What Is a Learning Style?

When it comes to learning, what works best for one k-12 or college student may not work best for another. Take our learning styles quiz and learn what kind of learning environments suit you best.

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Info, Insight, & Online Resources for Students from Kindergarten through College

A learning style refers to the way a student prefers to learn. The best learning style for a student is the one that helps them absorb, process, comprehend, retain and use information in a meaningful way. Once a student figures out their learning style, they can incorporate that style into their everyday learning and quickly see results in the form of better grades, deeper understanding and perhaps even a more fulfilling educational experience.

This guide takes a look at the different learning styles out there, how a student can pinpoint what their style is, and what it means for their educational future.

Learning Style Types

Everyone learns differently. For some, hearing the teacher lecture from the front of the room is all they need. For others, watching the teacher write something on the board as they deliver the lecture helps them follow along. And still others don't respond best to either of those things; they need to study the work on their own, in a quiet room, or they might even need to talk to themselves to get the key points down.

What kind of learner are you? It's important to figure it out as early in life as possible, so that school will be easier to handle. Here are the most common learning style types, as well as examples that might help you choose which one best fits you.

Visual – Spatial

K-12 Example

Visual learners respond best to bright colors, interesting images and easy-to-read fonts. Young students might prefer slide presentations, taking notes on colorful paper or using images as remembrance devices.

College Student Example

Older students can incorporate visual learning into their everyday work through the use of mind maps, colorful brainstorming on white boards, and textbooks that offer information in small bites, such as through the use of call-out boxes, sidebars and comment bubbles.

Aural – Auditory

K-12 Example

Younger students can activate their visual learning style by reading their assignments out loud as they work on them, choosing certain music to listen to in the background for each class, and asking the teacher to walk them through information-dense assignments by talking about the highlights.

College Student Example

Older students can make the most of their auditory style by listening to recorded lectures, playing music while studying, and listening to their textbooks through apps that read the writing aloud to them.

Verbal – Linguistic

K-12 Example

These students need to talk things through to understand them; that's why some best practices for them might include quizzing each other verbally or talking to themselves as they write.

College Student Example

Older students can make the most of study material by debating the finer points with other students or professors or reading their assignments, especially the more difficult concepts.

Physical – Kinesthetic

K-12 Example

These students enjoy learning on a physical level. They might benefit from squeezing a stress ball during class, playing memory games that include physical activity, and tapping their feet on the floor in a rhythm as they study.

College Student Example

Older students can put their physical learning style into action by using an exercise ball as a seat during study time, listen to lectures as they go for a run, or visualize physical objects as stand-ins for certain concepts.

Logical – Mathematical

K-12 Example

Logical learners are just that – they rely on logic to help them understand various concepts. Students can benefit from looking for patterns, quantifying answers and methodically working through problems.

College Student Example

Older students can hone their deductive reasoning skills, use numbers and letters to correspond to various concepts, and creating hypotheses from their coursework and then proving them with logical steps.

Social – Interpersonal

K-12 Example

Group learning is the best option for those who are social learners. Students can form small study groups, take part in broad class discussions and even find peers online with whom to discuss the material.

College Student Example

Older students can do well with creating vibrant, talkative study groups, using online chat to reach out to peers in the same courses, and study in places where lots of other people are present, such as the library.

Solitary – Intrapersonal

K-12 Example

These students need to focus without interruption and feel personal interest in their work. They might do well with a quiet study area, time to examine the materials on their own without teacher input, and create personal goals for working through the material at their own pace.

College Student Example

Older students can seek out quiet areas for study, such as requesting a single dorm room for privacy. They might benefit from reading through class material before the teacher presents it, taking notes on class discussions to look over later, and opting for solitary projects rather than group work.

Learning styles as a neuromyth?

Just as some swear by a certain learning style, others believe learning styles are simply a myth – that there is no evidence to support the idea that catering to an individual learning style has any impact on educational results. Critics of learning styles see supporting them as a waste of resources, ineffective for the student and even potentially damaging to their future academic and employment success. However, even if learning styles really are a myth, some point out that a classroom filled with varied learning methods has the potential to motivate a wider range of students, thus leading to success for more individuals.

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Considering Online Classes Based on Learning Style

Online education offers numerous opportunities for students, including the chance for some to participate fully with their own unique learning style. For those students who prefer learning styles that are integral to online courses, they might find incredible success in education.

  • Those who learn best via solitary means will find online learning to be the perfect opportunity for them, as they can work through the material on their own time, at their own pace, and in an area of their choosing. Online learning might also be a boon for visual or auditory learners, as so many parts of an online program can include video lectures, slide presentations, recorded audio lectures and the like.

  • Social learners are in an interesting position when it comes to online learning, as they might find their social needs met through the use of chat rooms message boards and study groups. These ways of keeping in touch with peers and professors can provide social learners with a great deal of stimulation that serves them well. Some students, however, need social interaction in person; in that case, no amount of interaction via message boards or video chat will be enough to make online learning easier for them.

  • Online learning could be a challenge for students whose learning styles require a more hands-on approach. Those who are physical learners could also find concepts offered during online programs more challenging, even though they could handle those concepts just fine if they were sitting in a classroom.

There are ways around this. For instance, a physical learner could make a point of sitting on an exercise ball when in front of the computer or listening to recorded lectures while working out at the gym. Online students should be encouraged to look at tasks in unconventional ways to come up with learning solutions that work for them.

