How to Recognize and Support Learning Styles in the Classroom

visual learners completing a large drawing together

When you earn your education degree, you will learn all about the different ways your students interact with new information. An important idea in education is that individual students have different learning styles that are associated with the way that a student prefers to learn.

In recent years, the idea that learning styles are the best way to learn for a student has been debunked. However, learning styles are widely accepted in education as a way to promote the idea that every student learns differently. Learning styles are not a prescription for teaching students, but they help a teacher recognize the preferential way in which a student processes and retains information.

Table of Contents:

The VARK Model

Education continues to promote learning styles as a way for teachers to support students and differentiate lessons. While there are multiple models related to learning styles, the VARK model is among the most widely used since it sufficiently addresses learner diversity and needs.

The VARK model stands for:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Reading/Writing
  • Kinesthetic

The Four Learning Styles

The following information goes into detail about the VARK learning styles, how to recognize these styles in learners and how to integrate the style into classwork. It is good to remember that not all learners fit exactly into one category. There is often overlap in learner preference when it comes to style, especially across subject matter and activity.

1. Visual Learning

Recognizing visual learners: The visual learners in your classroom like to see and observe the things that they are learning about. Visual learners like to use pictures, diagrams and written directions to access information. This learning style has also been known as “spatial.” The students who are visual or spatial learners might draw, make lists or take notes in order to interact with and process information.

Supporting visual learners: Some of the more traditional styles of teaching support visual learners, such as whiteboards or projecting information onto a screen. Assignments could ask learners to make pictures or diagrams. In addition, providing class notes or handouts that students can follow along with are a great way to integrate visual learning into your curriculum. Visual learners may have a tough time with lectures and could need more time to process information that they hear auditorily.

2. Auditory Learning

Recognizing auditory learners: The auditory learners in your class learn best by listening and relating information to sound. These are students who prefer listening to a lecture or a recording rather than taking written notes. They may also be students who think out loud and speak through a concept in order to dive into it. Your auditory learners are most likely your most vocal students in class. They may also be the ones who read out loud to themselves. Auditory learners often repeat what a teacher has said to process what the directions are.

Supporting auditory learners: Including a lot of time for discussion can support the auditory learners in your classroom. They want to hear what others have to say and share their own ideas in order to learn and process information. When you are giving a lecture, ask auditory learners to repeat what they have learned back to you. Call and response or question-and-answer processes can also benefit auditory learners. In addition, auditory learners appreciate watching videos about a topic and listening to audiobooks or recordings.

3. Reading/Writing Learning

Recognizing reading/writing learners: This learning style is often confused with visual learning because reading/writing learners like to learn using the written word. This may seem like visual learning, but reading/writing preference learners can be discerned as those who express themselves through writing. They also enjoy reading articles and writing in diaries or journals. Your reading/writing learners may be experts with search engines and even old-school encyclopedias. They hunger for knowledge that they gather through reading.

Supporting reading/writing learners: Most of the traditional educational system caters toward this type of learner. The reading/writing learner learns by researching, reading books and writing. They will usually be content to write an essay or create a written project. While these students may not be as vocal as auditory learners, they can express themselves well with the written word. Try to give the reading/writing learner time to write their answers and work through their thoughts on paper.

4. Kinesthetic Learning

Recognizing kinesthetic learners: Kinesthetic or tactile learners learn by experiencing and doing. They like to use their hands and bodies as learning instruments, often acting out events and using their hands when they talk. A kinesthetic learner may seem wiggly in the classroom. Students who are particularly good athletes or dancers may be kinesthetic learners because they are adept at following the directions of a game or a dance using their body.

Supporting kinesthetic learners: Since kinesthetic learners learn through movement, teachers may ask them to act out scenes from a book or use movement in other ways during the learning process. For example, a kinesthetic learner can benefit by walking in place or pacing in a small area while trying to memorize facts. Additionally, when learning can be associated with movement of some kind, such as teaching vocabulary using the total physical response method, kinesthetic learners may retain that information more readily. The kinesthetic learner who connects with something physically can use that information to understand more abstract and theoretical concepts.

You probably recognize yourself in one of these descriptions. In your own education degree coursework, you may find it easier to read diagrams and charts rather than listening to a lecture. Or you might find that acting out a scene in the classroom makes more sense for you than researching what to do about a particular classroom management problem. As an educator, you should recognize your own learning preferences and be mindful to incorporate activities and opportunities for all types of learners to feel comfortable and engaged.

If you are interested in learning more about how to differentiate classroom assignments for the different types of learners you teach, all while making a difference in the lives of the next generation, join one of the many education degree programs offered through the College of Education at Grand Canyon University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.