People learn things in different ways. Some learn by watching demonstrations. Some learn better with diagrams and charts. Still others learn best by getting in there and doing something. By understanding how our students learn best, we can present new concepts in a more effective way. The first thing you’ll want to do is determine what type of learner you have.
Until recently, learners were divided into three different groups: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. More updated models use four groups, separating visual learners from those who learn by reading and writing. Then you can add a fifth group — those who learn in more than one way. When you are dealing with younger students, it is probably best not to get too hung up on multimodal learners. Young learners tend to prefer one way above others, even though, like the rest of us, they learn in more than one way.
Visual learners learn best by taking in, understanding, and evaluating what they see:
Teaching a visual learner:
- Use color coding and bright colors.
- Use a visual dictionary.
- Leave lots of white space.
- Let them draw or color while listening.
- Use flashcards.
- Encourage highlighting.
- Provide pictures, images, or diagrams that illustrate what is being learned.
Explode the Code is an example of a product that will work well for a visual learner.
Read/write learners learn best by reading information, frequently followed by repeating the information orally or in writing. They prefer to use:
Teaching a read/write learner:
- Use textbooks.
- Ask for narrations.
- Have the student outline what is read.
- Encourage note-taking.
- Use summaries.
- Ask the student to make a list.
- Provide an extensive reading list.
Alpha Omega Lifepacs are an example of a product that will work well for a read/write learner.
Auditory learners prefer to learn by using their ears — by listening:
- Read alouds.
- Discussions or conversations.
Teaching an auditory learner:
- Read books out loud.
- Encourage them to think out loud (for example, reciting spelling words).
- Encourage discussions.
- Provide audio books.
- Use songs to explain or memorize concepts.
- Allow music while studying.
- Focus on oral narrations vs. written.
- Use mnemonics for memorizing.
Geography Songs is an example of a product that will work well for auditory learners.
Kinesthetic learners are movers. These are the ones who have a harder time sitting still and prefer to learn by doing. They prefer to be actively involved in the learning process:
- Manipulating material.
- Hands-on experimenting.
Teaching a kinesthetic learner:
- Allow them to stand and move when reciting.
- Try letter magnets.
- Provide short periods of movement between desk work.
- Use manipulatives to illustrate concepts.
- Have them work puzzles.
- Provide a variety of mediums (crayons, paint, markers, etc.).
- Use oral recitations.
Miquon Math is an example of a product suited for kinesthetic learners.
How Do You Learn?
Once you understand how your student learns, the next step might surprise you: figure out how you learn. Why is this important? As teachers, tutors, and mentors, we tend to present information in a way that makes sense to us. We typically use our preferred learning style to convey concepts that are new to others — it worked for us! It is how we would appreciate receiving the information. But this approach is not actually effective when it comes to teaching our children.
By understanding the differences between how you learn and how your student understands new information, you can bridge the gap by supplying the appropriate resources.
A great resource for exploring how you learn is a flowchart that can be found at Inc.
How To Use Learning Style Information
The best use of knowing what type of learner you have comes when you are presenting new information. A new concept is much easier to digest when it arrives in a way we can process it.
It is also helpful to make sure students have many opportunities throughout a day to absorb information in their preferred way.
But there are caveats to be aware of:
- No one should have to fit into a box.
- A label is not a person.
- No one learns in only one way.
- We all need to develop a variety of ways to learn. This makes us better learners.
The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias
This is our go-to book when it comes to understanding how children learn. Subtitled How to Discover and Teach to Your Child’s Strengths, it also goes much deeper into the topic than the simple model presented above. Valuable if you really want to understand the way your child learns. Read our full review.
More information and resources.