Types of Learners

By Snehal Shinh

When it comes to learning, there’s no right way to do it. There are, however, different styles of learning that make it easier to grasp complicated concepts. The idea of learning styles has been around for decades and entails that different people learn best when information is presented to them in a particular way. This theory has become especially popular in education, so most people may already be familiar with the main styles of learning. 

Before looking at the different and common types of learning, the history of the theory is interesting on its own. The concept of a “learning style” was first recognized as early as 334 BC by Aristotle when he said “each child possessed specific talents and skills and discussed the concept of individual differences in young children”. Since then the theory has evolved. 

Once Aristotle began recognizing these differences, many researchers began forming their theories and expanding on these ideas. One, in particular, is Neil Fleming, whose learning style theories are most known. Fleming developed the acronym, “VARK”, which stands for “visual”, “aural”, “reading/writing”, and “kinesthetic”, of course referring to learning preferences. According to Fleming, the Visual part of the acronym refers to those individuals who prefer charts, symbols, graphs, or such things that teachers utilize to replace words. For those with a visual preference, the layout, design, and color-coding of information are of importance. The Aural aspect in the acronym refers to those with auditory preferences; for example, group discussions, feedback, presentations, etc. are beneficial to these types of learners. The Reading/Writing part speaks for itself, these individuals learn best from working with words by reading and/or writing about subjects. Lastly, the Kinesthetic aspect refers to individuals who learn by doing it themselves, by practice. 

With all these theories and established categories, how does one know what type of learner they are? Well, like any learning style theorists, Fleming believed in the importance of people, teachers and students alike, to understand and know theirs and others’ style of learning. And so, Fleming created the first learning style questionnaire in 1986. Fleming developed a series of general questions and worksheets that could be applied to any population, intending to help people find their individual preferences for retaining information. The questionnaire consists of “a-d” options that correspond to the acronym “VARK” and based on the amount of each multiple-choice option and Fleming’s help sheets, one can find out what type of learner they are. 

Now that identifying one’s learning style is possible, what learning habits are most effective for each style? 

For visual learners, sight is the key sense that makes the information click, so here are some simple tips that make a big difference. Color-coding information goes a long way, don’t shy away from color-coding everything from notes and worksheets to textbooks. Stay organized with notes and general work; keeping notes orderly helps with retaining information and motivates one to look back at them. To be even more helpful, keep two notebooks: one meant for class, to take messy notes full of information, and another to rewrite those messy notes into something orderly and visually pleasing. Concept maps are especially useful for visual learners, they’re a great way to visualize brainstorms and draw connections. When creating a concept map, start with a central idea and branch off into main categories, and so on. 

For aural learners, limiting any loud distractions is the most important tip. Because auditory learners rely on sound for retaining information, it’s common to be destroyed by distracting sounds, so a quiet room or library is a good place to go to study. Not commonly used, but creating mnemonic devices is effective; a little rhythm can go a long way. Engaging in class discussions is essential because it’ll not only help aid in remembering details but it helps ensure full comprehension. 

Similar to visual learners, reading/writing learners are very visual. Re-writing and re-reading notes attach a physical motion to the information and help ingrain those notes. Aside from referring to notes, reading additional information about a topic expands one’s knowledge. Most of the time, reading/writing learners are a “list person”, so the best way to organize thoughts is through listing them in an order that makes the most sense. Lists are great because they can hold one accountable for the work needed to be done without forgetting anything. 

Lastly, kinesthetic learners. Aside from finding the ideal studying space that allows for any particular movement and taking notes, teaching others is a great way for these types of learners to fully understand a subject. By teaching others, be it a struggling peer or a family member, one is able to grow familiar and engage with the material. Since kinesthetic learners are quite physical, pacing, fidgeting, or other repetitive movements are usually helpful. It’s also noteworthy that kinesthetic learners don’t push themselves to sit still for long periods of time. As with anyone, taking breaks when needed, getting a snack, or going on a walk, does wonders.