Learning Styles

Considering that such a basic and general process accounts for the overall process of learning in animals, it is fascinating to note that different humans prefer very different learning styles. There is a notable diversity in the sensory systems that lead to the most efficient memory storage between individuals. Researchers commonly group these differences into three general categories: auditory, tactile, and visual.

An auditory learner is characterized by an ability to very effectively remember what he or she hears. As a result, auditory learners are apt at remembering names, can talk while writing, and are often sophisticated speakers. Negative characteristics of an auditory learner include being easily distracted by noise, less of an ability to remember faces, and writing that might carry little meaning unless spoken aloud. Auditory learners learn very effectively by explaining information to others. Rhymes and songs are also very effective learning media.

A tactile or kinesthetic learner is very proficient at remembering what has been done or performed. Such learners most effectively learn by practice and physical repetition. Touch and movement are very important. Negative characteristics of this learning style involve a diminished ability to focus on information that is seen or heard. This makes learning to read difficult. Tactile learners learn effectively through the construction of relevant models. They are better able to learn to read if they hold the book in their hands while reading.

A visual learner is best able to remember what was seen or read. Such learners often think in words or pictures, and they are able to effectively remember faces that they encounter. The negative aspects of a visual learner include a diminished ability to remember what is heard for an extended period of time, difficulty remembering information that is presented if unable to take detailed notes, and trouble remembering names. Visual learners learn most effectively through taking notes to reinforce information, and observing charts and graphs.

(links: Learning Styles, Learning Styles Explained, Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic Learners)

These categorizations of learning preferences should not suggest a fine division between learners. Unless burdened by a disability that directly affects the capacity to comprehend a particular learning style every learner has some proficiency in each of the three categories. The difference lies in preference. Though this difference is surmountable, it can have major effects on relative success among individuals in a classroom setting. Because of this, many advocate for a balanced approach to teaching in the classroom, incorporating all three learning preferences, as well as a balanced approach to developing learning skills on the part of the learner. According to a study performed by Virginia Commonwealth University, "Most schooling has hierarchized these three information intake modes such that the visual is hypostasized, next is the auditory and last is the tactile/kinesthetic." Except in the unique disciplines of music and physical education, this is often the case. Many teachers are beginning to advocate for a more balanced approach that does not bias a particular preference.

There is an effective way to determine an individual's general learning preference. Learning preferences are neatly divided into pairs of opposing categories by the Felder and Silverman Index of Learning Styles (Felder and Silverman Index), first developed in the 1980's. Learners are able to use this index to determine what their specific learning preferences are, and which areas are in need of development, as well as to invite teachers to broaden their methods of conveying information to a diverse learning audience.

Learning preferences are organized into slightly different groupings by this study performed on respiratory care students at Texas State University. Here, the learning styles used were based on the Kolb Learning Style Inventory. Kolb outlines four distinct learning styles: accomadating, converging, diverging, and assimilating. These four are then used to produce four "learning cycles", each implementing two of the learning styles. These cycles include concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. This study proposes an interesting basis for learning preference which will be addressed in the What Determines Learning Preference? section.