What are Learning Styles? - Types & Concept

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  • 0:00 What are Learning Styles
  • 0:52 The VAK/VARK Model
  • 3:05 Other Learning Models
  • 3:57 The Kolb Model
  • 4:44 Implications for Education
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
In this lesson, study the concept of learning styles and two well-known models used to show differing learning modes. Explore the implications various learning styles have on education and teaching.

What Are Learning Styles?

Learning styles are the different ways people interpret, organize and represent information. For example, some people learn best by having information presented to them in audio form, such as in a classroom lecture or audiobook. Others need hands-on experience or real-world contexts to fully grasp a new concept.

Learning styles are strongly connected to American psychologist Howard Gardner's work around multiple intelligences, which proposed that intellect is not fixed and that people can be smart in different ways. Some people have linguistic intelligence, giving them strength with spoken and written language. Other intelligences include spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, and interpersonal intelligence. Gardner wrote of his theory's impact on education: 'Seven kinds of intelligence would allow seven ways to teach, rather than one.'

The VAK/VARK Model

A frequently-mentioned learning style model is the VAK/VARK model proposed by Neil Fleming in 1992, which divides people into visual, auditory, read/write or kinesthetic learners. You may have even filled out a quick questionnaire, sometimes called a learning styles inventory, to see if you were one of these four styles.

Teachers often look to student learning styles as a guide to help them make their lessons more effective. The VAK/VARK model is one way to categorize learners by how they take in information, which makes it easily applicable to classroom instruction. For example, those who prefer the visual mode get a lot from maps, webs, charts, and graphs. It is not primarily about videos or photographs as you might think, but information organized in visual form. A visual learner likes how a visual depiction, like infographics, makes big ideas accessible through colorful, clear depictions.

Auditory learners take in information best when it is spoken or heard. These are the people who can get a lot from classroom lectures or talking things over with a friend. They also tend to explain things well, so they would do well on oral exams. Some even say that email falls under the auditory category because it mirrors human speech more than other forms of writing.

While visual learners prefer graphic representations of information, read/write learners are the ones who love to learn from the written word. They are the kind of students who can read a textbook and be ready for the test. This often makes them strong students, as so much of school is about being able to get information from different texts. They are also the kind of people who like dictionaries, quote books and reading everything they can on the Internet. Likewise, read/writers get just as much from writing as they do from reading, and writing notes and flashcards are a good way for them to study.

Finally, we have kinesthetic or tactile learners. These are the students who prefer to connect what they are learning with real-life experiences. They benefit from the concreteness of what is presented to them. Often kinesthetic learning is defined as using one's hands and doing an activity, like learning to drive by actually driving or learning about computer programming by actually playing around with a computer. However, kinesthetic learners also benefit from just thinking of how a concept is applicable in the real world.

Other Learning Models

Learning theorists, scientists who research memory and learning, and education experts, aren't in agreement about these four learning styles, though. They don't all think that the VAK/VARK model is the only way to think about how people learn or that people have just one learning style. Even the VAK/VARK model acknowledges that people can be multimodal, meaning they have two or even three primary approaches that they use to learn.

There are some theorists who propose a sort of VAK/VARK-plus model, that there are more than just visual, auditory, read/write and kinesthetic approaches to learning. This may include logical learners, people who like the reasoning and organization found in mathematics. There are also students who learn from working with other people, called social or interpersonal learners. At the other end of that spectrum are people who like working alone, described as solitary or intrapersonal learners.

The Kolb Model

There are experts who have theorized entirely different models to think about learning styles. In 1972, an educational theorist named David Kolb came up with four learning styles based on his work examining the stages of learning. Kolb proposed that people fall on a matrix that measures how abstract or concrete they think, while also looking at how active or passive they are while learning.

For example, the diverging style is someone who prefers concrete learning experiences but also likes to take things in and gather information by reflection and observation. The opposite would be the converging style, someone who prefers big, abstract ideas and hands-on experimentation. The other two styles are accommodating, concrete and hands-on learners, and assimilating, abstract and reflective learners.

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