Consider different learning styles when you plan your teaching

by Jessica Marsh
Master’s student, University of Florida

A learning style is defined as the preferred, or best, method for an individual to gain knowledge. It is important to realize that though a student (or yourself) may have a preferred method of learning, learning styles are not fixed. This means that learning styles can be developed and improved over time. So if you took the quiz below and learned you were primarily an auditory learner you can still work on developing skills to become a better visual, or tactile learner.

Learning styles are unique like fingerprints. They vary from individual to individual and from subject to subject. You may use a different learning style when attempting to learn Algebra than you do attempting to learn Chemistry. Similarly learning styles can vary based on what you are being asked to do with the information (synthesize, memorize, apply, construct, etc.). When constructing assignments and presentations, it’s important to

consider what you, as the professor, want students to do with the information you are presenting, and tell them what you expect them to learn from the experience. This way each student can determine the best way to approach learning in your course.

It’s important to realize that influences outside of your classroom can affect the way a student learns. Students come to your class having gone through many years in the education system. In doing so they have experienced multiple teaching styles and expectations. Your students may not be prepared to gather and apply knowledge in ways that are beneficial to learning in your class.

Cultural influences can play a role in how your students learn as well. It’s important to consider how your students are obtaining knowledge in the home and community and how they share that knowledge with others.

Technology use is another aspect of learning that is often done outside of the classroom. With online video tutorials ranging from how to boil an egg to build a robot many students are coming to the classroom feeling more comfortable engaging with technology to learn. You may also have students in your class who have a learning disability and their outside as well as in class learning can be affected by this disability.

There are four learning styles that are often seen within the college of communications. These learning styles are auditory, visual, tactile, and vocal.

  • Auditory learners prefer to listen and hear information, they do well listening to clear and well-planned lectures.
  • Visual learners prefer to see material in writing accompanied by visuals. The visuals should reflect the concepts found in the written material. Often visual learners are adept at gathering and comprehending information from graphs and infographics.
  • Vocal learners prefer to present knowledge in their own words by synthesizing the information they have learned. Tactile learners prefer hands-on learning and learn by doing.
  • Traditionally tactile learning has been more common in the sciences and arts. However, with the University of Florida’s Innovative News Center, found here at the College of Journalism and Communications, students have the opportunity to engage in hands on learning as they learn how to report, publish, air, record, broadcast, edit in a news room environment.

I have only touched on the four learning styles most commonly found within the college of communications but there are actually over seventy different learning schemes each with their own names, groupings, and theories. For example, a learning scheme (or in this instance “learning strategy”) known as VARK categorizes learners into visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic, and recently multimodal.

Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, has written that we all “learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways” (The Education Coalition). He believes that we all posses, in varying degrees, what he terms “multiple intelligences.” According to Gardner there are nine multiple intelligences: naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”), musical intelligence (“musical smart”), logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart), existential intelligence, interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), linguistic intelligence (word smart), intra-personal intelligence (self smart”), and spatial intelligence (“picture smart”). For more information on these intelligences please see the links in the reference section.

Below is a list of the various ways you can teach to each learning style in your class.

Auditory Learners: Prefer to listen and hear information

  • Oral presentations
  • Interviewing
  • Debating
  • Participating on a panel

Visual Learners: Prefer seeing material in writing/visuals

  • Video
  • Diagrams
  • Text (lots of pictures)
  • Infographics
  • Computerized Instruction (PowerPoint)

Tactile Learners: Prefer hands-on learning, learn by doing

  • Drawing
  • Making models
  • Following instructions to create something

Vocal Learners: Prefer to present knowledge in their own words

  • Discussion groups
  • Group work
  • Presentations
  • Reflective papers

Remember incorporating diverse teaching methods and assessments into the classroom benefits ALL learning styles.


Edutopia: What is your learning style (multiple intelligence quiz)?

Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’

Implementing Learning Styles in Into the Design Classroom by Watson, S, 2003 Journal of Design Communication

Learning Style Inventory Quiz

McKeachie & Svinicki (2013). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Wadsworth Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Teach to Students’ Learning Styles by Judie Haynes

The Education Coalition

The Nine Types of Intelligence

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: Teaching Topics

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching: Learning Styles

VARK a guide to learning styles                                                              

Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences: Yale Teaching Center

Yale: PDF Strategies for teaching a split class

Yale: PDF Assessing your students throughout the semester

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