Anyone who’s ever stood before a classroom to teach quickly understands that not all students are created the same. This is true regarding your students’ behavior, their style, and even how they learn.
Even though learning styles may differ, your ability to meet students where they’re at, to get them interested in what you’re teaching, is always possible.
You just have to understand that different learning styles exist and then ensure your curriculum addresses as many ways to learn as possible.
It’s not always easy, but with the right tools, support, and understanding of the various styles of learning, you can do it.
What are learning styles?
Labels associated with styles of learning emerged as studies illustrated that there’s no one way everyone learns.
Categorizing types of learning helps explain how students process information, and most students will lean in a certain direction when it comes to a preferred method of learning.
Offering activities that fit into various learning styles can help more students succeed, with greater levels of comprehension and more motivation to continue learning.
It is worth noting that, although there are distinct learning styles, most people aren’t a single type of learner.
A person’s learning style can also change over time. This is why it’s important to understand the different ways to learn and craft lessons to hit more than one at a time.
Why are there multiple styles of learning?
Gaining access to information in the format that works best for each student helps build academic confidence.
Instead of grappling with the challenges of adapting their thinking and unfamiliar information, students can now access new content at their own level.
This not only enhances their comfort and ease with learning but also provides them with a deeper understanding of their own cognitive processes.
How different types of learning help reach all students
Meeting students where they learn allows you to optimize their ability to absorb, process, understand, and retain information.
Think about a single objective on a lesson plan -- by teaching it just one way, you’ll only have a handful of students truly learn what you’re trying to teach.
Providing a variety of methods to access the same objective gives every student an equal chance at hitting the benchmarks you’ve set for the curriculum.
How many different learning styles are there?
There are a variety of learning styles out there, and understanding the most common ones can help make you a more effective teacher.
It can also improve the effectiveness of curriculum, assessments, and daily activities, leading to stronger engagement with students. New research continues to emerge with new labels for learning styles, but the primary four used today are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.
Visual learners like images, maps, and graphics. They’ll primarily gravitate toward patterns and shapes over photos and videos, so think charts and diagrams.
Using these to present new information can help visual learners see the relationship between ideas and understand how content fits together.
Auditory learners hit their sweet spot in both lectures and group discussions. They consume information best when speaking about it or listening to someone else talk.
They’ll often need repetition and mnemonic devices to build retention and may need to say information out loud, in their own words, to understand fully.
For kinesthetic learners, it’s all about the hands-on activity. They need tactile representations of the material to make connections, so simulations and practice work best for them.
For schools incorporating STEAM into their curriculum, students with this learning type may benefit the most, although STEAM learning hits all the major learning styles in its approach.
Reading/Writing preference learners
Copious note-takers and avid readers often fit into this learning style. Here, text is the most powerful tool, and reading/writing learners learn best through words.
You’ll find that these students excel at essay writing and all written assignments.
Other learning styles you might see
While many students will exhibit, in part, one of the four primary learning types, they may also fit into these newer categories of learning styles.
- Analytical learners — use logic and analytical skills to understand an idea. They’ll thrive when they can find patterns and make connections in their learning.
- Social learners — like a learning environment where they can engage with others. They’ll thrive in group and peer-to-peer work.
- Solo learners — are the champions of individual work. They want to put their heads down and focus on an assignment independently.
Research continues to present new learning styles you may want to consider, so be on the lookout for studies in this area.
Providing activities in a variety of learning methods
An ideal activity considers all the ways to learn and hits as many learning styles as possible. It may not encompass them all, but what’s important is to not lean too heavily on any single learning type.
A great activity that accommodates a variety of learning methods would have the following:
- Verbal instructions
- Written instructions with a diagram or graphic
- Hands-on components to the activity
- Written follow-up to evaluate the results or share impressions
Mixing all these elements into a single activity has the added bonus of reaching students whose learning style is a combination of types. And having a learning style mix is also pretty common.