While there is plenty of debate FOR and AGAINST learning styles - the idea that you have a preferred way to learn new information - we think it's a fun and worthwhile exercise to do as a family. What follows is based on the evidence FOR learning styles, and we encourage you to treat this exercise as an opportunity to self-reflect on how you and your child likes to learn, and to start a conversation about their individual learning preferences in general.
To start, just think about yourself, when you are learning something new, what do you prefer?
- To listen to someone talking about it
- To read a book about it
- To watch or to take part in a demonstration of it
We can probably use all these ways to learn new information or skills, but the idea of learning styles is that most of us will be strongest in one of these over the others - although it can vary just as much from person to person as it can from situation to situation!
The Three Learning Styles
- Auditory Learners - learn by hearing
- Visual Learners - learn by seeing
- Kinesthetic Learners - learn by doing
Of course, nobody uses only one style exclusively as there is usually significant overlap in learning styles. During childhood, individual advance through various stages. Young children all begin as Kinesthetic learners, and the auditory and visual preferences emerge in later years. Evidence suggests that while everyone is born with a tendency toward one style, this may vary and be combined with other styles, according to the nature of the activity.
Why is knowing your child’s learning style important?
This ‘dominant style’ or ‘natural preference’ is known as your learning style, and this is the way you learn best. Your learning style dictates how your brain works most efficiently to input, organise, understand, and learn new skills and information. It also influences how easily or quickly you learn something new based on how you’re learning it.
There is no ‘best’ learning style, and they have nothing to do with how intelligent you are, but instead show how you are intelligent.
As you can imagine, there are significant benefits in identifying your learning style early on, positively impacting your academic potential, personal development, and professional growth. Because if you know how you learn best, you can set yourself up for success when tackling new problems!
This is why we are so keen for parents and children to talk about learning and how they like to learn – many times, a bored, unengaged child is only that way because they are forced into learning in a style they are not comfortable with.
Identify Your Learning Style
Ask your children to take the short test below. The results will help you identify each child’s unique learning style. Parents can then help create and shape habits that support each learning style. Learning styles are likely to differ across siblings.
Complete the following sentences with the one answer which best describes you:
|When learning something new…||(a) I like to read information, see diagrams, and make notes
(b) I like to listen to discussions, or watch videos with someone speaking about it
(c) I like to try it out immediately and be active
|When building something…||(a) I read the instructions first
(b) I listen to someone telling me what to do
(c) I work it out with the pieces and figure it out myself
|When asking for directions or help…||(a) I like to read information, see diagrams, and make notes
(b) I ask someone to explain it to me
(c) I just go there and find my way
|After meeting someone…||(a) I remember what they look like
(b) I remember what they said
(c) I remember what they did
|When I am trying to memorise something…||(a) I write the words down repeatedly
(b) I speak the word repeatedly
(c) I walk around and do something while learning the words
|I enjoy…||(a) Reading and writing exercises
(b) Listening exercises
(c) Role-playing activities
|When I need to concentrate, I am most distracted by…||(a) Things I see around me
(b) Noise and sounds I hear around me
(c) Movements or activities going on around me
|I prefer work in which I can…||(a) Hand in a written report
(b) Give a presentation
(c) Lead a demonstration or activity
|In a class or lecture…||(a) I take lots of written notes
(b) I listen carefully but don’t make many notes
(c) I draw pictures while listening
|The following is the truest for me…||(a) I like reading books and magazines
(b) I like listing to music
(c) I like going out for a walk or playing sports
After you have finished completing the questions, add up the total for each letter. Based on your answers, you will identify your dominant, secondary, and tertiary learning styles:
- If you score mostly A’s: You favour the Visual Learning Style
- If you score mostly B’s: You favour the Auditory Learning Style
- If you score mostly C’s: You favour the Kinesthetic Learning Style
Visual Learners are thought to make up about two-thirds of the population. These learners absorb and recall information best by seeing.
