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4 Types of Learning Styles

To make a course successful — or, indeed, any learning opportunity — you’ll want to personalise the experience to the individual student’s strengths. Think of learning as an experience: In order to engage an individual student, you’ll want to tailor the learning experience in a format that best helps them learn.

It’s not only about subject matter. Really effective teachers are able to engage students — at least at some level — with subject matters that are otherwise considered ‘dry’ or ‘tedious’.

If you’ve ever had a history teacher make the second World War come alive or a math teacher who breaks down trigonometry to a somewhat coherent level, you’ll understand what this looks and feels like.

Let’s talk about what these ‘learning styles’ are, so you can personalise the learning experience to better reflect a diverse classroom and engage all types of learners.

Known as the ‘VARK’ model, there are four different types of learning styles: visual, auditory, reading (or writing), and kinaesthetic. These learning definitions should help you construct a more inclusive course or lesson plan.

1) Visual Learners

A visual learner learns best when taking in information using charts, maps, graphs, diagrams, and more.

As the learning definition suggests, visual learners absorb information most effectively when instructors use images to explain concepts and ideas.

While this could include photographs or videos, depending on the subject matter, visual learners like patterns, shapes and visuals aids that would replace the written or spoken word. However, this type of learning style does not include photographs or videos.

Instead, visual learners learn best when information is presented using patterns, shapes, and other visual aids in the place of written or spoken words. A graphic organiser or a flowchart is a popular example of this.

Spotting a visual learner

Roughly 60% of students are visual learners. Here’s what they tend to have in common:

  • Thrive on demonstrations
  • Can visualise descriptions very well
  • May use diagrams, maps, and lists to keep up and organize thoughts
  • Can often recognize words by sight
  • Are great with facial recognition but not as good with names
  • Have exceptionally rich imaginations
  • Because they’re visually-stimulated, they are easily distracted by movement or action in the classroom

2) Auditory Learners

Auditory learners need to have learning material and new information spoken to them. They do best when they can hearit and listen to lectures. They also thrive in group discussions and, like kinesthetic learners, do well when they can talk things through.

Audio recordings, group discussions and, conversely, quiet spaces where an auditory learner can focus without distraction, are what teachers should focus on.

Spotting an auditory learner

How many students are auditory learners? A study concludes that would be 30% of a classroom. Here’s what they tend to have in common:

  • Thrive when an instructor gives detailed verbal instructions
  • Can simply absorb learning through listening to lectures
  • Learn best through dialogues, discussions, and plays
  • Excellent with names but are prone to forget faces
  • Get to a solution very quickly if they can talk it out
  • Are easily distracted by noise and often need to work in quiet spaces
  • Do very well with audio or recorded books

3) Reading/Writing Learners

Students who demonstrate a reading/writing learning style prefer that new information and learning be presented using words. Formats they excel in include written notes from lectures, guided presentations, and seminars, book reports and study notes.

Essentially, they enjoy text-based input and output, though they do enjoy the explanations from diagrams and charts.

Spotting a reading/writing learner

Reading and writing learners are also great tactile learners. When they do, they learn and so they share much in common with kinesthetic learners. However, reading and writing learners need to specifically engage with words and do well with repetition. What else characterises this learning style:

  • Best absorb new information by taking notes during a lecture and study best when they can write down what they’re learning
  • Will often like to draw or doodle while reading to remember
  • Like kinaesthetic learners, they do well with hands-on activities such as labs, as long as they can record their findings in note form

4) Kinesthetic Learners

The world of action is the kinesthetic learner’s oyster. Students who demonstrate this preference learn best when they are afforded tactile experiences, especially requiring physical activity to apply new information.

Demonstrations outdoors, science fairs, labs — this is the kinesthetic learner’s paradise. They even enjoy plays, performances, and skits, situations in which they can learn through practice or simulation. To help them incorporate a new idea, try asking them to recreate situations that explain the concepts in action.

Spotting a kinesthetic learner

Kinaesthetic learners are known to be individuals who like to ‘get in on the action’ and would struggle with traditional lectures where they’re expected to sit and listen. Besides this, they also:

  • Often have high energy levels
  • Need to learn and think while moving
  • Have problems concentrating when asked to sit and read
  • Demonstrate a strong preference for doing rather than watching, as a visual learner might, or listening, as an auditory learner might
  • Only 5% of the population remain kinesthetic, even though most children begin as kinesthetic learners and move to other forms later

Remember that these learning styles are all about finding the best solution to communicate information.

In a large classroom, it can often be difficult to manage all these varying types of learners. In an online learning experience, it can be even more tricky to gauge individual students’ learning patterns and proclivities.

What’s a teacher to do?

Remember that lesson plans should involve all four learning types. As long as there is an equal visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic component, you’ll be able to provide an experience that caters to a diverse classroom.

Once a student is hooked, they’ll move on to another form with greater ease and openness to getting more information from a learning style that is not a default one.