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Module Five—Learning Styles


Learning style is the way individuals concentrate on, absorb, and retain new or difficult information or skills. It is NOT the materials, or strategies that people use to learn: those are the resources that complement each person’s style. Style comprises a combination of environmental, emotional, sociological, physical, and psychological elements that permit individuals to receive, store, and use knowledge or abilities.
Each person learns differently, at a different rate, using different learning styles. Everyone has a learning style, just as everyone has a preferred hand for writing. One’s learning style, when accommodated, can result in improved attitudes toward learning and an increase in academic achievement by lessening frustration and improving understanding. By identifying an individual’s learning style, one can become a better learner—“study smarter, not harder”. Learning styles do not reflect levels of achievement or academic ability. No one style is better than the other.

Elements of Learning Style

These factors can influence learning style in both positive and negative ways. Once a dominant learning style has been determined the components of these elements should be taken into consideration as a means to empower the learner to achieve greater success.

Environmental: sound, light, temperature, room design
Emotional: motivation, persistence, responsibility
Sociological: self, pair, peers, team, adult, varied
Physical: perceptual, intake, time, mobility
Psychological: global/analytic, right brain/left brain, impulsive/reflective

Major Learning Styles--Barsch

Visual: Learners with this as their dominant learning style learn best when information is presented visually and in a picture or design format. In a classroom setting, they benefit from instructors who use visual aids such as film, video, maps, charts, notes written on a board or overhead, or even PowerPoint presentations. They often like to work in a quiet room and may not like to work in study groups. Visualization helps memory and retention for these learners. They are often list makers and generally have good organizational skills. They are sometimes distracted by movement or action in the classroom, but tend to be unaware of noise. They may remember faces but will forget names.
Auditory: Learners with this style learn best when information is presented in an oral language format. In a classroom setting, they benefit from listening to lecture and participating in discussions. Audiotapes, reading material out loud, and oral recitation of material work well for memory and retention. These learners do well working out solutions or problems by talking them out or role-playing. They are easily distracted by noise and often need to work where it is relatively quiet. They may remember names but forget faces.
Tactile/Kinesthetic: These learners work best when they are physically engaged in a “hands-on” activity. In the classroom, they benefit from lab settings, demonstrations, or projects where materials can be manipulated to discover and learn new information. These students often have high energy levels; they think better while moving. They may take notes, but often need to draw or doodle to remember and retain information. Field trips are a must for these learners. They probably will not remember faces or names unless there has been a physical association, such as shaking hands or playing on the same team. These are the “movers and shakers” of learners.


Visual Learners

  1. Use graphics for notes and review sheets to reinforce learning: diagrams, charts, illustrations, slides, time lines, outlines, maps, videos; graph paper with large squares or computer-generated tables or charts work well.

  1. Color code key words, symbols, diagrams, ideas.

  1. Write out sentences and phrases that summarize key information from textbook or notes; write out explanations for information on charts or graphs.

  1. Make use of computer word processing by rewriting notes, then use as a study guide; use of outline feature also works well.

  1. Make flashcards of vocabulary words and concepts that need to be memorized. Use highlighter pens to emphasize key points on the cards. Limit the amount of information per card so you can make a mental picture of the information.

  1. Translate words and ideas into symbols, pictures, cartoons as visual reminders.

  1. When learning mathematical or technical information, make charts to organize the information. When a math problem involves a sequence of steps, draw a series of boxes, each containing the appropriate bit of information in sequence. Also try to write out in sentences and key phrases your understanding of the material; when a problem involves a sequence of steps, write out in detail how to do each step.

  1. Visualize spelling of words or facts to be memorized; use other visual mnemonics.

  1. Before an exam, make visual reminders using sticky notes containing key words and concepts and place them in highly visible places—on the bathroom mirror, notebook, car dashboard, car keys, glasses case, backpack, lunch sack.

  1. Study in a clutter-free environment.

Auditory Learners

  1. Record class lectures to listen to repeatedly, such as in the car while traveling.

  1. Read text and notes out loud.

  1. Join a study group or work with a “study buddy” to discuss and review material orally.

  1. Study in a quiet place; if you must have music, try turning the volume down a little each day until you are used to the silence; on the other hand, if the silence becomes distracting, try soft background music.

