when shown how to apply it.  Useless ideas are . . . useless.

Mercury in Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) types love ideas for their own sake.  If this is you, you’ll embrace theories and have a love of the pure, pristine quality of a beautiful idea more than you have interest in applying it.  You’ll grasp ideas quickly and you’ll like to keep moving, so you tend to skate over the surface while a subject’s depths may not capture your quick-moving mind.  Mercury/Air types like to learn the abstract notion behind a thing before thinking through its applications.  Since the Air learning style leans toward auditory, you learn well from lectures, often grasping and retaining lesson material the first time it is delivered, without even taking notes (which is especially frustrating to Earth types, who can take notes religiously and Fire or Water types whose note-taking can be atrocious).  Mercury/Air types are avid readers and often go on learning far beyond school, because they naturally love information and the written word.

If you have Mercury in the Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), you are an emotive learning type.  You learn by feeling your way along.  Your style is intuitive and you are capable of making great leaps and grasping material instantaneously or sometimes not at all.  You may have muddled around in your childhood for years before figuring out how you work as a learner, especially if your childhood home was a turbulent one.  You need to keep your emotions clear in order to absorb and remember new material and on days when you are upset, learning may feel impossible.  If you were lucky enough to come from a stable, loving family, you probably did well in school, even though you often can’t explain how you got to the conclusions you reached.  The teachers you had the most emotional affinity with were your best ones and their fond indulgence of you may have led to some of the best learning of your life.  You learn from what others feel and you’re sensitive to teachers’ emotional states and can be suspicious and resistant to learning from teachers who put off a different vibe than they say they do or who want you to do as they say, not as they do.  Having to shut off or ignore emotions while learning cripples you and slows you down, sometimes stopping you entirely.

The Types Compared
Most education and schoolwork is oriented toward Air-style learning, so those able to learn by listening to lectures and doing writing assignments and reading books do well.  Teachers love them, not least because such students are a pleasure to teach and make a teacher look good.  The other types, especially Water, do not do well and often are viewed by teachers as slow or obstructive, which is sad, because it’s not a matter of intelligence, but of style.

Earth can succeed in the standard system through sheer diligence.  By persisting and exercising a little ambition, Mercury/Earth types can rise to the top of the class.  Mercury/Water types can go to either extreme—sheer brilliance or sheer failure.  Their natural tendency is to hang back and absorb slowly, learning best from teachers they have an emotional affinity with.  An unfortunate student-teacher chemistry can lead to disaster and throw off a Water child’s whole academic career.  Mercury/Fire types can also go to extremes, but they tend to be so charismatic and enthusiastic about the subjects they are interested in that the extra attention they put in at those times makes up for the horsing around at times when they are bored.  When a Fire child is bored, the best thing the teacher can do is to give them a wacky, challenging assignment, especially one that puts them in the spotlight—then they will scramble to look good.

For Teachers:
If you are a teacher and able to find out something about the Mercury position of your students, this can help you teach them the way they need to learn.  Even if you can’t get details of your students’ charts, identifying the types I’ve described and responding to them as suggested can help you more effectively teach the variety of styles you’re likely to encounter.  And if you teach large classes as if all four types were represented, you can let your students self-select the way they want to learn and more of them will succeed.

A really fine teacher can adjust or supplement their style to accommodate all types of learners and then students do not have to come away feeling stupid or wrong for learning the nonstandard way.  Just being able to validate all 4 styles and work with them goes a long way toward awakening in a child the passion for learning.  If you can avoid being the kind of teacher who presses your own style on students as if it’s the one right way, you will have done a very fine thing.  Simply acknowledging that there are different styles, each of which is valid, helps marginalized learners feel good about the way they learn and better able to use their style instead of being a victim of it.

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Astrology blogger since 2007

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