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The 3 Main Learning Styles

The 3 Main Learning Styles

While widely accepted, there continues to be much debate about Learning Styles in the field of education. Is it better to teach using a variety of Learning Styles or is it better to use the one best suited to the content or the individual? Despite our improved understanding of psychology and neural physiology since the theory’s inception, a consensus remains unlikely. While multiple styles, models and frameworks exist, this article will only focus on the three primary ones.1

What is a Learning Style?

A Learning Style is an individual’s preferred, most effective method of absorbing new information and learning new skills. It is also referred to as Thinking Styles, Cognitive Styles or Learning Modalities. Learning Styles can be fluid, changing depending on the task to be accomplished. It is not a measure of someone’s ability or intelligence, but rather a preference for one mode over another.2

Advocates of this notion believe that the individual should be taught in the style that best suits them, regardless of content. The opposing view is that the content should be taught in the style that best suits it, regardless of the individual.3

The pioneer of this concept, Robert Sternberg, also interestingly theorises that governments are a reflection of how people think; Theory of Mental Self-Government: Thinking Styles.

Learning Style# 1: Tactile or Kinaesthetic

Kinaesthetic is learning through movement or by tactile (touch) memory. Individuals who gravitate towards this thinking style often appear restless or fidgety due to their constant need for movement. An example of this is someone who taps their foot when thinking or frequently gestures when talking.

Kinaesthetic learn best by ‘doing’. For this reason they can struggle with memorising lists or have difficulty spelling. Recommended teaching techniques would be;

  • Experiments and Labs
  • Gamification
  • Field trips
  • Role-playing or Scenarios
  • Problem-solving; case studies, simulations

Learning Style# 2: Visual

Visual learners need to ‘see’ what is being taught instead of being ‘talked at’. Often reticent, they shy away from active participation, preferring to observe group discussions or projects. Most commonly associated with the concept known as ‘photographic memory’, they are adept at memorising diagrams, charts and images, tending to ‘visualise’ even abstract concepts in order to understand it.

Visual learners are inclined to day-dream, with their mind wandering during conversations. Recommend teaching techniques would be;

  • Flash cards
  • Colour coding information
  • Encouraging highlighting of key points in texts
  • Using diagrams, photographs, charts, maps etc.
  • Having them write down notes during lectures
  • Using acronyms, mnemonics or mind maps

Learning Style# 3: Auditory

Auditory learning is through the act of listening. Often outgoing, these learners revel in conversation and dislike prolonged silences. Easily distracted, it is difficult to hold their attention if they aren’t actively participating in the lecture or discussion. Auditory learners prefer to work or study while listening to music.

These learners require some form of background noise and while this may be intrusive to others, it helps them focus and concentrate. Recommend teaching techniques would be;

  • Videos or podcasts
  • Having them read aloud
  • Using songs, rhymes or poems
  • Group discussions or debates
  • Teaching concepts using rhythmic sounds
  • Using word associations or aural word games

Want to identify your own Learning Style? Take a self-assessment quiz to find out.

Professionals interested in a teaching or education career should consider studying a PGCE, Masters in Education or another Teaching & Education course. To discuss your options, contact a Higher Education Consultant.

References

  1. Pashler, Harold; McDonald, Mark; Rohrer, Doug; Bjork, Robert (2009). “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” (PDF). Psychological Science in the Public Interest9 (3): 105–19.
  2. Sarvenaz Hatami, Learning styles, ELT Journal, Volume 67, Issue 4, October 2013, Pages 488–490
  3. Daniel Willingham, Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction?
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