There are many learning styles that show people’s preferences for learning and processing new information. While these are not hard scientific categories and should be used more as guidelines than rules, there are 8 learning styles that are well recognized and act as useful tools in tailoring lessons to learners. And some are surprisingly specific.
Continue reading for more on how to use learning styles in your lessons. Or learn more about ViewSonic’s EdTech solutions for improving a variety of learning outcomes.
All students – young and old alike – have a specific learning style and are most successful when taught using that particular method.
Before continuing, let’s pause and talk about the elephant in the room. Is that opening sentence fact or fiction? On your test paper, write “F” for “Fact” or “F” for “Fiction.” You can do that because it appears there is no absolute, black-and-white, right-or-wrong answer here (some might disagree even there!).
What there is, however, is a ton of debate on the touchy subject. In short, it’s probably better not to look at the matter as a fact-based question. It’s not, “What is the square root of 144?” or, “Name the capital of Brazil.” It’s more like an open-ended essay topic, which may come as a surprise to some.
Here’s the bottom line: people do appear to favor different ways of learning. Science may not consistently back-up the effectiveness of tailoring teaching styles to individual learners. But even some critics admit it may be a good idea to be familiar with people’s preferences regarding acquiring information. So, keeping that spirit in mind, let us go on a tour of the various learning styles. And, we’ll also explore a bit more about that controversial elephant above.
If your interested in how some of these styles of learning would hold up in an online classroom environment be sure to check out The Pros and Cons of Synchronous Distance Learning or The Pros and Cons of Asynchronous Distance Learning.
The 8 Learning Styles
First things first. That number – 8 – like age, is just a number. People disagree on how many styles exist. For example, Neil Fleming, a New Zealand teacher, in 1987 established his popular VARK model, which includes:
- Visual learners
- Auditory learners
- Reading/Writing learners
- Kinesthetic (physical) Learners
If you are interested in seeing what type of learner you are under the VARK system, check out this link.
Others, in contrast, believe there are many more than four types of learning styles. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, in his 2018 Scientific American article, wrote that the number of learning styles proposed varies from 3 to 170! You can read his article here. A word of warning about Dr. Kaufman’s article, though. It’s highly critical of the learning styles model.
OK, while maintaining a healthy bit of skepticism, along with an open mind, here are eight learning styles as proposed by some scholars:
1. Visual (spatial) Learners
For many people, definitely, the “eyes have it.” These people prefer it when information is visually presented. Rather than detailed written or spoken information, such students respond better to:
- Charts, graphs, or tables
- Pictures and photographs
- Visual aids, such as projectors
- Information that is organized visually (e.g., color-coded categories)
- Metaphors that take advantage of visualizing (e.g., “The battlefield was a sea of death”)
2. Aural (audio) Learners
Others seem to respond more favorably to sound and are able to remember more when they listen to information. These learners benefit a lot from lessons that involve listening and speaking. When reading, it often helps them to do it aloud. Some ideas to improve their learning experience include:
- Music (which may help by providing an emotional connection)
- Rhymes spoken out loud
- Audiobooks when appropriate
3. Physical (tactile) Learners
For some, the most effective educational approach involves physical interaction with things. This is a real “hands-on experience” that emphasizes a type of “learning by doing,” rather than merely sitting and listening to a teacher explain concepts. This is the “kinesthetic”, or K in the VARK model mentioned earlier. There are several good methods of reaching students who prefer this learning style:
- Use exercises that get pupils out of their seats
- Allow them to draw as an activity
- Get them to perform an experiment or role-play
- Incorporate activities that involve acting or dancing
- Introduce puzzles or other physical objects they can handle
4. Verbal Learners (aka Linguistic Learners)
Here, the key is not so much whether the information is spoken or written. Rather, these types of students simply enjoy making use of the language itself. Like aural learners, verbal ones enjoy rhymes and wordplay. Here are some strategies for best promoting learning among these individuals:
- Encourage group discussions
- Assign topics for class presentations
- Give them role-plays with interesting scenarios
- Promote flexibility related to learning new vocabulary
5. Logical (analytical) Learners
While aural learners may benefit from forming an emotional connection with sound, logical learners look for patterns and trends in what they learn. They search for the connections, and the reasons and results. Teachers can best motivate them by using lessons that:
- Introduce questions that demand interpretation and inference
- Present material requiring problem-solving abilities
- Encourage them to reach conclusions based on facts and reasoning
6. Social Learners (aka Linguistic Learners)
These students prefer educational lessons that involve participation with others. In addition to enjoying the social interaction, they appear to gain more insight this way. To help these learners, some good approaches are:
- Use group activities
- Incorporate role-playing
- Encourage students to ask others question and share stories
7. Solo Learners
In contrast to social learners, there are students who prefer to study alone. When by themselves, these individuals thrive. To assist this style of learner, teachers may:
- Use exercises that focus on individual learning and problem-solving
- Ask students to keep personal journals
- Acknowledge their individual accomplishments
8. Natural/ Nature Learners
Finally (at least for this article), there are those learners who do best when interacting with Mother Nature. They seem to respond best to a more peaceful, natural type of learning. In many ways, they are similar to physical, tactile learners. The main difference is they prefer to do their “hands-on” learning outside. Some ideas for bringing out the best in these students include:
- Do “hands-on” experiments
- Conduct some classes outdoors
- Use examples from nature in explanations
Whatever your take on how valid it is to gear teaching styles to one of eight learning styles (or 170, for that matter!), there is merit in acknowledging that approaches to learning vary. Knowing this allows educators to search for the most effective ways to reach certain students, particularly those with behavioral or learning difficulties. At the very least, it opens the door for a thorough discussion and exploration of educational methods and techniques that could help.
If you are more interested in learning more about different styles of learning, check out our post on The Pros and Cons of Asynchronous Distance Learning. Furthermore, if you find yourself working from home then read How to Work from Home: A 2020 Guide to Remote Work.