One prominent and indispensable fact of education is that not all people learn the same way. Although they might end up in a similar place, having gained important skills or knowledge, the paths they take differ. For example, an auditory learner retains information more easily when listening to spoken instruction. Alternatively, a visual learner relies upon maps, graphs, charts, and other visible information they can see. These two learning styles exist as part of a larger framework called VARK – Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic. And while VARK incorporates some of the most basic learning styles, many others likely exist as well.
Of course, the Scientific American points out that people likely learn best when activating various cognitive faculties. In other words, focusing on an individual learning style might be less effective than accessing multiple simultaneously. Especially if it leads to underdeveloped skills in key areas like reading and writing. However, this doesn’t disallow individuals from naturally gravitating toward certain methods and learning styles. Perhaps the key is for each person to recognize how they learn best while striving to cultivate the others.
Overall, the point is that different methods of education cater to different individual needs. And perhaps even more so, they allow people to explore and discover exciting new ways of receiving and retaining information.
The Four Primary Learning Styles
First, in clearing up a common misconception, visual learning does not amount to watching an online video. And while it doesn’t necessarily exclude this form of learning, it leans more toward spatial aspects. For example, pictures, graphs, flow charts, and other visible elements that help individuals relate to information through visual observation.
Visual learners retain information best when given handouts or when an instructor writes out information on a white board. However, because visual learners need to understand the relationships between diagrams, their analysis might take longer than others. So, they often need more time to sit and think through information to retain it well.
Aural learning refers primarily to auditory stimuli. In other words, these learning styles are those which incorporate sound, particularly spoken word. Notedly, those who learn well aurally have an easier time retaining information during lectures or even through repeating information aloud. And often, auditory learners have a driving need to ask questions and verbally discover answers.
Like visual learners, who need more time to look over information, aural learners might be slower readers. In fact, they often might read aloud in order to retain information, though some have a difficult time taking notes. However, group discussion and Socratic dialogue is a great method for aural learning.
Naturally, some of the learning styles in VARK overlap each other. Notedly, reading and writing can incorporate both visual and aural elements. For example, taking notes while observing a diagram or when listening to a lecture. However, it isn’t primarily the diagram itself or the spoken words which help reading and writing learners most. Instead, the focal point revolves around the words they’re using to either discover or express information.
Of course, reading and writing lends itself well to the traditional educational environment. Particularly since students must often take notes and develop better reading skills. However, it can be easy for such learners to fall behind, since writing things out takes time. This is why it can be helpful to develop short-hand methods for note taking that can be expanded when time permits.
The mantra of kinesthetic learning styles is that they learn by doing. In most cases, this involves some sort of hands-on approach, heavily relying on tactile senses. This can mean acting out a scenario or physically touching something in order to learn more about it. In a sense, this might amount to experiential learning. For example, kinesthetically learning about the ocean might mean experiencing it for oneself. In effect, discovering the temperature of the water, the way the sand feels underfoot, and the strong smell of salt.
Movement is key to kinesthetic learning, so games and activities are highly-effective for such people. However, this also might mean they have a more difficult time sitting still and focusing during more traditional learning exercises. Again, though, there’s a bit of overlap from other learning styles. For example, taking notes or writing on the white board can help kinesthetic learners physically engage with the information presented.
The Difficulties with Learning Styles
Unfortunately, the benefits of different learning styles aren’t without their detriments as well. Because there are serious issues which can arise from focusing solely on one method of education. Perhaps chief among the negatives is that highlighting one particular learning style neglects the rest. While it might be true some individuals learn well through certain methods, they do need to develop the other centers as well. And not only for educational purposes but because they’ll rely upon them all throughout life.
If an instructor focuses specifically on auditory methods without regard for reading and writing, students may not appropriately develop those abilities. At least, not to the extent that certain tasks will require. So, moving into the workforce, they might find themselves at a severe disadvantage because of an improper balance in the learning styles employed. Ideally, educators will provide activities and teach in such a way that caters to students’ learning styles. However, they must also cultivate other skills, even when students struggle in them.
But furthermore, the ability of a single educator to cater to the learning needs of every student is untenable. At least, it seems to be in the current scholastic climate. Because every student in a class might exhibit different learning preferences, a teacher cannot likely prioritize each one. They would have to focus on one to the detriment of others. The only apparent solution would be a complete overhaul of the education system, where students are grouped according to learning style rather than age.
Of course, doing so would severely limit exposure to other learning styles, compounding the initial problem. Separating students based on preferred methods would likely lead to underdeveloped skills. So, in some senses, learning styles seem to be more troublesome than worthwhile.
Why are Learning Styles Important?
First and foremost, understanding learning styles can help instructors facilitate a love for learning. If one student is particularly bad at reading but excels at kinesthetic methods, they will likely loath methods that focus on written material. In fact, if this is their sole experience with education, they might start to believe that learning simply isn’t worthwhile when, in fact, they dislike the method not the outcome. However, when educators can tell a student is struggling, they have the opportunity to employ a different method that will help. At least, to the best of their ability.
Once again, this doesn’t mean the instructor should give up on the student’s ability to read written material. It only means focusing the bulk of the attention for that particular student on other means of education. Helping individuals understand that learning is a good thing is just as much a responsibility of educators as the knowledge itself. Because learning should be lifelong. Those who stagnate fall behind and disservice themselves.
Furthermore, understanding the needs of different learning styles can help educators employ new teaching methods they never recognized before. Recognizing learning styles doesn’t necessarily mean catering to one over the others, but finding new ways to activate all centers. If a teacher has only ever relied on written material to teach, then the addition of visual aids will not only help visual learners. It will also activate areas that reading/writing learners might benefit from. And perhaps this is the highest benefit of recognizing learning styles.
Ultimately, introducing new forms of education will help all learners in an educational setting, not just those suited to that style.
How VTR Learning Caters to Learning Styles
When VTR Learning first broke into the continuing education market, it sought to upend the typical experience. Instead of PowerPoint presentations or lectures, it placed learners in business simulations. That way, they could understand business by doing it – virtually.
However, recognizing the various facets and needs of education, VTR Learning also wanted to help facilitate other styles. So, in addition to business simulation courses, there are eBooks, video courses, and other formats to facilitate a beneficial experience.
Regardless the pros and cons of learning styles, it should be easy for businesspeople to access the information they need to excel. And VTR Learning hopes to do just that with our online business courses.
Article written by Braden Norwood
Last updated March 23, 2023