There is growing recognition that different people have different learning styles. While teaching methods used in schools are still mostly geared to certain styles of learning and not others, homeschooling parents can custom tailor their approach to the way each child learns best and to what each child might need to develop. To that end, it can be helpful to know how to recognize that a given learning style is at play.
What are the different learning styles?
How learning styles are categorized and labelled depends on what system you go by — there are a number of such systems and it's important to remember that any categorization of learning differences between people is just a working model of human diversity in this area and a tool for choosing how to present information to a learner. The model is not the reality and it's important not to get too hung up on labels and generalizations. Use whatever system (or combination of systems) proves useful as a guideline, but remember to discard the tool whenever it gets in the way of seeing each unique, multidimensional child for who he/she really is, working with how he/she is actually learning and processing at any given time, and recognizing what his/her capabilities really are.
Here are some of the ways various systems categorize differences in learning style based on sensory modalities (some also add or replace categories based on cognitive abilities):
- Visual, Auditory, Tactile/Kinesthetic
- Visual, Auditory, Tactual, Kinesthetic
- Visual, Verbal, Kinesthetic
- Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, Kinesthetic
There are also systems that are not based on sensory modalities:
- Cognitive differences in perceiving (concrete or abstract) and processing information (active or reflective): Concrete Active, Concrete Reflective, Abstract Active, Abstract Reflective
- Brain hemisphere dominance: Left Brain (logical, analytical, sequential), Right Brain (intuitive, holistic, synthesizing), Whole Brain
- Gender differences: How boys tend to learn, how girls tend to learn
- Temperament differences according to style of communication (concrete or abstract) and style of action (utilitarian or cooperative): Artisans (Concrete Utilitarians), Guardians (Concrete Cooperators), Idealists (Abstract Cooperators), Rationals (Abstract Utilitarians)
Finally, there are two systems that take into account that a learning style is a profile of both sensory modalities and cognitive processes:
- Multiple Intelligence profiles based on degrees of reliance on each of the following dimensions: Visual/Spatial, Verbal/Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Musical/Rhythmic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal (the 7 original categories of Multiple Intelligences as outlined by Howard Gardner) and Naturalistic (an 8th category added by Gary Harms)
- Pedagogical Profiles based on "mental gestures" as outlined by Antoine de La Garanderie: Visual or Auditory modality of mental imagery, combined with the Reproductive or Transformative nature of that imagery and with an Application-oriented or an Explanation-oriented process of understanding.
Learning "disabilities" and giftedness
Children are often called "exceptional" when their learning differences fall outside the range of the norm (the norm being simply what is or has been statistically common). Children at one end of the bell curve are often labelled "learning disabled" while those at the other are seen as "gifted." It's not uncommon for a "differently abled" child to be "disabled" in some areas and "gifted" in others. The information below on Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences is relevant to how any child learns, but can be particularly helpful in understanding the learning process of "exceptional" children. We also have a page of resources for Learning Differences and Special Needs (includes resources for the gifted).
LD Pride has a page on Learning styles and multiple intelligences that includes explanations on what the different styles and intelligences are, using the Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic categorization and Howard Gardner's MI categorization. The site also has tips on how to use your style in learning. For a fee, they offer a Learning Styles Test to Discover How You Learn.
VARK has an online questionnaire to help you determine your learning preference from among its 4 categories: Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic. The test indicates a person's preferences but not necessarily their strengths.
Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, by Howard Gardner
In Their Own Way, by Thomas Armstrong
Comprendre et Imaginer, par Antoine de La Garanderie