A New Way Of Looking At Learning Styles

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When I was in college, I remember using various techniques such as mnemonic phrases and visuals to remember facts and dates for exams. I learned best by first hearing with visuals then actually doing the task. I found that when I only read the content given, I had a hard time retaining the information needed to complete a given assignment.

Through trial and error we tend to come to an understanding of how we learn or how we grasp information. Especially when the pressure is on to translate what we have learned to teach someone else or to regurgitate information for a test or evaluation.

Understanding learning styles can be helpful in many areas of life where new and important information is needed to be delivered or conveyed to clients, employees, students etc…

The term Learning Style, is a theory that was popularized in the 1970’s which propose that everyone can be categorized into a specific learning style that best supports their way of retaining information. Although there are many critics that do not believe in this theory, it is still popularly used today.

One of the most popular Learning Style models is Neil Fleming’s VARK model. This model proposes that we learn in four different ways:

  1. Visual Learners: Visual learners learn through graphs, charts, pictures, designs, patterns and diagrams.
  2. Auditory Learners: Auditory learners learn by listening. They enjoy group discussions, debates, and studying out loud.
  3. Read/Write Learners: Read/Write learners learn by seeing things in written form. They like to re-write information, make flash cards and lists. Absorbing information through reading magazines, articles and books.
  4. Kinesthetic Learners: They learn by using their five senses, touching, moving, and doing. Hands on learning and making connections through personal experiences.

The Learning Style theory was backed up by various statistics, despite the fact that the percentages were so conflicting and varied. One of which states that 65 percent of the population are visual learners, 30 percent are auditory learners and 5 percent are kinesthetic learners.

As an educator, I was urged to find the exact learning style that each of my students preferred so that I could tap into the best way to deliver content.

However, I found that I couldn’t put each student in a box. Furthermore, their preferred modality seemed to differ when the content or environment changed.

If I just read information to my auditory learners, it didn’t stick. If I gave my visual learners, just visuals, they didn’t have enough information to apply what they learned. If the read/write group, read or wrote down information, it wasn’t enough. Furthermore, if they tried to perform a task without the assistance of at least two other modalities, which included visuals, auditory, reading, or a kinesthetic approach, it was a complete fail.

As I monitored how students learned, I came to the conclusion that we all need several ways of getting input when learning new material, followed up with an independent task to check for understanding. If I included a visual, auditory, read/write opportunities followed up with a kinesthetic activity, students retained information at a faster and more precise rate than when I just taught with one modality.

Including several modalities when delivering information is the secret sauce to retaining information…

  • In Leadership: Conveying new information to employees and clients using different modalities will help them understand and apply what they have learned.
  • In Public Speaking: Communicating through the use of various modalities while speaking to your audience will enhance engagement. Participants will come away with new knowledge to apply to their lives.
  • In Marketing: Exhibiting content in diversified ways to reach a targeted niche or to widen your reach. Most Marketers are experts at incorporating several modalities in their content through the use of videos, blogs, images, infographics and livestream engagement.
  • In Teaching: Applying the knowledge of learning styles to implement diverse modalities so that each student will be successful in understanding the content that they will need to master.

Understanding the different learning style modalities is helpful to give us an understanding of what it looks like to deliver material in a visual, auditory, read/write or kinesthetic way.

However, to convey a new idea or concept, we should always deliver information with several modalities in mind.

The Highest Form of Learning is when you can teach what you learned to someone else…

Think outside the box when delivering new material. Humans are unique and learn differently in different occasions and settings. There is not one specific way of teaching. Embrace several means of getting your information across.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -Benjamin Franklin