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Teaching and Learning Styles

For thousands of years, each generation has taken on the responsibility of educating the generation following. That younger generation has the added responsibility of building on the foundation of knowledge that they have been given. This method of educating the human race has been tried and true for thousands of years regardless of the background, culture, or national origin. It is an understood code of humanity.

What is not understood however, or even agreed upon is a method of passing this knowledge on to the next generation. Supporters of the “learning styles” method of teaching, argue that each student has a different or preferred way of learning and when the educator utilizes tools that support that learning style to deliver that information, the student will not only absorb his new knowledge faster but will also be able to better retain it.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that there is no such thing as a distinctive “learning style” for each student. The factors at play in the learning process are not necessarily “styles” in and of themselves but are actually expressions of each student’s distinct talents, abilities, or level of intelligence. Add to that, each student has different interests that may draw him or her to a particular topic or subject.

Whether you’re a supporter of the learning style theory or not, it would still be worthwhile to get at least a basic fundamental knowledge of it so you can glean certain aspects that can be applied in the classroom.

What is a Learning Style?

The difference in a student’s abilities to learn is not a new concept. History shows that as far back as 334BC, even Aristotle recognized that each student is an individual with his own set of talents and skills. However, in recent years a new and more thorough understanding has emerged. According to Cortland Education:

“Learning styles can be defined, classified, and identified in many different ways. Generally, they are overall patterns that provide direction and learning and teaching. Learning styles can also be described as a set of factors, behaviors, and attitudes that facilitate learning for an individual in a given situation.”

Basically, the learning style determines how a student will receive and retain the information taught. Each student has certain inborn tendencies that determine a particular style. It is important to note that a student is not limited to one particular style of learning but can switch between several different ones throughout the learning process. The more styles the teacher uses in the instructional process the better the information will be cemented into the student’s mind.

What are the Different Learning Styles?

The study of different learning styles has been around for many years and with each passing year of research new facts appeared. While there is still some discussion as to how many different learning styles there are, the major ones are listed below.

  1. Visual learners often learn by observation and can recall things they have seen. They are good at following written instructions, enjoy reading, and are prolific note takers.
  2. Auditory learners usually listen rather than take notes. To verify information they have heard, they are more likely to ask questions rather than refer to a book for the specific details. They are better at remembering what they have heard and can follow verbal instructions quite well. They have a tendency to repeat words aloud as a memorization strategy.
  3. Kinesthetic learners are more physically inclined and learn mostly through hands on experience. They remember more when they are taught by example and can retain more information if they are allowed to teach someone else.
  4. Tactile learners absorb information by touching and manipulating related objects. They are more inclined to use their motor skills when they are trying to retain information. These students need to have a physical connection to the topics they are studying.
  5. Active learners are generally more impulsive than others. They are often identified as risk-takers and have a hard time sitting through long discussions or lectures. They prefer to work with a partner or a group and are very interpersonal.
  6. Reflective learners prefer to meditate before doing. They learn by ruminating the information in their mind and then writing it down as a memorization technique. They tend to be more intrapersonal and spend most of their time alone contemplating their lessons.
  7. Global understanding learners are intuitive in their learning process and tend to be more creative. They are not afraid to take risks and can draw conclusions very quickly. They are nonlinear thinkers that prefer to take information in large chunks rather than individual details.
  8. Analytical or mathematical thinkers are very linear in their thought process. They lean towards a more logical progression of thought and can follow equations easily.

Why We Should Know How to Differentiate Between the Different Learning Styles?

Clearly, a teacher with a mixed class setting cannot provide individual instruction to every student with a different learning style. But, when a teacher can identify a student’s specific propensity towards a particular learning style they can modify the educational process so that the lesson can have more appeal to each student. The more inclusive a class setting is regarding learning styles, the more likely is that all students will benefit from the educational process.

How Do These Learning Styles Impact the Learning Process?

When a course is designed to take into account these different learning styles the results can be very rewarding. According to The W. A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University:

“Students whose learning styles are compatible with the teaching style of a course instructor tend to retain information longer, apply it more effectively, and have more positive post-course attitudes toward the subject than do their counterparts who experience learning/teaching style mismatches.”

When teachers understand and recognize the unique differences between each of their students the percentage of success in the classroom can experience a dramatic increase.


The debate about whether a student has a learning style, learning preference, or a different type of intelligence will probably continue for some time. Still, there is one fundamental truth that all instructors from the past down to the present can agree on. Each student is unique in his own special way and taking those differences into account can help all educators change the face of education in even more ways in the future.

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