  1. When learning mathematical or technical information, “talk your way” through new material. State the problem in your own words. Reason through solutions to problems by talking out loud to yourself or a study partner. To learn a sequence of steps, write them out in sentence form and read them out loud.

  1. In spelling a word, say it aloud. Close your eyes, spell it again aloud, now write the word while trying to hear it in your mind.

  1. Have test questions read aloud or put on tape; ask about taking a test orally so answers are given verbally instead of in writing.

  1. Make up a song using subject matter or key words; rhymes also work well to remember facts, dates, names, etc.

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners

  1. Incorporate physical activity into learning by moving around when studying, using fingers to name off ideas or items for review, reading aloud, listening to audio tapes of material while exercising.

  2. Sit near the front of the room and take notes throughout lectures. Jot down key words and draw pictures or make charts or diagrams to help remember information you are seeing and hearing.

  1. Make learning tangible (hands-on) by making models, working in a lab setting, copying notes onto a chalkboard or other large writing surface; typing notes on a computer also reinforces memory.

  1. Take frequent breaks in study periods. Try to “beat the clock”—set up 30-minute study sessions and cover a specific amount of information in that time.

  1. To learn a sequence of steps, make flashcards for each step. Arrange the cards on a tabletop to represent the correct sequence. Put words, symbols, or pictures on the cards; use highlighters to color code important points. Rearrange cards out of sequence and practice putting them back in correct order.

  1. Trace letters or words to learn spelling and remember facts.

  1. Use music, drama, dance, gymnastics, sports to express and to reinforce learning.

  1. Participate in a study group where you will be able to use a multisensory approach—discussion, writing, reading, moving.

  1. Select instructors who encourage class discussions, role-playing, or other interactive learning.


Visual Auditory Kinesthetic
1. Absorbs Reading & watching Conversing and Movement,

primary hearing touching,

information by: experience
2. Learns by: Being shown, Listening, hearing Hands-on,

demonstrations, instructions direct action

written information
3. Memorizes by: Reading & writing Saying what is Doing action

heard over & over repeatedly

4. Remembers by: Recalled images Recalling facts What was

of the word; and names (rote done (not

graphics memorization) what was said or seen)

Visual Auditory Kinesthetic

5. Distracted by: Visual disorder Random sounds Inability to

6. In a new Looks around, Talks about the Does not

situation: examines the pros and cons read any

situation instructions

7. Places Written work Spoken word Actions and

particular feelings

emphasis on:


The brain is composed of two hemispheres, the left and the right. The corpus collosum integrates the left side and the right side providing a communication path for the transmission of learning and memory. The right hemisphere controls left motor and sensory activity and is the location of spatial relationships, artistic expression and visualization. The left hemisphere controls the right motor and sensory activity and is the location of reacting, language, and handwriting. The left hemisphere also has the centers for speech and hearing. Each side has particular characteristics:

Left Hemisphere--Rational Right Hemisphere—Intuitive 1. Responds to verbal instructions 1. Responds to demonstrations

2. Problem solves by logically and 2. Problem solves with hunches

sequentially looking at the parts looking for patterns and

of things; processes from parts configurations; processes

to whole from whole to parts

3. Looks at differences 3. Looks at similarities

4. In planned and structured 4. Is fluid and spontaneous

5. Prefers established, certain 5. Prefers elusive, uncertain

information information

6. Prefers talking and writing 6. Prefers drawing and

manipulating objects

7. Prefers multiple choice tests 7. Prefers open-ended questions

8. Controls feelings 8. Free with feelings

9. Prefers ranked authority 9. Prefers collegial authority

structures structures

10. Reality-based; must have 10. Fantasy-oriented; desire to

and know rules and con- change all situations; often

sequences; sees the world not aware of problems;

as black or white creative; sensitive


As the workforce needs change in today’s society, more adults are attending college either as first-time students or as returning students needing additional skills. While the three basic learning styles still apply, adults have additional learning styles based on the characteristics, motivations, and barriers to education of adult learners.

Adult learners learn best in a democratic, participatory and collaborative environment. Their chief motivation to learn comes from within. They simply are not young learners in a grown-up form. Most adult learners must see relevance in what they are studying; they want material that is self-directed and problem-centered. Tutors need to take adult characteristics and motivations in mind as they plan and conduct tutoring sessions.


