Until a few years ago, it was assumed that everyone learned new material in the same way over time, it was found out that learning is a very unique and personal experience. Each one of us learns and imbibes our experiences in unique ways – and that’s the way we learn the best. Every individual has his/her comfortable way of processing and retaining information. The truth is, not one technique fits in for all when it comes to learning. The multiple research and studies conducted about the learning styles are the reason why people are now talking about Learning Styles. Let us know them!
A good way to understand the learning styles prevalent around is the exam time. We’re talking about the times when you’ve to cram through pages of thick textbooks for an upcoming test or exam. If you pay attention to other students, you’ll notice that some of them have prepared notes of their own in a way that works best for them. While some might have placed sticky notes on their wall, some might be studying in groups discussing whatever they learned and some might be watching online lectures on those subjects.
While the course material is the same, every student can be seen trying to use a learning style that works out best for them.
So, the next time you get stuck on a topic and struggle to memorize or learn it, understand that there’s a possibility that your learning style isn’t working for you. Before giving up on a topic, try to experiment with a few different styles to understand that they work for you. Even if you are completely clueless about what different learning styles are, then this article will help you.
Let’s get started with understanding what learning styles are –
Learning Styles: An Overview
A learning style refers to how learners take, process, comprehend and retain any information. The term ‘Learning Styles’ came into being with an understanding that every student learns differently. For example, when learning ‘how to create a website’, some individuals will learn it well by verbal instructions, while others may want to refer to written notes about it or few may want to directly indulge in making websites and learn through hands-on experience.
Every learner will have a different learning style(s) depending on their cognitive skills, their prior experiences in terms of emotional exposures and the environmental factors. Interestingly, it’s often a mix of different learning styles and techniques that work the best for people. Some people may know the dominant learning styles that mostly work for them and they could combine that style with other learning styles, or some might prefer to use different learning styles in different situations.
The traditional schooling approach uses a limited range of teaching techniques that are highly dependent on books, repetitive content, and examination format for reinforcement and assessment. Unfortunately, this has led to the categorization of students into ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’, merely based on a very few learning styles being into the picture. As per Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence research, every individual excels at different things, so, defining intelligence merely based on literacy and mathematics skills is an inaccurate understanding of the strengths of a learner.
Because every learner is different, you need to understand your learning styles, so that you can strategically make sense of the teachings, curriculum, and assignments to benefit you on a larger and deeper level.
Why are Learning Styles important?
- Learning Styles are important as they guide you the way you learn the best. They influence the way you internally put forth your experiences, your learnings, your confidence and so on.
- Research says that each learning style uses a different part of the brain in processing information. The more we use our brain, the more it gets easier to remember whatever we have learned. If you recognize and understand your learning style you can use appropriate learning techniques for improving the speed and quality of learning.
- It is very important for the teachers as well, to know their audience and their learning preferences, else the teacher might end up with a few students lagging in the class as their learning style was never used in the teaching methods.
- The better you know about your learning styles, the more prepared you are to learn new things, a new language, a new skill or a new concept, as learning doesn’t end in the classrooms. Awareness of your learning style(s) equips you well for your future learning and helps build confidence in yourself.
What are the different types of Learning Styles?
From years of research, researchers have discovered seven types of learning styles that everyone falls into:
1. Visual (Spatial)
Visual Learners, as the name suggests, easily process the information if they get to see a pictorial representation or images related to the subject. They might also want to map out or jot down their thoughts so that they can easily process and retain the information that they received. As an example, a visual learner learning history would process the historical events even better in case he/she watches a movie or documentary of the same.
2. Aural (Auditory-Musical)
Aural Learning refers to a learning style primarily based on sound. So many of the musicians are aural learners. Aural learners respond to the beats and the rhythm. They also respond well to binaural beats. Binaural beats are a special kind of beats produced when two different kinds of beats are sent through each ear. The difference in the frequency of these two beats creates an interference inside your head, known as binaural beats. These beats are useful for mind relaxation and for the treatment of sleep disorders. The aural learners learn either in the form of music or assist their learning with music. For instance, few people easily memorize long poems when they are sung in a particular fashion.
