One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Why your Child’s Learning Style is Critical to Academic Success
The ways that people go about gathering and interpreting information can be surprisingly different. Research shows that people have different preferences and strengths in how they take in and process information. These preferences are sometimes referred to as learning styles and are used to describe and help us understand the different ways in which different people learn. An article in Edutopia explains how Harvard Professor Howard Gardner “describes learning styles as how an individual approaches a range of tasks categorized in different ways”. These include, but are not confined to, visual/auditory/kinesthetic/right brain/left brain, etc. modes of processing information. Gardner also refers to learning styles as “a hypothesis of how an individual approaches a range of materials”.
The idea that every student learns differently has gained widespread recognition in education theory and classroom management strategy and garnered huge popularity in the 1970s. Learning is now viewed as a complex process, influenced by an individual’s own cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, as well as prior experience. In Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham’s Change article, The Myth of Learning Styles, the authors argue that “learners are different from each other, these differences affect their performance, and teachers should take these differences into account.” Cognitive science research over the years has demonstrated that a learners’ prior knowledge and experience may matter and that every student’s prior knowledge and experience is unique. Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham’s article also points out that students do indeed have preferences for how they learn. But why should that matter to you as a parent?
What are the different types of Learning Styles?
Everyone knows that students are extremely diverse. No two students are alike, including their personality, ability, disability, gender, cultural background and beyond.
Based on our observations as tutors at Beyond the Classroom, we too have noted the diverse way in which students take in, process and execute various pieces of information. For example, when learning how to build something, some students understand the process by:
- Following verbal instructions read aloud by a teacher or instructor
- Experimenting with and manipulating the parts themselves, particularly with their hands
- Using visual guidance, like a map or set of instructions with pictures
The VAK Learning Styles Model was developed by psychologists in the 1920s to classify the most common ways that people learn. According to the model, most of us prefer to learn in one of three ways: visual, auditory or kinesthetic (although, in practice, we generally “mix and match” these three styles). This model has been modified over the years, but the basic principles still exist today. New Zealand teacher and researcher Neil D. Fleming has done countless research on how people learn and is one of the main recent contributors to the VAK model of learning.
V is for VISUAL:
- Visual learners receive new information best when it is presented in a visual format, like in a diagram, map or pictures/images
A is for AUDITORY:
- Auditory learners understand new ideas and concepts best when they hear the information, like in a song or from a description read out loud
K is for KINESTHETIC (tactual, physical):
- Kinesthetic learners discover best when they are using their hands or bodies. This is a common feature of most early learners, particularly in preschool and kindergarten
Do you notice that your child prefers to explain herself in pictures or diagrams over words? Does your son work best when there is background music playing? Or does your daughter struggle in school when she has to sit at her desk all day? These are questions many parents face each day. Our next blog article will discuss the various learning styles and some strategies you can use at home to encourage learning!