By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
The following is a complete guide to learning styles. I have written a lot about learning styles on this blog, and this guide serves as a central hub to direct you to the specific learning style resources that you’re looking for.
What is the learning style theory?
The learning style theory proposes that individuals have a predisposition to learn information better when it’s presented a certain way. The theory suggests that our brains have a preference for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic information.
According to the learning style theory, when information is taught in a way that aligns with our personal learning style, we are better able to organize, process, store and retrieve the material.
Are learning styles real?
The jury is still out. Some learning theorists maintain the existence of three or four primary learning styles, while others argue there is no such thing. When I teach my students about learning styles, I often substitute the word preference for style.
Regardless of whether or not we can scientifically prove that learning styles are real, what is VERY real is that most students have learning preferences. And, when content is delivered according to a student’s preference, better learning often results.
What are the types of learning styles?
Some theorists argue there are three primary learning styles. According to VARK, there are four.
- Read and Write
It’s common for students to have a primary learning style/preference, and a secondary learning style/preference. Having more than one learning preference is a good thing, as it makes you a flexible learner.
Why should I know my learning style?
It can be helpful to know your learning style (or learning preference) for a variety of reasons. Knowing this information can help you:
- design your learning environment to support your cognition
- choose appropriate course formats (lectures, labs, etc.) that can better set you up for success
- identify study methods that work or don’t work for your personal situation
All about visual learners
Visual learners better understand, process and recall information when they can see it presented visually, often in images, graphs, flowcharts, or even video.
What are the characteristics of a visual learner?
There are several key characteristics of visual learners.
Visual learners tend to:
- Better process information when it’s presented in a visual format
- Struggle with listening to lectures
- Struggle with following directions given orally
- Prefer to read and write information, rather than listen to it
- Often prefer paper and pen (instead of computers)
- Benefit from use of color
- Often have neat handwriting
- Pay attention to detail
What are some study tips for visual learners?
Visual learners should use study methods that involve visual representations of material. If possible, choose class formats and instructors who use slide presentations, videos and handouts to supplement class lectures. To that end, try to avoid large lecture- based classes.
You’ll find study tips for visual learners in the list below. The full explanations and details for each tip are in this post here. If you’re a visual learner, you would benefit from watching the video version, which is titled study tips for visual learners. If you’re a visual learner, you should:
- Take notes during class
- Find images of concepts (rather than written explanations) by using Google images
- Watch videos to reinforce the force material
- Write out concepts on whiteboards
- Make timelines of content where sequence matters (book plots, historical events, etc.)
- Group information into cluster when possible, and draw out these clusters in a mind map
How do I design a study space for visual learners?
If you have a visual learning preference, you should pay special attention to how you design your study space. Because you are highly influenced by what you see, what you include or don’t include on your desk can really impact your ability to focus.
Below are 9 tips for designing a study space for visual learners. I give full explanations and details of each study tip here. If you’d prefer to watch the video because you’re a, well…visual learner, here’s the video titled how to set up a study space for visual learners.
- Use a desk or table with a large surface area
- Hang a whiteboard nearby
- Maintain a good supply of paper
- Use color while writing
- Be strategic about environmental colors (read the explanation so this makes sense)
- Keep out only the most important and relevant papers, and store everything else away
- Arrange your desk with a view out the window
- At the end of the day, clear your whole study space of all materials and papers
- Keep clutter to an absolute minimum, and remove all visual stimulation that might distract you (eh-hem … your phone)
All about auditory learners
Auditory learners better understand, process and recall information when they hear it or speak it.
What are the characteristics of an auditory learner?
There are some notable characteristics of students with auditory preferences. You don’t need to have them all in order to be in this group.
Auditory learners tend to:
- Be good listeners
- Like lecture classes
- Benefit from oral explanations and directions
- Benefit from active class discussions and participating in them too
- Be easily distracted by noise
- Sometimes talk to themselves
- Be easily distracted by too many colors, graphics and visuals
- Be able to see the “big idea” before the details make sense
What are some study tips for auditory learners?
If you’re an auditory learner, you want to use study methods that allow you to speak and hear the content. You’d likely want to avoid study methods that only involve visuals. It’s okay to layer visual content with an auditory component.
The study tips listed below are good for auditory learners because they involve listening and speaking.
This is my full tutorial for auditory study tips, where I give details and examples for each of the tips below. And here is my video where I explain the auditory study tips out loud; if you’re an auditory learner, you might prefer the video.
- Study in small groups
- Teach someone else the material
- Talk aloud to yourself while studying
- Choose lecture classes
- Watch videos of the content
- Ask permission to record lecture portions of classes
- Avoid studying with lyrical music because your brain’s language centers will become distracted by the stimulation
How do I design a study space for auditory learners?
