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Understanding learning style

Everybody is born ready to learn. Years of research have shown that just about every person has a preferred style in which they learn best. A student might learn through a combination of styles, but usually there is one learning style he or she favors over the others. For example:

  • You may be able to spell by visualizing a word, but your child may not be able to memorize his spelling words unless he writes them down first.
  • Your child's incessant pencil tapping may actually help her stay on task.

There is no right or wrong learning style. Your primary learning style may be different from your child's. To work effectively with your child, you need to understand both your own learning style and that of your child. When you identify how your child learns best, you can help your child have more positive learning experiences.

What are common learning styles?

The three most common learning styles are Visual, Auditory, and Physical (Kinesthetic). These styles, how you recognize them, and how you can help people with these styles learn are described in the table below.

The Learning Style How you recognize the style How you can help
Visual learners learn by watching. They use images to remember, creating a picture in their heads. To learn spelling, for example, they may picture the way a word looks.

Visual learners may also:

  • Enjoy art and drawing
  • Read maps, charts and diagrams well
  • Like mazes and puzzles
A visual learner:
  • Notices details
  • Is aware of similarities and differences
  • Often has good eye-hand coordination
  • May be quiet and deliberate
  • May have a vivid imagination
  • May have trouble remembering verbal directions and messages
You can help visual learners by:
  • Making flash cards for key information
  • Drawing symbols or pictures
  • Visually highlighting key words and pictures
  • Making charts to organize information
  • Translating words and ideas into symbols, pictures and diagrams
  • Using to-do lists, assignment logs and written notes (also benefits physical learners)
Auditory learners benefit from traditional teaching techniques. They learn well when directions are read aloud or information is presented and requested verbally. They remember facts when presented in a poem, song or melody.

Auditory learners also like:

  • To tell stories and jokes
  • To play word games
  • To use tape recorders

An auditory learner:

  • Talks to him or herself
  • Hums and asks lots of questions
  • May want to make a lot of noise if it is too quiet
  • May be distracted by having too many sounds at one time
  • Is very social and loves to talk about what he or she is doing
You can help auditory learners by:
  • Reading out loud together
  • Encouraging them to read out loud when they study, so they can "hear" the instruction
  • Studying with a partner, so they can talk out the solutions to problems
  • Writing out a sequence of steps to solve a problem, then reading the steps out loud
Physical learners learn best through movement and physical manipulation. They like to find out how things work and want to touch, feel and experience what they are being asked to learn. Most kindergartners are physical learners, but by second or third grade their learning styles may change to visual or auditory. However, half of all students in high school and beyond remain physical learners.

Physical learners may also:

  • Need to manipulate, handle and try things out
  • Have a short attention span
  • Show you things rather than telling you about them

A physical learner:

  • Seems to be in constant motion
  • Needs to handle and try things out to understand them
  • May actually need to be moving to learn
You can help physical learners by:
  • Letting them participate in science or math laboratories
  • Creating and participating in dramatic productions
  • Going on field trips
  • Creating and performing skits and dances
  • Encouraging them to take notes and draw diagrams
  • Having them make models

How does understanding learning style help my child?

If a subject in school is not taught using your child's preferred learning style, he or she may struggle to understand it. You can help your child grasp difficult material by practicing at home using your child's best learning style.

You may also be able to talk with your child's teacher about how your child learns best. This can help both your own and other children in the class. In the past, most instruction was delivered verbally (although only about 10 percent of secondary school students are auditory learners).

Many teachers are now aware of the need to deliver instruction in ways that accommodate all learning styles. Understanding your child's learning style also helps you:

  • Keep expectations realistic.
  • Help your child at home.
  • Become an advocate for your child at school.
  • Teach your child coping skills for situations that are not geared to his or her learning style.
  • Prevent your child from feeling frustrated when he or she is not doing work that is up to his or her potential.
  • Experiment with different learning styles and environments to improve your child's accomplishments and feelings of achievement.

It is important to avoid negative labels for learners. All children are born ready to learn.