Regarding learning styles, the general school of thought is that learning might be easier by arranging content according to our preferred sense. Organizing content according to our sensory input to utilize our strengths and manage our weaknesses might make sense. But is this sound advice or good intention. Or, is this just another way of putting individuals in a box?
Here’s an example of what you might find on the Internet from Learning-Styles-Online:
- Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
- Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
- Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words in speech and writing.
- Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands, and sense of touch.
- Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems.
- Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with others.
- Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.
But not everyone agrees with the concept of learning styles.
Here are a few links supporting learning styles.
Do a search using your favorite search tool to find an endless list of sources.
Here’s a list of books on the subject of learning styles we maintain on our bookshelf. Cathy Duffy and Ellyn Davis provide resources from a homeschooler’s perspective. Mariaemma Willis mentions homeschooling sixteen times, Cynthia Tobias references homeschooling zero times.
Examples of questions parents and college-bound students may ask themselves concerning learning styles:
- Do I prefer to listen when learning?
- Do I prefer to read when learning?
- Do I prefer a hands-on experiential approach to learning?
- Do learning styles work?
- Can I take advantage of learning styles?
Learning Styles According to OpenStax: College Success
Several decades ago, a new way of thinking about learning became very prominent in education. It was based on the concept that each person has a preferred way to learn. It was thought that these preferences had to do with each person’s natural tendencies toward one of their senses. The idea was that learning might be easier if a student sought out content that was specifically oriented to their favored sense. For example, it was thought that a student who preferred to learn visually would respond better to pictures and diagrams.
Over the years there were many variations on the basic idea, but one of the most popular theories was known as the VAK model. VAK was an acronym for the three types of learning, each linked to one of the basic senses thought to be used by students: visual, aural, and kinesthetic. What follows is an outline of each of these and the preferred method.
- Visual: The student prefers pictures, images, and the graphic display of information to learn. An example would be looking at an illustration that showed how to do something.
- Aural: The student prefers sound as a way to learn. Examples would be listening to a lecture or a podcast.
- Kinesthetic: The student prefers using their body, hands, and sense of touch. An example would be doing something physical, such as examining an object rather than reading about it or looking at an illustration.
The Truth about Learning Styles
In many ways these ideas about learning styles made some sense. Because of this, educators encouraged students to find out about their own learning styles. They developed tests and other techniques to help students determine which particular sense they preferred to use for learning, and in some cases learning materials were produced in multiple ways that focused on each of the different senses. That way, each individual learner could participate in learning activities that were tailored to their specific preferences.
While it initially seemed that dividing everyone by learning styles provided a leap forward in education, continued research began to show that the fixation on this new model might not have been as effective as it was once thought. In fact, in some cases, the way learning styles were actually being used created roadblocks to learning. This was because the popularization of this new idea brought on a rush to use learning styles in ways that failed to take into account several important aspects that are listed below:
- A person does not always prefer the same learning style all the time or for each situation. For example, some learners might enjoy lectures during the day but prefer reading in the evenings. Or they may prefer looking at diagrams when learning about mechanics but prefer reading for history topics.
- There are more preferences involved in learning than just the three that became popular. These other preferences can become nearly impossible to make use of within certain styles. For example, some prefer to learn in a more social environment that includes interaction with other learners. Reading can be difficult or restrictive as a group effort. Recognized learning styles beyond the original three include: social (preferring to learn as a part of group activity), solitary (preferring to learn alone or using self-study), or logical (preferring to use logic, reasoning, etc.).
- Students that thought they were limited to a single preferred learning style found themselves convinced that they could not do as well with content that was presented in a way that differed from their style. For example, a student that had identified as a visual learner might feel they were at a significant disadvantage when listening to a lecture. Sometimes they even believed they had an even greater impairment that prevented them from learning that way at all.
- Some forms of learning are extremely difficult in activities delivered in one style or another. Subjects like computer programming would be almost impossible to learn using an aural learning style. And, while it is possible to read about a subject such as how to swing a bat or how to do a medical procedure, actually applying that knowledge in a learning environment is difficult if the subject is something that requires a physical skill.
Knowing and Taking Advantage of Learning Styles in a Way That Works for You
The problem with relying on learning styles comes from thinking that just one defines your needs. Coupling what you know about learning styles with what you know about UGT can make a difference in your own learning. Rather than being constrained by a single learning style, or limiting your activities to a certain kind of media, you may choose media that best fit your needs for what you are trying to learn at a particular time.
Following are a couple of ways you might combine your learning style preference with a given learning situation:
- You are trying to learn how to build something but find the written instructions confusing so you watch a video online that shows someone building the same thing.
- You have a long commute on the bus but reading while riding makes you dizzy. You choose an aural solution by listening to pre-recorded podcasts or a mobile device that reads your texts out loud.
These examples show that by recognizing and understanding what different learning styles have to offer, you can use the techniques that are best suited for you and that work best under the circumstances of the moment. You may also find yourself using two learning styles at the same time - as when you watch a live demonstration or video in which a person shows you how to do something while verbally explaining what you are being shown. This helps to reinforce the learning as it utilizes different aspects of your thinking. Using learning styles in an informed way can improve both the speed and the quality of your learning.
Baldwin, A. (n.d.). LEARNING STYLES. In College Success (pp. 66–68). Houston, Texas: OpenStax.