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Learning Styles

There is a lot of interest in the significance of learning styles and teaching methods.  Here is a simplified explanation of four basic learning styles and three basic modalities and my personal experience in using them with my children.


"Work smarter, not harder."


Countless researchers and author/experts have come up with differing names for each of the basic learning styles over the years. In my experience, this phenomenon can cause much more unnecessary confusion for the layperson than it solves, because the creative and diverse terminology used lacks standardization. The same basic learning style can have five or six different names, considering how many independent authors are writing on the topic!

In the final analysis, there appear to be four basic styles and three basic modalities. The styles themselves seem to parallel personality traits and the modalities are the ways that information is transmitted to and processed in the brain. While additional styles and modalities can be found in books and research, they are, on most occasions, combinations of the basic styles and modalities I will be listing in this article.

Quite often a person will have some (but it is rare that they will have all) of the traits from a certain learning style. It is actually not unusual for individuals to show traits from more than one or even multiple styles. In the same vein, it is also quite common for a person to be processing information by more than one modality.

As educators and parents, what we really need to comprehend is that learning styles and modalities are specialized tools which we can utilize to assist our children in processing information more efficiently.  You've heard the saying "work smarter, not harder", right?  This is what will be accomplished with a clear understanding of your own children/students' individual learning styles.

To keep this simple, Iím going to assign a number to each style.  (This number has no significance beyond keeping each definition separated.)

Style #1: This is the individual who learns primarily by "doing".  He/she also doesnít necessarily like deep thinking, is often spontaneous; frequently creative; does'nt care to just sit still looking at or reading books; enjoys games, competing, and brief presentations.

Style #2: This person tends to like clear, structured, well-organized tasks.  He wants everything to be done in a certain order; give him "just the facts, not opinions - thank you."  They are more likely to do well with textbooks and are able to work well with more traditionally-styled curricula.  They have to work harder at being creative; it is not necessarily a chore, but not naturally spontaneous either, and tends to be performed in a more cautious manner.

Style #3: The person with this style is going to be a problem-solver, highly self-motivated, very analytical, and will more often prefer logical subjects like math and science.  They tend to work more independently and typically enjoy more long-term projects.  They seem to work well with organized lectures as a mainstay of their curriculum.

Style #4: Here we have the "social butterfly" type who thrives on personal interaction with a variety of diverse people.  They tend to be more interested in the people, ideas and principles of a subject, than the events themselves.  This individual has to work harder at being organized.  They are often more vulnerable to criticism and conflict.  The question of "why" is usually the most important question for them.

There you have it - the four basic learning styles.  And I can tell you from own experience with my children, trying to pigeon-hole, tag, or label a child with only one style just doesnít work.  However, you can certainly determine which style is the most prevalent - and that can help you to customize activities so that your child (or student) can get the most out of their learning opportunities.

Now the modalities come into play when we try to figure out how one *processes* the information for the particular learning style.  The three most common modalities are:

Visual: Receiving the information best through visual stimulation (reading, pictures, graphs, etc.)

Kinesthetic: Receiving information best via touch and hands-on activities (craft projects, Cuisenaire rods or other math manipulatives, science experiments, etc.)

Auditory: Receiving information best through the ears (being read to aloud, listening to songs, audio books, etc.)

Evaluate each of your children/students to find out which style and which modality is the most dominant.  After you've determined (to the best of your ability) which learning style description appears to fit them the best, and by which modality they process information most efficiently, you can then search out a custom curriculum, project, activity, or other learning opportunity to suit their individual needs.

Donít be surprised if what once worked well eventually seems to stop working.  Children do change as they grow and develop -- even as the brain creates more "connections".  It is a good plan to re-assess their learning style every so often, especially if you begin to notice that they are having some particular difficulty or seem to dislike a certain curriculum, resource, or activity that was working well in the past.

From a personal perspective, I am uncomfortable with "labeling" people.  Not only does it cause confusion, but rarely does it produce constructive results.  However, the understanding of different learning styles and modalities, though at first appearing to be a kind of label, has actually helped me produce productive learning opportunities for my children more efficiently and with more constructive and long term results.  While focusing my efforts on one style or modality, I additionally attempt to include activities that would suit other styles and modalities.  I do this to help each child expand certain areas of interest and talents - and also to help them exercise areas where they need more growth, in order to help round out their skills.

"Learning Styles" article © 2005-2008 Kathryn Martinez - All Rights Reserved


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