Auditory learners need to design their study spaces to support auditory learning, obviously. While I briefly list study space design tips below, this is where you can find my full explanations and details for each tip.
- Have a good set of speakers or headphones
- Keep a phone, tablet or other device handy for watching videos or listening to audiobooks whenever you have a reading assignment
- Use a recording app to record your voice as you study; play it back
- Keep desk decor and surface clutter to a minimum
- Study where it’s quiet (auditory learners are distracted by external auditory stimulation)
- Keep a full supply of sticky notes
- Have extra seating for study partners
All about kinesthetic learners
Kinesthetic learners better understand, process and recall information when they can somehow engage with the material.
What are the characteristics of a kinesthetic learner?
Kinesthetic learners have several notable characteristics, which you can find in the list below. You do not need to have all the characteristics listed in order to prefer kinesthetic learning.
Kinesthetic learners tend to:
- move around while in learning environments
- struggle with lecture classes
- do well in lab environments (sciences)
- prefer group or partner-work over independent work
- make posters, do experiments, use hands
- Get bored easily
- remember what they did, not necessarily what they saw or heard
- be impulsive (blurting out answers, getting up quickly, etc.)
- enjoy trying new things and new routines
- not like reading instructions and would just rather do it
- require frequent breaks during non-preferred activities
What are some study tips for kinesthetic learners?
If you’re a kinesthetic learner, use study methods that allow you to do something with the content. That means you would want to avoid study methods that don’t let you physically engage with the material in any way.
The study tips listed below are good for kinesthetic learners because they let you do something with the material you’re learning.
This is my full tutorial for kinesthetic study tips, where I give details and examples for each of the tips below. And here is the video version, titled Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners.
- Use your hands while studying (I know this sounds odd, but you have to read the explanation)
- Combine studying with low-key movement
- Study in groups
- Seek out new study locations like these ones
- Keep study sessions short
- Summarize your class notes
- Find examples and multiple problem sets
- Teach someone else the material
Designing a study space for kinesthetic learners
If you prefer kinesthetic learning, you should set up your study space to support physical engagement with the text. Below, I list some ideas to meet your unique learning needs. Full details and explanations of each design tip are in this guide, and you can find the same design tips for kinesthetic learners in video format here.
- Keep a clock or timer on your desk for timing interval sessions
- Keep your materials portable so you can study in various places
- Create a study space with enough room to move around
- Use a standing desk or prop up your computer on a box/books
- Get a whiteboard
- Use a chair that makes your body happy
All about read and write learners
Read and write learners are the fourth learning style identified by VARK. better understand, process and recall information when they can read about it and write about it.
What are the characteristics of a read and write learner?
Read and write learners have a few notable characteristics that separate them from students with other learning preferences. But at the same time, they have a few characteristics in common with other groups. They’re a unique bunch!
Read and write learners tend to:
- Take strong notes during class
- Benefit from annotating text
- Learn by reading textbooks and reference materials
- Enjoy writing essays and written responses
- Prefer writing their answers to speaking their answers
- Maintain strong note organization
- Enjoy reading
- Like lists
What are some study tips for read and write learners?
Read and write learners should use study methods that involve reading material, and they should use active recall strategies that involve writing out information.
- Re-read textbook sections, and test yourself on what you’re reading by summarizing each section after reading it
- Write out answers to textbook chapter questions
- Do additional practice problems (math and science courses)
- Write out everything you know on a subject
- Make your own flashcards
- Rewrite your notes
- Read supplementary texts about the content you’re learning
- Sort information into categories and lists
- Write definitions over and over again
Designing a study space for read and write learners
Read and write learners don’t need fancy study spaces. However, no matter your learning preference, it’s important to have some place neat, quiet and predictable to work. Consider the following tips:
- Stock your space with a variety of paper styles (plain, lined, grid)
- Stock your space with various quality writing utensils: pens, highlighters, pencils, and markers
- Protect your surface with a writing pad like this one
- Have a large computer monitor (if you do a lot of online reading)
- Have a large desk space that can accommodate an open book and open notebook at the same time
- Use an adjustable chair so you’re at the right height; if you do a lot of writing, this matters
Final notes about this complete guide to learning styles
This complete guide to learning styles is intended to provide you with information that you can being applying immediately. Whether you call them learning styles or learning preferences is not the point. The point is that the majority of students can identify how they like to learn information: visually, auditorily, kinesthetically, or through words. This alone is enough to verify the importance of taking control of your learning and figuring out the best study methods and study spaces to support your unique preferences.