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Do Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic Learning Styles Exist?

Updated on September 2, 2015

What Are Learning Styles?

The idea behind learning styles is that students learn in different ways. Visual learners learn best by seeing information, such as pictures and colorful outlines. Auditory learners learn best by hearing, through lectures or recordings. Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands on assignments. About 90% of teachers believe that learning styles exist. Many create lesson plans that teach material with these three learning styles in mind.

Do Learning Styles Actually Exist?

Yes and no. People do have preferences in how they learn. But those preferences don’t make them better learners. According to Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham, a professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, there is no evidence that learning styles improve learning. Willingham says that students do learn differently and that teachers should take this into account. Some students love to learn and some don’t. Some students have more aptitude than others. Some have more background knowledge than others. Some students have learning disabilities. These are differences in cognitive ability rather than cognitive style.

Willingham acknowledges that students will often have preferences in how they learn. Some students may prefer lectures. Others may prefer videos and pictures. Some may enjoy hands on activities. But,

when these tendencies are put to the test under controlled conditions, they make no difference—learning is equivalent whether students learn in the preferred mode or not.

Learning styles may not affect how much is learned
Learning styles may not affect how much is learned

Why Learning Styles Don't Impact Learning

Willingham gives the following example in his book Why Don't Students Like School. Anne, an auditory learner, and Victor, a visual learner, are given two lists of vocabulary words to learn. For the first list they listen to a recording. For the second, they look at a slide show of pictures representing the word meaning. Learning styles would predict that Anne would learn more words on list 1 and Victor would learn more words from list 2. Yet studies have found no difference in results based on learning style. The problem, according to Willingham, is that Anne and Victor need to remember what the words mean, rather than what they look or sound like. So, their learning style actually has no impact on their ability to remember word meaning.

A visual learner may have an advantage when it comes to memorizing the shapes of countries on maps. Auditory learners may have an advantage when learning proper pronunciation in a foreign language. But, Willingham says, most schooling involves mastering the meaning of things, not what they look or sound like.

What does this mean for teachers and homeschoolers? For teachers, creating lesson plans that cater to different learning styles may be more trouble than it's worth. For homeschoolers, a child may be more willing to study something if it’s presented in a way they prefer. Like with teachers though, catering to a particular learning style may sometimes be more trouble than it's worth, since the amount of material learned would be the same regardless of the method used to teach.

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    • JoanCA profile image
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      JoanCA 4 years ago

      Thanks connorj,

      I haven't heard of it before. I'll look into it.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 4 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      If you wish, you could google in quotations, "Revelation Theory of Learning" you may find the articles/blogs beneficial...

    • JoanCA profile image
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      JoanCA 4 years ago

      That's actually a good point. Information really has to presented in different ways to be meaning. That's why it makes sense to use different approaches to teaching rather than assume there's one right way for one person and a different right way for another. That kind of thinking makes it almost impossible to teach a roomful of 20 to 30 children effectively.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 4 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      All humans' (except those perhaps who are legally blind) primary sense is sight. If our primary sense is site why should one's primary learning style ever be auditory. A bear's primary sense is olfactory (smell); try to convince him his primary sense for learning is auditory...

      I postulate that we simply learn more profoudly when we present information in a multisensory way (a way that combines our primary sense -vision, with auditory and tactle (hands-on) learning... Now it may easy to convince the unknowing that their primary sense is indeed auditory; however, the method used to convince them is significantly flawed...

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 4 years ago

      That's true. A lot of the teaching methods used in schools today are questionable and don't seem to stand up to real scrutiny.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 4 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      yes indeed; I suspect that much that occurs in a school systems is in need of proper debate...

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 4 years ago

      connorj,

      There is such a strong belief in learning styles, I was very surprised to see that there isn't evidence to support them.

    • connorj profile image

      John Connor 4 years ago from Altamonte Springs

      I thank you for writing this; learning styles are over-rated and have been thrown down our throats without proper discussion and critique.

    • JoanCA profile image
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      JoanCA 4 years ago

      psychicdog,

      That's how I see it too. People who are motivated to learn will learn no matter how the information is presented.

    • psychicdog.net profile image

      psychicdog.net 4 years ago

      very interesting Joan - I'm thinking all learning is self-learning - if you want to learn you will - if you have a goal and can see the connection between what you are learning and your goal