Learning Styles


Learning Styles

What are learning styles?

Learning styles are simply different approaches or ways of learning.

Psychologists, academics and other theoreticians have developed any number of ideas and theories about the way people learn. Educationalists have used these theories to develop pedagogies, which are aimed at allowing children to be more effective and efficient learners.

To make these strategies effective they must be simple, easy to implement in a wide variety of contexts, with children of different ages, across a variety of different subject areas and within different learning environments. Most of all teachers need to have some idea of why they are using the strategies in the first place.

This understanding of some basic principles will help teachers to develop and adapt the simple strategies as outlined in ‘Enhanced Teaching and Learning Strategies’ in order that children will be able to develop learning strategies which they will be able to use confidently in all lessons across the school.

The programme to develop Enhanced Teaching and Learning Strategies is being developed in order to improve pupils speaking and listening skills, access to text within normal lessons, general levels of response and engagement, self esteem and confidence. The strategy draws on much current good practice found in our schools and is based on several theories concerned with learning styles.

Different learning styles.

Conversation Theory (G. Pask)


The Conversation Theory developed by G. Pask originated from a cybernetics framework and attempts to explain learning in both living organisms and machines. The fundamental idea of the theory was that learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter, which serves to make knowledge explicit. Conversations can be conducted at a number of different levels: natural language (general discussion), object languages (for discussing the subject matter), and metalanguages (for talking about learning/language). In most classrooms the language used would be natural language and object language (subject specific, technical language) which teachers would need to develop in their pupils.

In order for learning to take place, Pask argued that subject matter should be represented in the form of structures, which show what is to be learned. In the context of a classroom this could be the learning objective, lesson outcomes etc.


The critical method of learning according to conversation theory is "teachback" in which one person teaches another what they have learned.

Many of the strategies used in the Enhanced Teaching and Learning programme revolve around the ability of children to be able to hold structured and targeted conversations about the task or work in hand. The teacher would help to develop the use of ‘object language’ within each subject, enabling children to work within the lesson structure and develop the idea of "teachback" (See also William Glasser).


Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic Learning (VAK)


VAK looks at three broad learning styles, which all people use. Different people tend to favour a particular style. It is important therefore, that all three learning styles should be facilitated as far as possible, within the classroom.

Visual Learners:

learn through seeing... .

These learners need to see the teacher's body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They tend to prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions (e.g. people's heads). They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts, use of interactive whiteboards and hand-outs. During a lesson or classroom discussion, visual learners often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb the information

Teacher modelling at the beginning of the three-part lesson is particularly suitable for these children. The quality of display, AVAs, printed material etc is obviously going to have an effect on the quality of learning of visual learners.

Visual Learners:

use visual materials such as pictures, charts, maps, graphs, etc.
need to have a clear view of the teachers when they are speaking so you can see their body language and facial expression
use colour to highlight important points in text
take notes or ask the teacher to provide handouts
illustrate their ideas as a picture or brainstorming bubble before writing them down
write a story and illustrate it
use multi-media (e.g. computers, videos, and filmstrips)
study in a quiet place away from verbal disturbances
read illustrated books
visualise information as a picture to aid memorisation

Auditory Learners:

learn through listening...

They learn best through verbal lessons, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder. Shared reading, shared writing, teacher modelling, paired reading etc will have a marked effect on the efficiency of pupils who might be deemed auditory learners.

Auditory learners:

participate in class discussions/debates
make speeches and presentations
use a tape recorder during lectures instead of taking notes
read text out aloud
create musical jingles to aid memorisation
create mnemonics to aid memorisation
discuss their ideas verbally
dictate to someone while they write down their thoughts
use verbal analogies, and story telling to demonstrate their point of view.


Kinaesthetic Learners:


learn through , moving, doing and touching...

Kinaesthetic pupils learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration. This would appear to be true of a number of boys and maybe partly responsible for lack of concentration and ‘switch off’. Building different activities into lessons will be of real benefit to these pupils, as is the structure of the three-part lesson, which may overcome some of the problems associated with doing the same activity for long periods.

Kinaesthetic learners:

take frequent study breaks
move around to learn new things (e.g. read while on an exercise bike, mould a piece of clay to learn a new concept)
work at a standing position
use bright colours to highlight reading material
dress up their work space with posters
listen to music while they study
skim through reading material to get a rough idea what it is about before settling down to read it in detail.

No one person uses one style exclusively, but they do have preferred learning styles. It is therefore important to attempt to cater for all styles during lessons to enable the most efficient learning to take place.

Experiential Learning (C. Rogers et al)


Rogers, in his work on learning distinguishes two types of learning, cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). Cognitive learning corresponds to knowledge, like the learning of spellings, multiplication tables, vocabulary etc, whilst experiential learning refers to applied knowledge, learning about friction in order to make an efficient axle. Rogers tells us that the key to this distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner.

To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all people have a natural propensity for learning and that the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning.

This would include;

Setting a positive climate for learning,
Clarifying the position of the learners,
Organising and making available appropriate resources,
Balancing the intellectual and emotional components of learning,
Sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating.

Rogers also emphasises the importance of learning to learn and being open to change. The strategies that are proposed in the Enhanced Teaching and Learning programme look to implement, in a fairly simple way, a number of the ideas developed by Rogers, and others.

Multiple Intelligence (H. Gardner)


The theory of multiple intelligence suggests that there are a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each individual possesses in varying degrees. Gardner originally proposed seven primary forms: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinaesthetic, intrapersonal (e.g., insight, metacognition) and interpersonal (e.g., social skills), but he is adding others to this list, i.e. emotional intelligence.

According to Gardner, the implication of the theory is that learning/teaching should focus on the particular intelligences of each person. For example, if an individual has strong spatial or musical intelligences, they should be encouraged to develop these abilities. Gardner points out that the different intelligences represent not only different content domains but also learning strategies. A further implication of the theory is that assessment of abilities should measure all forms of intelligence, not just linguistic and logical-mathematical.

Gardner also emphasises the cultural context of multiple intelligences. Each culture tends to emphasise particular intelligences. For example, Gardner (1983) discusses the high spatial abilities of the Puluwat people of the Caroline Islands, who use these skills to navigate their canoes in the ocean. Gardner also discusses the balance of personal intelligences required in Japanese society.


Individuals should be encouraged to use their preferred intelligences in learning.
Instructional activities should appeal to different forms of intelligence.
Assessment of learning should measure multiple forms of intelligence.

Many of the suggestions put forward by Gardner should impact on the way schools as a whole operate, but they are not easily assimilated into the normal classroom practice of the majority of teachers. Many strategies used in the classroom can partly address the different intelligences as proposed by Gardener and allow learners to have the opportunity to use their preferred learning style.

The above list of learning theories is by no means exhaustive but does give some theoretical background to the strategies proposed in the programme to develop Enhanced Teaching and Learning Strategies.

An understanding of what these theories mean in practical terms can help teachers facilitate the different experiences needed by the class of children in their care. Put very simply, different children need different experiences if they are to learn efficiently. Using the ideas from the above theories and bearing in mind the research by William Glasser on people’s learning, we should be able facilitate the use of more efficient learning strategies by the pupils in our schools.


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