3. Verbal (Linguistic)
Verbal Learners learn the best through words, either through verbal instructions or by writing. Public speaking, debates, discussions, journaling, writing, etc. are what they follow to get through the information and learning. A verbal learner may either just jot down his/her learnings or even read it aloud, as the best way to learn it.
4. Physical (Kinesthetic)
A physical learner will always get into the field, in motion, or through animation, to learn something. A physical learner has a good sense of body, hands, and sense of touch. For example, if a physical learner needs to learn something, he/she is only going to get through it if you go out for a run or a walk or by practicing some physical sport.
5. Logical (Mathematical)
This learning style intrigues people who seek logic and reasoning behind every concept and information and that is the best way they can process and retain that information. Usually, such people are engineers, mathematicians or people pursuing science courses. A typical logical learner would want to make an organized list while studying to extract key points and then categorize them logically.
6. Social (Interpersonal)
As the name says, social learners prefer learning in a group. As they have really good interpersonal skills, they seem to be involved in extracurricular activities as well. They like teamwork and an engaging style of learning. For instance, group projects or assignments often appeal to social learners as they get to learn through interaction and teamwork.
7. Solitary (Intrapersonal)
Solitary learners, as the name says, prefer to have their alone time to analyze and learn the subject on their own. While many Solitary learners happen to be introverted, this is not a necessary case for all. For instance, a solitary learner would like to read a self-help book or process information in his/her private time.
What kind of learner am I?
It’s important to understand the kind of learner you are as a student so that you would know how to consciously implement learning styles into your study techniques and in day to day life. This is going to change your life forever once you know your strengths in terms of learning. For each of the Learning Styles, some of the most common characteristics are mentioned below. Let’s have a look at them!
- Interest in coloring, drawing, and doodling
- Have good color balance
- Good in visualizing objects, plans, and outcomes
- Have a good sense of direction and a good spatial sense
- Prefer to learn through rhythms or rhymes
- Loves listening to music while learning
- Have a good sense of pitch and rhythm
- Find that certain music evokes strong emotions
- Read their content aloud to learn something
- Love reading and writing
- Like tongue twisters and rhymes
- Has a good vocabulary and enjoy learning new words
- Love doing outdoor activities like sports or even dance
- May be in constant motion with your hands or through body language while learning
- Good at making working models for solving jigsaw puzzles
- Good observant of the physical world around them like textures
- Love doing brain teasers or playing chess or performing complex calculations
- Tend to classify and group information for a better understanding
- Good at planning and making itineraries
- Tend to always see through the bigger picture and the logic and reasoning behind that concept
- Enjoy playing group sports
- Always want to socialize after the class
- Often trusted by others for their advice
- Are good listeners
- Have an independent thinking
- Do a lot of self-analysis
- Prefer to stay away from crowds
- Like to journal your thoughts as it always improves your learning
VARK Model For Learning
As an educator or presenter, everyone wants their audience to understand them as much as they can. But how do you deal with an audience that is equipped to learn their best through different learning ways? How do you make sure that the message is rightly imbibed by the audience across the classroom?
While scientists and psychologists have developed different models to understand the way different people learn, one of the most popular and accepted understandings of learning styles is found within educational theorist Neil Fleming’s VARK model of student learning.
VARK is an acronym that stands for ‘Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing Preference and Kinesthetic’ – the four types of learning styles into which the students can broadly be categorized into. Sometimes VARK is also referred to as a VAK model not considering reading/writing as a separate category for learning styles.
As per ‘Learning Styles Again: VARKing up the right tree!’ by Fleming & Baume, 2006, the main ideas for the VARK model are outlined as:
- The preferred learning modes of students influence their behavior and learning.
- Appropriate learning strategies should be there to match the students’ preferred learning styles.
