For most of us, school meant standing in line, reading from textbooks and generally all learning the same way. While that worked for some people, others — even people who are otherwise intelligent — were simply unable to thrive. Why? It’s because they use a different learning style to take in and absorb information.
We’ve been looking at the different learning styles since the mid-1970s, but it’s only in recent years that this information has started to gain traction. What are the different learning styles? How do these different learning styles affect the learner, and what can educators do to ensure that everyone is thriving in their classroom?
1. Visual or Spatial Learning
First, we have the visual learner. Also called “spatial learning,” these learners are at their best when they have pictures or other images to learn from. At young ages, this might mean that they learn better from picture books than from textbooks. As they get older, this style of learning tends to translate to things like graphs, maps and other visual applications.
Teachers can help visual learners by providing images or other visual content, rather than relying strictly on spoken lectures or textbook learning.
You might be a visual learner if:
- You spend a lot of time doodling or drawing as you learn.
- You’re easily distracted by sounds or speech.
- You close your eyes to visualize something in order to remember it.
- Math formulas confuse you but you thrive in geometry because of the images.
- You can’t find a place based on spoken directions — you need to see them.
You can’t find a place based on spoken directions — you need to see them.
2. Aural or Auditory Learning
Next, we have the aural or auditory learners. These individuals learn best when lessons are presented in a way that allows them to hear the information rather than reading or watching it. Young auditory learners might take very well to the alphabet song. However, they might have trouble understanding concepts like reading and writing unless there’s an auditory component.
Teachers can help auditory learners thrive simply by talking to them. That might mean using spoken word lectures rather than handing out textbooks and expecting the information to seep into their heads by osmosis.
You might be an auditory learner if:
- You find yourself reading assignments or directions aloud to yourself.
- You’re fond of audiobooks, especially ones that are teaching you something new.
- You listen to music while you’re studying or working to help the information sink in.
- You find it easy to learn a foreign language just by listening to it.
- You are always make it a point to find a seat where you can hear the teacher easily.
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3. Verbal or Linguistic Learning
Verbal or linguistic learners tend to be the opposite of auditory and visual learners. Instead of using sound or images to learn, these students prefer using words — both in speech and in writing. Young linguistic learners might seem incredibly well-spoken for their age and spend a lot of time in the library or with their nose in a book. These behaviors often carry over into older students and even into adulthood.
Teachers can help linguistic learners thrive by providing them with the tools that they need to learn, whether that means a written transcript of a lecture or a printout of the information discussed during a current lesson.
You might be a verbal learner if:
- You thrive in public speaking activities and love debate.
- You love to read and may even have a love for writing as well.
- You take detailed notes of each lecture. You might even be your class’s go-to person for notes or study aids.
- You spend a lot of time learning new facts on the internet.
4. Physical or Kinesthetic Learning
Physical or kinesthetic learners are those who learn best when they’re doing hands-on activities. If they’re not doing something with their hands — whether it pertains to the lesson or not — the information doesn’t sink in. At young ages, these learners might learn spelling best by creating words with alphabet blocks or magnets, because it’s a physical activity that ties in with the lesson. For older students, hands-on projects — especially in subjects that they enjoy — are the best way to keep them engaged and help them learn.
Kinesthetic learners only make up about 5% of the population, but helping them thrive can be tricky. Why? Unfortunately, modern public schools aren’t set up to accommodate people who need to move or be hands-on in order to succeed.
You might be a kinesthetic learner if:
- You learn well by watching someone else do something, especially for physical activities.
- You have great hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
- You can’t sit still in the classroom, which has gotten you in trouble in the past.
- Doing something else while you listen to audiobooks helps you absorb the information.
- You have a hands-on hobby like woodworking or auto mechanics that you love.
5. Logical or Mathematical Learning
Logical learners tend to thrive in areas where logic and mathematics are involved. These are the learners who excel in math and science but might find challenge in more abstract subjects like English. Young logical learners might be at their best in math class but fail anything that doesn’t require logic. These behaviors carry on through their advanced education career and even into their adult life.
Teachers can help logical learners by helping them see how their logic can be applied even to illogical subjects like language and art.
You might be a logical learner if:
- Math has always been and will always be your favorite subject.
- You love computer programming and take to new programming languages easily.
- You never could get a handle on art or other creative classes.
- You’re considering a career in mathematics, the sciences or computer programming.
- Numbers make sense. People don’t.
6. Social or Interpersonal Learning
Interpersonal learners are the social butterflies of education. They’re the people who can make friends anywhere, and learn best when they’re surrounded by a group of people whose company they enjoy. They may or may not make good leaders, but they are always surrounded by people who enjoy their company.
Teachers can help social learners thrive by providing an opportunity for them to work in groups. It might not be feasible to do everything in groups, but having some balance between group and solitary work can help these learners succeed.
You might be a social learner if:
- You’re the only one who cheers when the teacher announces a group project.
- You can make friends anywhere, and usually have at least a small group of them in each class.
- You find solitary work boring and it’s difficult to pay attention to.
7. Solitary or Intrapersonal Learning
On the opposite side of the coin from the social leaner is the solitary one. These learners despise group work and will go out of their way to avoid it. In young students, you can almost always find the solitary learner away from the rest of the kids, doing their own thing and enjoying every minute of it.
Teachers can help solitary learners by doing the exact opposite of what they might do for a social one. Provide more options for solitary work during lessons. Alternatively, try to find a balance between group work and solo work that allows them to thrive.
You might be a solitary learner if:
- Group projects fill you with utter dread.
- You are easily distracted by other students and it’s hard to maintain your concentration.
- You work best when you’re on your own, especially if you’ve got music to tune everyone else out.
Bonus: Naturalistic Learning
Naturalistic learning is a new learning style that is being discussed but hasn’t yet been accepted as one of the official styles. Naturalistic learners don’t function well in classrooms at all. They are at their best when they’re set loose and allowed to explore nature and the world around them.
Teachers don’t need to relocate to help naturalistic learners thrive. Sometimes keeping a class pet or growing plants in the classroom can be enough to help these unique learners succeed.
You might be a naturalistic learner if:
- You spend all of your spare time outside in nature.
- You find it easiest to do your homework or complete assignments if you’re outdoors.
- You’re very good with animals.
What Are the 7 Different Learning Styles? Now You Know.
When it comes down to it, we all learn best in different ways. There’s nothing wrong with this! The problem happens when educators and school systems don’t recognize that fact and try to teach everyone the same way. If you have a student in your class that’s struggling, take a closer look and see if you can figure out their learning style. Then, create a lesson that plays to their strengths. Additionally, you could balance your curriculum to address each of the learning styles. You might be surprised by the difference a small change can make.