Learning styles

In order to get the most out of your study it is necessary to understand the way in which you learn.

There are many different ways of learning.

We all learn differently.

We learn differently according to the situation we are in.

There are several studies and theories that can help us to identify and categorise the type of learner we are – to establish what is known as our preferred learning style. Perhaps you are familiar with one or some of these?

All of these theories share a common premise – that knowing what type of learner you are can help you to learn better. The following sections look at two theories, VAK learning styles and Felder and Silverman’s index of learning styles.

VAK learning styles
VAK means visual, auditory and kinaesthetic and to identify which of these three styles you have, it is necessary to analyse your behaviours.

  • Those who have a visual learning style prefer to learn by seeing or observing. Charts, photographs, graphics, demonstrations, books, lists, video and so on are all examples of learning techniques favoured by visual learners
  • By contrast, those with an auditory learning style favour listening and will learn best by hearing spoken words, sounds, noises and verbal instructions
  • Finally, those with a kinaesthetic learning style will achieve most from physical activities that enable them to actually do something. This might include participating in practical sessions, touching, holding etc

Usually, we each have a dominant preferred learning style – some of us with a very strong preference for one – but more usually, a mixture of two.

The key to this theory is that when you know your preferred learning style(s) you understand the type of learning that most suits you and this can help you select the types of learning best for you.

Felder and Silverman
Felder and Silverman’s index of learning styles suggests that there are four “dimensions” of learning and that once you know your learning preference, you can work on expanding the way you learn, so that you can learn in other ways, not just in your preferred style. These four dimensions of learning styles are:

  • Sensory – intuitive
  • Visual – verbal
  • Active – reflective
  • Sequential – global

Each of them is shown on a continuum, as shown here: http://www.wizardlearning.com/media/felder_and_silverman.pdf

By developing the skills that help us learn in a variety of ways, we make the most of our learning potential.

The learner must identify their preference for each of the four learning dimensions and then analyse where there is an imbalance in preference – perhaps because of a strong preference for one style and a strong resistance to another.

The learner can then find ways of improving learning by balancing their preferred style. For example, in the case of the:

  • Sensory – intuitive dimension: use both hard facts and general concepts
  • Visual – verbal dimension: use both visual and verbal cues methods
  • Active – reflective dimension: incorporate both hands-on learning and time for evaluation and review
  • Sequential – global dimension: consider structure as well as the bigger picture

Using Felder and Silverman’s index of learning styles, identify your own preferred styles and areas where you do not have a natural preference.

For each of the four dimensions, list actual examples, with direct reference to your study, of how you could expand your preference and balance your style.