What is a learning type?
Most educators at some point in their career have been introduced to the three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Even First Aid or swimming teachers learn that there are three separate styles. A visual learner remembers what is seen like notes on a blackboard, posters or a demonstration. An auditory learner will remember what is heard like verbal instructions, lyrics to a song or books read in class. A kinesthetic learner will remember body movements or sensations like building a birdhouse, kicking a soccer ball or making a model of the solar system. Instructors are taught that each person falls into only one category and to reach all learners, you must teach all three styles. This is only partially true.
Why is this misleading?
Although this belief holds some truth, it is misleading. The myth of believing that people are only one type of learner can be easily disproved with two examples: a Labrador puppy and a rollercoaster. If it were true that all people fall into only one category, then there would be people who could only imagine the yelp and whimper of a young Labrador puppy, but not the shiny coat and big paws or the feel the soft fur and sharp teeth. Similarly there would be people who would only be able to visualize a rollercoaster and not be able to imagine the sounds of screams and carnival music or feel of going over the steep drops and curves. The truth is that most people can imagine all three.
Almost everyone can imagine what an elephant looks, sounds and feels like. It is also easy to imagine the colour, texture and taste of an orange. Almost everyone can imagine the sound of fireworks or a phone ringing. Almost everyone can imagine the feel of a warm fire or cool water. People are capable of learning in all three styles, not just one.
How can we develop learning styles?
This is important to know since we can help students develop skills in a specific area without relying on the excuse that they are “not that type of learner”. Although it is still good practice to present information to all three styles, don’t expect student to wait until their style comes along. Students can be taught how to understand, remember and use materials that teach to all three styles.
Some skills do not come naturally to some students. Unfamiliar words in text books need to be looked up in a glossary or dictionary. Captions for diagrams need to be read carefully. When listening to instructions, questions must be asked to clarify any information that is unclear. To truly teach a student, you don’t merely teach the information, you teach a student how to learn the information. It is like the old saying: if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. By giving a student the right skills, you teach him or her to learn for a lifetime.