Being aware of your own learning style preferences as a teacher and your students’ learning style preferences can help you design more effective instruction

by Lauren Bayliss
PhD student, University of Florida

As teachers, we come to the classroom with a lot of preconceived notions regarding what good teaching is.  We have taken classes throughout our lives, and we know what helps us learn.  However, recognizing that what helps one person learn may not help every person learn is important when preparing lesson plans.  Teachers need to recognize both their own natural preferences in the classroom as well as the preferences that been cultivated by the dominant teaching culture.  Both influence teaching preferences, but may not prepare teachers to teach to the majority of students.

Learning styles provide one way to consider these issues.

Before you read on, find out your own learning style to give context:

Learning styles:

Learning styles can be described in many ways but commonly are broken down to three preferences: auditory, visual, and tactile (also called kinesthetic).

Auditory learning preferences are generally favored in the traditional American classroom.  Students with an auditory learning style like to listen to lectures and hear information, as the name implies.  However, they also like to have a chance to speak and hear the information from their own mouths.  Auditory learners prefer hearing information broken down into pieces and discreet facts.  This means that they are generally good at memorization and like teachers to pose questions with clear right or wrong answers.  They prefer to learn independently, meaning that they are not dependent on classroom interaction to learn.  They may, however, ask to hear information repeated on occasion.

Visual learners prefer information provided in the form of pictures, graphs, etc.  Information arranged graphically and the use of demonstrations may aid their ability to learn.  Visual learners prefer to learn information holistically, learning the big picture first, unlike auditory learners, who prefer to have things broken down.  Visual learners are dependent learners, which means that they are influenced by the classroom environment and social cues.  They also prefer to learn creatively and like teachers to ask open-ended questions.  Because of their need for external stimuli, such as visual aides, they are considered dependent learners.

Tactile learners are the students generally most disadvantaged in the classroom.  They learn by doing, and so the teaching techniques that they prefer can be time consuming, such as demonstrations and activities that require hands-on engagement.  Tactile learners are both independent and dependent learners; they require external stimuli, but they need time to work with course materials on their own.  Tactile learners like to interact with materials and have real-life experiences through field trips and internships.  However, teachers can also help them by describing new concepts in terms of things that they have experienced previously, triggering memories of hands-on engagement.  Asking open-ended questions allow tactile learners the chance to engage concepts in a useful way as well.

It is important for teachers to recognize different learning styles so that students are not greatly disadvantaged in the classroom.  However, teachers need not try to adjust every assignment to every learning style. It is important for students to be exposed to techniques for different kinds of learners, so that they become more adaptable to taking in new information through a variety of formats.  A news reporter needs to be able to take in both pictures and spoken words to put together a story.  Students are not limited to a single preference and may learn to adopt other methods of learning through exposure in the classroom.

Learning styles are not the only ways to explain how students may approach the classroom differently.  Personality type and multiple intelligences may also explain differences.  These two categories provide additional insights to students’ needs.  Why does an auditory learner prefer working in a group, when auditory learners generally prefer to learn independently?  Perhaps she is an extrovert and needs social interaction to stay energized (personality type) or has interpersonal strengths (multiple intelligences).  Try these inventories out, and you may see a more complete picture of yourself and your students!

Personality type:

Multiple intelligences:

Lauren Bayliss is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

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