  1. Students are self-reliant and can learn at their own pace.

  2. Students are voluntary learners and must feel they have something to offer.

  3. Adult learners will learn only what they perceive to be relevant.

  4. Adult learners are more realistic and less tolerant of non-meaningful learning; they do not require “busy work” to learn.

  5. Adults have gained life experiences and wish to communicate these thoughts as they relate to the subject matter.

  6. Adult learners may need more time to do and understand certain tasks; be patient and give more detailed explanations.

  7. Adult learners are adults and want to be treated as such; do not talk “down” to them—they know what they want and need.


  1. To make or maintain social relationships.

  2. To meet external expectations, such as upgrading skills for the workplace.

  3. To learn to better serve others, such as managers who must learn CPR or professional development in the area of customer service.

  4. To further professional advancement.

  5. To escape ordinary circumstances or provide outside stimulation.

  6. To learn for the sake of learning.


  1. Many other responsibilities (families, careers, social commitments)

  2. Lack of time

  3. Lack of money

  4. Lack of child care

  5. Scheduling problems

  6. Transportation problems

  7. Insufficient confidence or self-esteem

  8. Having to learn, if told by employer to keep job; not being ready or interested


KOLB—Learning styles develop along a continuum that one moves through over time, running from:

  1. Concrete experience: Being involved in a new experience

  2. Reflective observation: Watching others or developing observations about one’s own experience

  3. Abstract conceptualization: Creating theories to explain observations

  4. Active experimentation: Using theories to solve problems, make decisions

Some suggested activities for working with students with these learning styles are:

  1. For the concrete experiencer: offer laboratories, field work, observations or trigger films

  2. For the reflective observer: use logs, journals, or brainstorming

  3. For the abstract conceptualizer: lectures, papers, and analogies work well

  4. For the active experimenter: offer simulations, case studies, and homework

GARDNER’S Multiple Intelligences—Seven areas that affect learning and their chief characteristics:

  1. Verbal/Linguistic—works best with words

  2. Logical/Mathematical—likes to ask questions; has to know why

  3. Visual/Spatial—needs pictures or other visual images

  4. Musical/Rhythmical—sees patterns; memorizes by rhymes/mnemonics

  5. Body/Kinesthetic—learns best with activity incorporated

  6. Interpersonal—enjoys group work; very social

  7. Intrapersonal—prefers to work alone; very private

MYERS-BRIGGS—Incorporates four main areas with two categories under each area:
    1. Energy Source

Extraversion (E) Introversion(I)

Prefers action/interaction over reflection Prefers reflection over action

Talks things over to gain understanding Thinks things through to gain


Prefers oral communication Prefers written communication

Takes initiative in social/work situations Likes working alone or with

only one or two others

Gets involved in social activities to Spends time alone to

re-energize re-energize

    1. Taking in Information

Sensing (S) Intuition (N)

Gathers facts and details Looks for patterns and


Focuses on five senses Focuses on what lies beneath

the surface

Present-oriented Future-oriented

Comfortable with routine Comfortable with complexity

Concentrates on specific details Concentrates on the big picture

    1. Making Decisions

Thinking (T) Feeling (F)

Bases decisions on logical analysis Bases decisions on personal


Analytical Sympathetic

Perceived as reasonable Perceived as compassionate

Guided by cause-effect reasoning Guided by personal beliefs

Wants things to be fair Wants things to be harmonious

    1. Everyday Living

Judging (J) Perceiving (P)

Makes decisions in order to obtain Takes in all available infor-

closure mation before deciding

Scheduled and systematic Spontaneous and casual

Completes one project before Enjoys working on several

Beginning another projects simultaneously

Commits quickly to plans/decisions Flexible, likes to keep

options open

Often finishes tasks before deadline Often finishes tasks right at

deadline, or needs extension


It is important for tutors (and students) to have a fundamental understanding of learning styles. This foundation will help you:

    • Determine why you tutor (or learn) the way you do. A good tutor must know his/her own strengths and weaknesses, as well as have a basic understanding of the way his/her tutee prefers to learn.

    • Recognize how your personality type affects your tutoring style. It is easy to teach people like yourself; teaching someone with an opposing personality or learning style can be more difficult without awareness.

    • Develop strategies to help tutor people with different learning styles.

    • Recognize how you affect (and sometimes unintentionally irritate) others and they you. Irritation cuts down on motivation and effective tutoring and learning.

    • Provide the most productive learning/learner environment possible.

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