Learning – what helps, what hinders

Styles of Learning: Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic
By Wendy Graham

While each individual has his or her own way of learning, with its little personal quirks, there are three basic styles in which people learn: Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic (learning by doing).
Almost everyone uses all three of these to some degree but, equally, almost everyone has a preferred style of learning. It is very useful, indeed, I would say, essential, that a teacher should consider and identify a pupil’s “natural” style of learning because then teaching in the way the pupil learns best, most quickly and clearly, can take place. The pupil will feel less muddled and more comfortable, a good teacher/pupil rapport will be easier to establish, so the atmosphere will be happier, the pupil more cooperative, the teacher more satisfied and, one sincerely hopes, progress good.

Of course, many good, sensitive teachers will be aware that, by instinct and experience, they utilise different methods of teaching to suit different types of learner but it can still be useful to define their styles of learning.

So, how to identify the pupil’s style of learning?

TeachingThe Visual learner (whom I shall call Visual Victor) likes to see what to do. He visualises life and learning as a series of pictures as if there is a film constantly running through his head. He will
want to read about something before he tries it. He understands diagrams and plans easily so he will memorise maps and learn blue lines. Visual Victor will like to see the “big picture”, an overview of the whole thing with the key concepts and full pattern clear when processing information. He is probably good at written forms of learning and does/did well at exams. Although he tends to be less distracted by background noise than other types of learner, if he’s interrupted when he’s concentrating he’s very likely to lose track of where he was. When he’s ringing he is probably the member of the band who is better corrected with gestures and pointing than the spoken word. He needs to see what to do so his teacher should demonstrate while he watches, show him diagrams and pictures and suggest books he might study. He daydreams while creating pictures in his mind but, when talking to you, Visual Victor will make good eye contact and will tend to use “seeing” phrases, such as, “I see what you mean” or “That looks like a good idea”.

Auditory Alice likes to be told what to do. She appreciates a set of oral instructions before she attempts something and will repeat them to herself, either openly or in her head. She feels comfortable with logical progressions and likes to work in small steps, in a sequence. If she is interrupted while speaking she will not lose track but will pick up from where she broke off. Her teacher should tell her in words what to do and, if the instruction is comparatively complicated, it is a good idea to ask Alice to explain what she is about to do before she tries it. Auditory Alice may well be a good mimic of voices and sounds and is likely to be better than average at remembering jokes and stories. She may talk to herself, giving herself instructions as she does anything and those people who mutter all the time they are ringing are probably Auditory Alices. She likes the conductor to correct her by voice. She habitually uses phrases like, “I hear what you say” and “That sounds like a good idea”.

Kinaesthetic Kim learns by doing. She likes to get on with the job, sometimes having a go before she really knows what she is doing (and failing!) This is unlikely to distress her but she must have positive feelings about a task before she begins. She will happily take instructions as she goes and instinctively knows that preparation beforehand will not help her to remember something new anything like as well as practising it. Indeed, she works a good deal by instinct and is the sort of person who will be ruled by her heart rather than her head. She is often an active person and inclined to fidget, playing with her fingers, touching things, rattling keys, coins etc as this sort of fiddling with things helps her concentrate. She is sensitive to non-verbal communication, such as the tone of a voice, body language and acial expressions. Kinaesthetic Kim will make comments like, “I grasp your meaning” and “That would feel right”. Drawing

There is a rough and ready way that a teacher can gain an idea of a new pupil’s learning style (although more observation will be necessary to be sure). Often the very first thing a teacher asks a pupil to do is to take hold of the tail end. So Brand-new Betsy and her teacher enter the ringing room for the first lesson. Teacher says, “Take hold of that rope about 6 inches (if Betsy is on the elderly side) or 15 centimetres (if Betsy is young) from the end. Wrap all your fingers round it and keep your hands together with the left one nearest the end of the rope.” If Betsy immediately does this, at least more or less correctly, she appears to be an auditory learner. If she looks puzzled or asks for further explanation, Teacher should say, “Like this,” and demonstrate while Betsy watches. If Betsy can now confidently take hold of the rope, she is probably a visual learner. If she still seems at a loss, the teacher (remembering, in these p.c. times, to ask before physically touching her) should take hold of her hands and place them on the rope, thinking to him-or herself, “I’ve got a kinaesthetic learner here.” Then again, Betsy just might be all in a tizzy because she is exceedingly nervous.

There is a questionnaire which will help you to discover which style of learning you favour most and you can have some fun doing it with pupils. (You may need to adapt some questions slightly
to suit the age of the pupil.) It can be found on the CCCBR website (search for What helps, what hinders.)