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Understanding Learning Styles

By Alan Peters,

24 Jan 2020

Bloom’s 1956 work places types of learning in a hierarchy of effectiveness, and in order to achieve the highest levels, we must know the learning styles of our students. Research has divided these learning styles into a number of broad categories.  Theory often bears little resemblance to practice, but in this case, we can all think of plenty of pupils whose learning style reflects one (or more) of the categories below. Visual or Spatial Learning Style Students who favour this approach like to learn using pictures and images.  The use of visual aids stimulates them, they are often strong in practical work such as design and graphical work such as science and maths. Aural, Auditory or Musical Learning Style A smaller group fit into this category.  These learners like to see the use of sound or music in their learning.  They will be effective learners with background music, they learn well using rhymes and songs.  The use of mnemonics can be really helpful in securing knowledge in their minds.  This type of student often has strengths in creative fields. Verbal or Linguistic Learning Style The use of words, both written and in speech, helps this group of learners.  They like to read or hear information, rather than see it in picture form.  They learn through discussion, and are often effective in their own use of language.  They often have strengths in English, literature and humanities. Physical or Kinaesthetic Learning Style Practical learners, often boys (but still plenty of girls) prefer this style.  Often subjects such as science and maths, design and engineering suit this kind of learner.  It is a sign of a good lesson when the students ‘do’ rather than ‘absorb’.  Not least, because this kind of learner can often be the ones who become troublesome if they are not occupied. Logical or Mathematical Learning Style Learners in this category will use logic and reasoning in their studies.  They are the pupils who often win places at grammar school (where logic measured through 11+ tests carries undeserved emphasis).  They are often good at maths and science.  They are strong problem solvers.  Because of the high value our educational system places on subjects such as maths and verbal reasoning, those who learn best using a logical style are often considered as ‘clever’ kids.  That, in turn, raises expectations towards them, and they achieve more. Social or Interpersonal Learning Style Those with this learning style like working collaboratively.  They are the people who may well do surprisingly well in their careers, where collaboration is of more important than in a competitive environment such as a school. Learning in groups is common enough in schools, but there are many who feel that such an approach delivers great results for some, while others let their friends do the work, or opt out because they lack the personal desire to contribute. Solitary or Intrapersonal Learning Style This learning style is well catered for in schools.  Even if class work takes place in groups, homework is rarely more than a solitary occupation. Of course, very few of our students will fit neatly and exclusively into a single learning style.  Therein lies the challenge for the teacher who wants to become more effective.

 Firstly, we plan lessons that give opportunities for different learning styles to be adopted (not every one, in every lesson – that would be too disparate).  Next, we steer our student towards the learning style that works best for them. In turn, to do that requires us to know our students very well.  It means we must have observed them, talked to them, discussed them with past teachers and previous schools and communicated with parents or carers. A lot of work – but the results are highly worthwhile.