- When students’ learning styles are identified and the overall curriculum is aligned with them, it shows an increase in their levels of academic confidence, comprehension, metacognition, and motivation to learn.
Let us learn about the four learning styles as mentioned in the VARK model:
1. Visual Learners
How to identify Visual Learners of your class: Visual learners will always show preferences to do visual learning through images, graphical representations, diagrams, and so on. Such students always process information better when presented visually and so they might doodle, make list, or take notes.
What can a teacher do for visual learners?
- Use whiteboards to draw pictures and diagrams
- Use handouts and presentations a lot
- Ask the students to doodle something related to the topic being discussed
- Always give some time and space to the students to process the visual information
2. Auditory Learners
How to identify Auditory Learners of your class: As the name says, auditory learners would always learn better when they hear the educators speaking up on the topic. These students are not good at writing notes but they might listen and use their voices to reinforce the idea behind the information given. Such students show active participation in the class by speaking up a lot and are good at explaining things verbally.
What can a teacher do for Auditory Learners?
- Try to involve the auditory learners by asking them to repeat back the concepts
- Ask questions to them and they would love to try answering that
- Group discussions are a good way to engage auditory learners
- Videos, music, or audiotapes are quite helpful modes too, to engage auditory learners
3. Reading/Writing Learners
How to identify Reading/ Writing Learners in your class: This set of learners prefer to learn through reading/writing and perhaps this is the easiest style to cater as most of the educational institutions already provide opportunities reading and writing to the students. These learners love to study, do online research, look up words in a dictionary, take their notes, journaling, etc.
What can a teacher do for Reading/writing Learners?
- Ask them to write essays or write-ups
- Give them research-based written assignments
- Ask the learners to read books and making notes
4. Kinesthetic Learners
How to identify Kinesthetic Learners of your class: This category of learners would always prefer indulging in the experience and doing hands-on for a better understanding of the concept being taught. These learners would always prefer motion in their learning and would struggle to keep sitting in one place. They usually love physical activities like sports and dance and also like to take breaks in between studying sessions.
What can a teacher do for Kinesthetic Learners?
- Try to engage kinesthetic learners in a roleplay kind of activity
- Try to encourage movements into lessons, like making students write on the whiteboard or games or activities that involve moving around
- These students need a physical sense of what they are studying and it makes the information easier to understand and retain
In a nutshell, if you want to educate a large group and you want everyone to get good learning, you need to plan out your session strategically, to incorporate all four kinds of learning styles as in the VARK model.
How to use your learning preferences and skill while preparing for an exam or test?
In addition to the VARK model, Flemings also advises on how the learners can use their awareness of learning modalities and skills to benefit from an upcoming test or assignment. This is referred to as SWOT – Study With Out Tears.
Let’s have a look at the different SWOT strategies for different learning styles, as explained by Flemings.
Visual SWOT Strategies
- Use charts, graphs, and diagrams for a better learning
- Redraw the information as much you remember
- Always highlight key terms in corresponding colors
- Can replace important words with symbols or initials
Aural SWOT Strategies
- Read your notes or assignments aloud
- Record the summarized notes and listen to them
- Explain the topic to your fellow aural learners
- Discuss the topic with others to expand your learning
Read/Write SWOT Strategies
- Keep writing and rewriting about everything you learn
- Write down the conclusions you draw from diagrams or charts
- Write key concepts in your own words
Kinesthetic SWOT Strategies
- Redo lab experiments or all physical models that you have made
- Use real-life examples and applications in your notes
- Use real pictures and illustrations to support the concept
So, now that you know your learning styles, you can start applying this awareness to your day to day life even if you have passed out from the school, as learning keeps happening throughout the life. You can use this to understand and grasp the concepts quickly and then process and retain them easily. It is just going to let you play with your strengths. Once the method of learning and the learning itself gets easier, you may start developing new interests, remember names better than before or even learn some new skills faster.
And thus, the exam time will not be a horror story anymore, as students will start confiding in the classrooms due to the exposure of different learning styles.