Primary characteristics of Visual Learners include:
A love of books, magazines, and other reading materials: they like to have a pen and paper close by: they enjoy learning through visually appealing materials: they are frustrated when unable to take notes: they can remember where information was located on a page: they need a quiet place to study: they benefit from making their own notes and re-copying them even from printed information; they tend to be good at spelling: reads slowly: they tend to be detail-oriented and are usually organised and tidy: they often ask for verbal instructions to be repeated: they benefit from previewing reading material: they are skilled at making graphs, charts or other visual displays; they write down directions or draw a map: they prefer to see the teacher’s facial expressions and body language rather than listen to a podcast: they concentrate better when they can clearly see the whiteboard or any visual aids: they remember how people look and how they were dressed: they prefer written instructions to oral ones: they don’t remember names easily.
Three ways to support a Visual Learner:
- Visual Learners work best when they can write things down. For this reason, we recommend they sit near the front of the classroom to see the teacher/board clearly and make a habit of copying the notes on the board by hand
- They are more likely to learn and remember through making lists, mindmaps, and flashcards, then revising their written notes with a highlighter
- Visual Learners prefer tests that are based on essays, diagrams, and reading comprehension exercises. BUT, they struggle with listen-and-respond tests and will need to practice these more.
Auditory Learners are thought to make up just under a third of the population. These learners absorb information best through the sense of hearing.
Primary characteristics of Auditory Learners include:
Being talkative in class: respond better to the spoken word: learn effectively through verbal instruction, lectures, audio books, oral presentations or music: information has little relevance unless it is heard: prefer giving oral reports to written ones: remember who said what in the past: enjoys discussions and debates: benefits from reading aloud: follows oral directions better than written ones: tend to memorise well: prefer listening to the news: remembers names: notices sound effects in movies: doesn’t automatically understand graphs, diagrams, or maps; enjoys talking to others: likes to tell jokes and stories: enjoys music: often sings, hums, or whistle to themselves: may use a finger as their pointer when reading: talks to themselves: good at grammar and foreign languages; repeat phone numbers to remember them; uses jingles to remember pieces of information; benefit from study groups: prefers to listen to music rather than look at artwork: reads slowly: follows spoken directions well; are likely to be articulate speakers: they can’t keep quiet for long.
Three ways to support an Auditory Learner:
- Auditory Learners work best when they can learn through audio or video resources. If they have to learn through books, they will retain information better if they can read those books aloud to themselves.
- They should be encouraged to ask lots of questions and be able to engage in a group discussion about topics as this will engage them well. When not engaged in a productive discussion, an Auditory Learner needs to be in a quiet environment to learn or will become easily distracted.
- Auditory Learners prefer oral, listen, and respond tests. BUT, they struggle with reading comprehension exercises and will need to practice these more.
Kinesthetic Learners are thought to make up about just 5% of the population. These learners absorb information best by doing, experiencing, touching, moving, or being active in some way.
Primary characteristics of Kinesthetic Learners include:
Enjoy action, feeling and discovery, remember things by building models, using tools and manipulating things: learn through touch, emotions, movement and space: enjoy doing demonstrations: master skills through practice and imitation: benefit from teaching which is hands-on: find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time: prefer to stand: tend to collect things: do not have good handwriting; struggle with spelling: remember who did what, rather than what they said or how they looked: learn well from field trips and excursions: talk fast, using hands to communicate: they tend to be good at sports: benefit from simulations and role-playing: they may play a musical instrument or participate in martial arts, dance: could be considered hyperactive: get restless during long lessons: are comfortable touching others as a gesture of friendship: learn more effectively when free to move: they have an excellent internal compass so they rarely get lost: studies effectively laying on floor or bed, fidgeting, tapping fingers, or touching objects rather than sitting in a hard chair.
Three ways to support a Kinesthetic Learner:
- Kinesthetic Learners work best when they engage in hands-on activities or practical exercises where they can trial and test knowledge and skills upfront.
- They need to be comfortable when learning and may need to learn on the move and be given the freedom to walk and talk/listen. Where this is not possible, frequent breaks will help them to stay focused when actively learning.
- Kinesthetic Learners prefer multiple-choice, short definitions, fill-in-the-blanks. BUT, they struggle with long essay tests and will need to practice these more.
What to remember when considering learning styles
There is evidence for and against learning styles, but in reality, the most important thing is to have the time to self-reflect on how you learn best, not pigeonhole yourself, and to try and tackle problems from many different angles. Assessing your learning style is just one way to do this.
It is also important to remember that people rarely have one learning style. Most have a combination of the three, and it is important to not undermine the learner's belief that they can succeed through effort, as it can sometimes provide an excuse for failure.