The Five Learning Styles

Back in 1956, a team of researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom identified three domains of educational activity: Cognitive, Affective and Kinesthetic.  Simply put, Cognitive refers to the processes involved with learning that happen via the mind.  Rote memorization, scaffolding, mnemonic devices are examples of learning that involves processes which engage the mind.  It’s where knowledge “resides” in the person.  The affective domain refers to learning that happens at an emotional level, and affects one’s growth in feelings and attitudes, as well as the learner’s self-perception.  Kinesthetic learning involves physical actions, and applies to the learner’s skillset and level of physical performance.  In three short words: think, feel, do.

There are also 3 main styles of learning, commonly referred to as VAK: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.  While learning domains are present in all learners as ways that information is processed within the learner, learning styles deal with how information is input into the learner.  That is, does the learner see something, hear something, or do something that causes the learning process to occur.  It’s been said that each person has their own preferred learning style.  Some will learn better by listening to a lecture on a particular topic, while others will learn better by researching the topic on their own through reference materials.

Learning styles deal with perception and memory.  An excellent succinct article which provides some background on the topic, and its applications to learning in both the classroom and in adult learning relative to workplace training can be found at http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/vakt.html.

Interestingly, the Visual learning style has two “sub-channels,” namely Linguistic and Spatial.  Linguistic refers to seeing the written word and writing about experiences, while Spatial channel refers to those who have difficultly with the written word and learn better through maps, charts, or seeing videos and other visual materials.

Further, the Kinesthetic learning style also has two “sub-channels,” namely Kinesthetic and Tactile.  Kinesthetic-Kinesthetic learners prefer movement, while Kinesthetic-Tactile learners prefer touch.

Since this site is about challenging some of the accepted norms in education today, let’s do that with these five learning styles, since “sub-channel” can be viewed as a “cop-out” when there are really 5 channels, and 3 are maintained just to keep things “simple.”

Let’s start with kinesthetic.  Let’s keep it kinesthetic rather than splitting it into two distinct sub-channels.  Why?  Because touch is usually associated with movement.  In order for a learning to touch something, movement needs to occur – unless the object of the touch moves toward the learner.  Usually, the learning experience from something like that is fear, and, more than likely, if the object is coming toward the learner, the learner will exhibit some type of movement to either evade the object or more fully be prepared to receive it.

As for visual, let’s keep it visual rather than giving it two sub-channels as well.  The linguistic sub-channel can be renamed to be the Representational style.  Prior to the plethora of technology we have at our disposal today, it may have made sense to have two sub-channels for the visual learning.  But with the abundance of videos available online, the visual-spatial style has morphed into a truly visual learning experience, while the visual-linguistic channel concerns itself with representations of the learning experience.

But then is there a fifth style?  Yes.  It would be the Mentoral style.  Notice that all learning styles presented above do not require the presence of a teacher, guide or mentor.  A learner’s preferred learning style can be self-recognized, and usually is.  Many times, it’s the teacher that forces his/her preferred learning style upon his/her students, rather than discovering what pathways will lead to the greatest learning in each individual student, then designing a lesson plan to encompass all learning styles, with a special emphasis on a particular activity which is aligned with the learning style of a particular sub-channel of students in the class.

Therefore, we have five learning styles which complete the system: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Representational and Mentoral.  To provide an example these five styles in action, let’s look at a student learning to play a musical instrument.  The visual learner can watch a video of a famous artist performing the piece of music, then incorporate the information into their own learning.  The auditory learner can hear the performance of a piece of music from a recording, and then “playback” the music, much like a tape recorder would.  This type of learning was present in the “call and response” motif which dates back to ancient times prior to any type of transcribed music.  The representational learner can read a piece of sheet music, interpreting the notes, rests, and dynamics to translate the written representation into an uplifting performance.  The mentoral learner may have the ability to do all these things on his/her own, yet require a guide, instructor or coach to allow his/her performance capacity to grow, technique to improve, and artistry to increase.

There is a sixth learning style too.  Just as researchers have posited that every learner has a preferred learning style, what if the preferred learning style encompasses all the described learning styles?  That would be the Experiential learner.  Their learning occurs best when immersed in the experience.  It’s what happens when musicians enter music school after graduating from high school, and their lives become consumed by the experience of music.  They don’t have time for a hobby, their socialization happens with other musicians, and even during times of rest and reflection, new ideas for musical expression can be discovered, since it’s in these moments of solitude that creativity and epiphanies are revealed.  Those individuals immersed in a new culture have no option but to learn the language, customs and societal norms if they expect to function successfully within their new surroundings….unless the culture provides accommodation.

Posted in edu-cat-ion.