Some Notes on Basic Learning Styles
Created by Susan Bertolino and Elizabeth Sunflower
As educators, we usually confront three learning styles in the classroom: visual,
auditory,kinesthetic/tactile (the latter two styles are seen as equivalent in some
schools of education.) Here is a diagram of the styles:
Students who are innate visual learners account for about 35% of the population.
With the increase in visual stimuli through the media, many people consider
themselves to be visual learners, but that is incorrect. They have adapted to the
dominant mode of receiving information. This can lead to poor learning behavior as
these students have forgotten their true nature.
A visual learner needs the following to retain information and learn new skills:
3. Photos and other images
6. Colors (color coding is a good memorization tool)
7. Silent reading
The expression “out of sight—out of mind” applies to the visual learner. He
or she remembers faces, not names. When reading directions, the visual
learner conjures up an image of the finished product. Visual learners have
good spatial abilities: they rarely get lost, they have a knack for directions,
they find things easily, they understand shapes and dimensions, plus they
know when one object will fit with another. Carpenters, architects, graphic
designers, navigators, painters and drafters are professions that suit the
A visual learner needs to see how something is done. He or she responds
well to modeling a particular skill or behavior. Visual learners love puzzles
from word searches to rubric cubes; they often solve them quickly.
A visual learner is more apt to doodle in class or stare out the window if he or
she is not engaged. (I am deliberately leaving phones out of these examples.)
How can we help visual learners?
1. Encourage them to take notes in class.
2. Suggest that they highlight material in the text with different color markers.
3. Ask them to use bright colored tabs to divide pages in a book. Post Its makes
some good ones.
4. Have them make up index cards with key information to study.
5. Make up powerpoints and put them on Blackboard as a reference.
6. Look for videos to upload to Blackboard as references, or show them in class
if time permits.
7. Get computer software that helps them remember material. For example,
there is a game called The Iliad that helps students remember facts, places
and names from the text—excellent for visual learners.
Innate auditory learners make up about 30% of the four dominant learners. They
learn best through speaking and hearing. Auditory learners share the following
1. They are talkative in class.
2. They enjoy music.
3. They relate best to the spoken word.
4. They process information best when they hear it.
5. They prefer oral reports and presentations to essays.
6. They may hum, sing or whistle while working.
7. They remember names before faces.
8. They remember a text when they read it aloud or hear it.
9. They tend to use their finger as a pointer when reading silently.
10. They have trouble being quiet in class.
11. They enjoy telling jokes and stories.
12. They are especially good with foreign languages and have a keen sense of
An auditory learner will have more trouble with graphs and visual data. They need
to avoid noise or any extraneous sound while learning, as it will break their
concentration. They need the freedom to express their thoughts in class, even if
their ideas are not always well received by the instructor or other students. They
tend to take charge in group learning activities and help bring out the ideas of the
other group members. They tend to be very social both in class and outside. A
frustrated auditory learning may look confused in class or ask the teacher to repeat
what he or she is saying. That student may be less inclined to read email and more
responsive to class announcements.
The expression “once you’ve heard it, you’ve heard it” applies best to the auditory
learner. Auditory learners gravitate toward careers in writing, teaching, music, law
How can we help auditory learners?
1. Help them get an audio copy of the text.
2. Give time to reading aloud in class.
3. Encourage discussion.
4. Try not to interrupt when they are speaking unless absolutely necessary.
5. Ask them to explain concepts to the class, particularly if the class seems
confused. Ask them to use their own words to explain a particular idea or
development in the text.
6. Make sure they don’t feel silenced in the class.
7. Encourage them to sit up front so that they can hear well.
8. For exams, suggest that they study in a group or offer to have an informal
study session. (If you have a Diamond Peer Teacher, they can handle the
9. Design reading activities in class in which they sing the words of the text—
this could be especially effective with epic poems, but it can be fun with
books like Vaccination Against Smallpox as well.
10. Don’t make all assessment written. Do oral assessment and presentations as
11. Organize debates in classroom discussion.
12. Use the Socratic method of learning with auditory learners.
These students learn best by doing, not just observing. A tactile/kinesthetic learner
likes to take things apart and put them back together. They thrive on movement.
They are the first to volunteer if it means getting out of their seat and getting a
chance to do something. They are often more independent learners as they already
have a sense of how they will learn. A tactile/kinesthetic learning thrives in classes
that emphasize performance. They often need props or examples of objects in a text
in order to visualize them. A tactile/kinesthetic learner would rather act out a text
rather than just read it aloud.
It is unfortunate that education is geared less toward these learners once the
primary grades are completed. A frustrated tactile/kinesthetic learner is restless.
His legs may keep moving or her fingers may drum on the desk. These are the first
learners to stop paying attention in class once they figure out that their needs won’t
get met. They may be more prone to pull out their phone, fidget, or run to the
bathroom during class. If a class is really insufferable to them, they will probably
stop coming, despite the consequences to their grades.
The expression “it’s like riding a bicycle” applies best to the tactile/kinesthetic
Here are some specific characteristics of tactile/kinesthetic learners:
1. Learning is both empirical and experiential.
2. They have keen motor memories. Once they have done something once, it
stays with them.
3. They love hands-on activities. They like to do science experiments.
4. They enjoy field trips or having class outside.
5. They enjoy games of all kinds.
6. They may play a musical instrument very well.
7. They are not always good spellers.
8. They use their hands a lot to speak.
9. They may not have good handwriting.
10. They may be very good at sports. Many student athletes may be
11. Since so much of education is geared to visual and auditory learners, they
may give up on formal education unless they find a major and an educational
environment that addresses their needs.
12. They are often seen as non-traditional learners. In certain school districts,
tactile/kinesthetic learners represent the majority of referrals for learning
disabilities. Many mistake them to be hyperactive or dyslectic.
Tactile-kinesthetic learners end up in performance art careers, particularly dance
and physical theater. They make good mechanics, actors, firefighters, athletes,
stylists, physical education teachers, massage therapists and fashion designers.
How can we help the tactile/kinesthetic learner?
1. Try not to dismiss them as inferior learners because they need different cues
to access information.
2. Use games in class. Look online for ideas. You can design a class jeopardy,
concentration, even card games based on the texts.
3. Use puzzles. Bring things for them to touch or sort like cards.
4. Try to encourage some physical activity. If it cannot be done in every class,
set aside one class a week so that the tactile/kinesthetic learners can look
forward to the activity.
5. Walk around the room and try to have a more physical presence so that they
will feel encouraged to do the same.
6. Design learning activities like surveys, spontaneous calling out ideas and
7. Design some cut and paste activities like collage.
8. If you know anything about meditation, dance, yoga or any movement
therapy, use it in the class.
9. Take risks with your teaching, and they will love it. Get creative.
10. They may need to skim a book first, then return to read it more closely. They
may also benefit by reading and doing, from walking around a room to
reading on a treadmill.
11. They may also need to take notes while reading a book. However, they may
not consult those notes in order to study. Encourage short study breaks as it
will help their concentration.
12. Let them eat and drink in class unless you personally find that it affects your