Identifying & Understanding Learning Modalities

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

In this lesson, we will explore various ways to help teachers determine the learning modalities of their individual students, and show them how to help students understand their own abilities.

What Are Learning Modalities?

Mr. Martin walked into the classroom with his laptop and quickly pulled the window shades down, a tell-tale sign he was about to show the class a video. As a science teacher, Mr. Martin tries to mix his instructional methods up often, presenting topics in different ways and offering varying learning activities. When they see that today's lesson starts with a video, Darren and Lisa gave a quiet cheer, but Glynn and Barb weren't so happy. What's going on?

Mr. Martin is right in his decision to present information in different ways. You see, people take information in through their senses - seeing, hearing, touching, and moving things around to make sense of them. Our learning modalities are how we take in, process, and learn using our senses. Darren and Lisa are visual and auditory learners who love to see and hear new information. Glynn and Barb, though, struggle to process information in this way and learn best when they can get their hands on their work. Let's take a closer look at learning modalities.

The Four Learning Modalities

Mr. Martin is a teacher who believes every student can learn. He uses methods of differentiation, adapting what he teaches, how he teaches it, and how he assesses. When he creates a variety of lessons, he reaches a wide range of students who learn differently. But how does he make sure all his students learn? One of the things he considers when differentiating is learning modalities.

Remember learning about your five senses? We see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as a way to interact with the world. In education, we focus on four learning modalities:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Tactile

Students see and hear information, move about their learning environment, and interact with learning materials. The more learning modalities Mr. Martin can trigger, the better his students will learn.

Learning Modalities in the Classroom

Though Lisa and Darren are strong visual learners, they are also able to learn using their other modalities. In fact, most of us are able to take information in through all four modalities but probably have preferences. When Lisa needs to research the history of slavery, she may choose to watch a video online, while Glynn would prefer to read a book.

Knowing this, Mr. Martin provides experiences that utilize all four learning modalities often. When he was in school, his teachers mostly lectured, leaving out students with stronger visual, kinesthetic, or tactile modalities. He knows his students are social and enjoy talking to one another, are active and need to move about the classroom, and make sense of new concepts by getting their hands busy. How does differentiating with learning modalities look in the classroom? Let's break it down.

Visual Modality

When we talk about the visual modality we mean those who learn through the sense of sight. You may have heard of visual learners - those who need to see something to understand. Visual modality learners also tend to:

  • Be organized and pay attention to details
  • Be neat with good handwriting and spelling skills
  • Learn from charts, graphs, or illustrations
  • Become distracted by movement when learning

What can teachers do to accommodate visual modality learners?

  • Provide tools they can use to visually organize, like webs and charts, for students to take notes
  • Teach with visual representations - pictures, videos, and graphics
  • When teaching facts, like the number of states opposed to slavery, use a visual to accompany the lesson, like a chart
  • Write expectations - use a syllabus, write directions on the board, or create a scoring guide to help them meet expectations.

Auditory Modality

The auditory modality is a student's learning through their sense of hearing. Lectures work and traditional teaching methods, like we saw above, work for these students. Auditory students are often:

  • Attracted to music and theater
  • Talkative and make noises, like humming or singing
  • Participate in discussions and conversations more than other students
  • Are able to express their thoughts and ideas clearly
  • Distracted by noise

Teachers can support auditory learners by:

  • Giving instructions verbally
  • Allowing students to present information verbally or in plays or presentations
  • Providing text in audio form
  • Allowing students to discuss ideas and thoughts
  • Creating a quiet space for learning

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