Recognizing and Teaching to Individual Learning Styles

Learning styles are the ways a person takes in, stores, and retrieves information. Understanding how your students process information will allow you to select training methods to maximize their success.

Learning styles. Learners can be described by which sense they rely on most. The senses normally used are sight, hearing, and touch. Few learners rely totally on one method in every learning situation. The connections the brain makes in response to learning activities are reinforced by using multiple senses. Even if you are tutoring in a one-on-one situation, do not use only one method to teach a learner with a particular learning style. Instead, be sure to include several teaching techniques for that learning style augmented by techniques for other learning styles. If you are teaching a group of people, incorporate techniques for all learning styles. Also remember that every good lesson plan includes reminders of what has been learned, an outline of content coming up, and plenty of practice time.

There are three learning styles.
visual: learns by visualizing and looking at text, pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
auditory: learns by listening and discussing.
kinesthetic/tactile: learns by doing and being physically involved in a task.

Visual Learners. Visual learners "see" information in their minds. They can picture where information occurred on a page, for instance, or "see" key letters of an answer before recalling the entire phrase or passage. They also prefer written instructions. Visual learners comprise between 65% to 75% of the population, so it is important to include visual material in any instructional unit. Limiting sounds, which can be distracting to visual learners, for at least some period of time will allow visual learners to process information (for instance, no music, TV, or radio in the background).

Teaching a Visual Learner. Visual learners will respond best with the following teaching techniques:

  • Write instructions on the board or overhead.
  • Before a lecture, provide an outline of the material to be covered.
  • Hand out class notes for any lecture.
  • Use a highlighter to call attention to key words.
  • Use flash cards, diagrams, charts, maps, movies, filmstrips, timelines, PowerPoint presentations, flip boards, photos, and mnemonics.
  • Choose materials with pictures or other illustrations.
  • Have a learner write out sentence completions, fill in cloze worksheets, or do word searches.
  • Have a learner copy paragraphs or short stories. The physical act of writing combines with the visual picture of the information in their handwriting to reinforce the acquisition of the material.
  • Have the learner make flash cards.
  • Have the learner assemble flash cards to form sentences.
  • Have the learner study reading passages and identify each occurrence of information which is part of the learning objective (circle all words that start with /sh/ or underline every capital letter).

Auditory Learners. Auditory learners most easily process information they hear. They prefer to listen to oral instructions than to read instructions. Auditory learners make up about 20% of the population. Some characteristics of an auditory learner include: Learning best by repeating information aloud after hearing it. Being able to discriminate between similar sounds (s/z) and words that sound alike (bet/bat). The ability to reproduce information they hear. Associating information with sounds they heard when they learned it (music, TV, people talking, or environmental sounds).

Teaching an Auditory Learner. The following techniques work well with auditory learners:

  • Read aloud to the learner.
  • Make recordings of reading selections for the learner to use while reading.
  • Have the learner discuss or summarize the information.
  • Ask the learner to repeat the instructions.
  • Use music and rhythms to reinforce learning.
  • Have the learner read aloud with you (duet reading).
  • Read a sentence aloud and then have the learner read the same sentence aloud (echo reading).
  • Read a sentence aloud and then have the learner read the next sentence aloud (alternate reading). (Plays or, more simply, role-playing scenarios work well.)

Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners. These learners learn best by doing. They need to touch and work with physical objects. They would rather do something than write or talk about it. They are usually physically active and may recall information by associating it with an action like taking notes, walking, or touching objects. They often do well with chemistry or biology experiments, art, sports, and acting. About 5% of students are kinesthetic learners.

Teaching a Kinesthetic/Tactile Learner. The watch words "motion" and "activity" define the best teaching techniques for the Kinesthetic/Tactile Learner. Apply the following ideas:

  • Change activities often.
  • Provide frequent breaks.
  • Have the learner trace letters and words.
  • Ask the learner to draw a picture that represents a story or teaching concept.
  • Have the learner use letter tiles or cards to spell out words.
  • Have the learner use word cards to form sentences.
  • Play board games or computer games which meet learning objectives.
  • Engage learners in role-play.
  • Conduct field trips.
  • Assign science experiments, art projects, or display construction.

With all learners, remember to "tell them what you will tell them, tell them, and, then, tell them what you told them". This is a maxim in military training and it holds true for any teaching situation. Learners of all types need reinforcement of new information until it becomes old information and is readily retrievable. Offering a variety of learning experiences gives the brain more pathways to that information and makes it more likely that the learner can pull it up when needed.

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