Online learning can often offer something for everyone, assuming a student knows how to make good use of what's offered. For instance, some programs might offer video lectures, which are great for visual learners; students could also download those lectures and listen to them, which works well for auditory learners. For those who prefer to learn their concepts visually, incorporating lectures into infographics or slide presentations can help them make sense of what they're discovering.

By figuring out your learning style, you can then seek out the courses and learning formats you prefer. Most students will be able to find online learning delivery methods that suit them; but for others, classroom learning will be the best bet. Either way, students who employ their learning styles will probably find that they have more success, no matter the classroom setting.

Expert Advice on Learning Styles from an Education Professional

Tyler Unsell has been the Director of Speech and Debate at Park Hill High School for over 13 years. He has coached over 30 state finalists, 15 national finalists and last year his students won 3 State Championships in various speech and debate events. He is also a communications teacher in the district. He received his communications degree from Truman State University and Master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Park University.

Let's say a student identifies a learning style that is perfect for them, but an instructor is resistant it. What could a student say or do to help open up dialogue with the instructor about trying out a new learning style?

We should always encourage students to be advocates for themselves. A simple discussion after class is often all it takes to help teachers recognize the different listening styles students may have. Moreover if a student has used a technique in the past to increase their academic achievement they could float the idea to the teacher. Teachers that appear reticent to change may just be unfamiliar with new or different techniques.

What are some options for students in online learning who have a learning style that doesn't fit with the usual curriculum delivery?

There are a ton of online tools that could help students out. For our auditory learners there are dictation tools that will allow students to convert written work into an mp3 or wav files. I would recommend that students seek out more information at their campus resource centers because often educational institutions have access to powerful software tools, you just have to ask. Our visual learners can always use supplemental learning tools like Kahn Academy or other YouTube videos to reinforce lessons. There are also some fantastic online resources that can help students make their own charts, graphs, flow charts and infographics. The creation of these is a great way to reinforce learning in a student with a visual learning style and it can be a great thing to show to a teacher or professor who doesn't use visual learning cues quite so much.

What are some things teachers or parents can do to help foster learning styles that suit their child?

Parents can be advocates for their children. They know their kids far better than their teachers. Parents can meet regularly with teachers to foster this relationship. Moreover parents are often the first front in getting extra tutoring and help. When a student appears to be struggling there are lots of for profit and not for profit serves available online or in person. The biggest help [is to] talk to the child. What is working? What isn't? Do not be afraid to try different methodologies. Often finding appropriate learning styles can be an ongoing process that takes a lot of trial and error.

Anything else you'd like to add about learning styles?

Finding a learning style that works for students is an absolute must. Gone is the day that a teacher lectures a class directly with the expectation that all students learn the same. Rather teaching has become a joint exercise where students and teachers work together to find the best way for them to learn the information. Collaboration is the key and recognizing a student's unique learning style is a tool that everyone should be aware of.

Parent/Students/Teacher Resources

So you've discovered your learning style. Now what? Finding the resources to help you use that style can be a valuable move. Parents and teachers can also get into the game by providing further options for those whose learning styles take them a bit off the beaten path. These resources can help.

Resources for Parents

  • Khan Academy

    Completely free and available to anyone, with learning materials and lessons to help educate students on a variety of subjects.

  • The Learning Community

    Created to serve as a resource for parents to better teach children up through their teens.

  • Scholastic

    A major publisher of children's books, this website has a special section for parents to help them understand and foster their child's learning, including understanding the various learning styles.

  • ThoughtCo.com

    Offers a plethora of information about learning, with a special resource section to help a variety of participants in the education process, including teachers and parents.

Resources for Students

  • Adobe Spark

    This free app lets anyone create flashcards with images, themes and text.

  • Canva

    A design tool that allows students to create a wide variety of documents with unique color palettes, font combinations and photo editing.

  • HowToStudy.org

    A compendium of websites from all over the internet that provide advice and strategies for students looking to find a better way to learn in school.

  • Pandora Radio – Instrumentals for Studying

    A special curated list of music without lyrics intended to help people study.

  • Piktochart

    An easy-to-use infographic maker that allows students to create their own study guides with plenty of visual reminders.

  • Skype

    A free online communication tool known for teleconferencing, Skype provides an excellent and easily accessible method for students to collaborate and learn together.

  • Study Guides and Strategies

    This site contains free study guides that provide general study strategies and techniques, such as memorization tricks and how to write more persuasively.

  • Study Stack

    Allows students and teachers to share their flashcards with others. Users can also make their own using Study Stack's website.

  • Timetable

    This app is great for helping students get organized about their academic responsibilities.

  • Quizlet

    Contains free study tools, such as games, interactive diagrams and flashcards to help students learn their class materials.

  • Xmind: ZEN

    A free app that allows users to map their thoughts to create interesting notes and study aids.

Resources for Teachers

  • Edudemic

    Focuses on using technology to improve learning, with a special section just for teachers aimed at helping them use technology to help their students.

  • Edutopia

    An online resource and community where methods for improving K-12 teaching can be shared with other educators.

  • Prodigy – Teaching Tools

    Prodigy is the creator of a free game for teachers to help teach students math. The website contains numerous resources for teachers to help their students, including a Teaching Tools section.

  • TeachThought

    Dedicated to finding ways to improve education at the K-12 level, the site provides resources teachers can use to help their students learn.

  • Tips for Educators on Accommodating Different Learning Styles

    This helpful page from UMass/Dartmouth provides teachers with a good starting point to accommodate students with a variety of learning styles.

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Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

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AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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