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7 Major Learning Styles – Which One are You?

learning-style-imageEveryone learns differently, that’s nothing new. However, over the years the different styles of learning have usually been cut down to visual, physical (learn-by-doing), or audible. Truth is, we could probably dissect each of these learning three styles down even further and arrive at a handful of sub-levels.

Learning is a complicated concept as everyone is unique in their own way, and learns in their own way as well. That said, it is still very much possible to classify a learning style into one of seven categories. Perhaps you fall into one of the following:

  1. Visual: These people prefer to use pictures, images, diagrams, colors, and mind maps.
  2. Physical: These are the “learn by doing” people that use their body to assist in their learning. Drawing diagrams, using physical objects, or role playing are all strategies of the Physical learner.
  3. Aural: People who prefer using sound (obviously), rhythms, music, recordings, clever rhymes, and so on.
  4. Verbal: The verbal learner is someone who prefers using words, both in speech and in writing to assist in their learning. They make the most of word based techniques, scripting, and reading content aloud.
  5. Logical: The people who prefer using logic, reasoning, and “systems” to explain or understand concepts. They aim to understand the reasons behind the learning, and have a good ability to understand the bigger picture.
  6. Social: These people are the ones who enjoy learning in groups or with other people, and aim to work with others as much as possible.
  7. Solitary: The solitary learner prefers to learn alone and through self-study.

In reality, we all probably fall into each category, depending on the learning that is taking place. Some topics lend themselves better to select styles, and a combination of multiple styles helps to solidify the learning that takes place. When possible, you should always strive to create learning that engages a variety of these styles. Not only will it be helpful for the learner, but it also will go a long way in learning retention.

Using an online learning approach that includes videos, reading, audio, exercises, social forums, and the like is a great way to hit on multiple learning styles. If you create learning for a living as an instructional designer or teacher, then blending your learning approaches is an effective way to make your learning stick.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the Founder of LearnDash, a WordPress based LMS and Learning Strategy provider. He also works as a Learning & Collaboration Consultant where he implements large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies.

29 Comments
  1. Jo

    It would be helpful (and responsible) for you to name the sources that helped you come to this idea. Since your 7 styles identically match Howard Gardner’s original “Multiple Intelligences” (he has since added 2 more), I’m assuming he is your main source. You have named them in an easily accessible way, which is a good creative addition. There is no shame in building on others’ work, as long as you credit the source.
    Thank you.

  2. You did a good job of filtering learning styles down to only 7. With all of the definitions of learning styles in the education world today, what is the basis of your selection?

    Leigh Zeitz

  3. Great summary. As simple as this sounds it’s difficult to communicate this to others when “the lecture” is what people assume is the best tool for teaching.

  4. Hi,

    Are there really learning styles? I’ve seen a lot of dialog arguing against learning styles. I think what you describe is more akin to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences). I listened to a podcast the other day, I don’t recall its author, but he argued they were more strategies for teaching than styles for learning. I like mixing it up, strategies/presentations, depending on my T-Pop and subject matter.

    urbie

  5. Actually, the idea of learning styles as you have characterized here has never been demonstrated to be accurate. The best thing that IDs can do with respect to learning styles is to ignore the idea. Designing for different styles does absolutely nothing for students. Instead, IDs should design learning experiences that encourage the appropriate blend of surface and deep approaches, social interaction and relevant problem-solving. Check out ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ by John Hattie.

  6. Hi Justin

    I thought we were all moving along from Learning Styles as there is no real evidence to support them.
    internettime.com/2013/04/learning-styles-ha-ha-ha-ha/

    But I think you are right in saying we need to use a variety of methods to engage the learner – just not sure defining individual styles is required. After all you do say ‘In reality, we all probably fall into each category…’

    Best wishes
    Julian

  7. dbliton

    Why Is the Research on Learning Styles Still Being Dismissed by Some Learning Leaders and Practitioners?
    By Guy W. Wallace / November 2011

    elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2070611

  8. Paul Nichols

    I believe you’re missing an “h” in the word “rhythms” as used in the following sentence in this article:

    Aural: People who prefer using sound (obviously), rhythms, music, recordings, clever rhymes, and so on.

    Thanks and have a great day!

  9. Jenny

    Hi Justin
    The world is changing with the advance of neuroscience and neuropsychology. You and your readers may be interested in this article titled the myth of learning styles. As leaders in the profession our responsibility is to use the best methods to help individuals learn – even if this takes people out of thier comfort zone! thinkneuroscience.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/the-myth-of-learning-styles/

  10. I agree there are different learning styles. I’m definitely a visual, social learner.

    I struggle with what to do with the information. Any course I develop is meant for a large audience. Therefore, by definition, my learners will include people from multiple learning styles. How do I use the concept of learning styles to make my course better when learners of all styles will use it?

  11. Learning styles are not supported by the current reseach, but they can still be helpful for students needing help with rote memorization. They generally point out the easiest ways that we can absorb basic (think flashcard) knowledge. Real learning requires that we build new information to the learners’ prior experience. We all have different ways to memorize the quickest, but only one way to learn.

  12. Dawn Adams Miller

    Gardner characteristics these as “intelligences” and my interpretation isn’t that these are learning styles so much as information processing styles. As long as the content that needs to be learned is presented in the format espoused by the intelligence, the learner can process/absorb it and learn from it. Everyone “learns” the same way. It’s neuroscience. But everyone doesn’t process information the same way.

  13. Shelley Henson

    Learning styles, particularly Howard Gardner’s version of them, make sense intuitively, and have been very popular with K-12 educators. However, as others have mentioned here, there is no evidence that supports them. They are a wonderful idea, but people just don’t learn the way Howard Gardner describes. I think educators cling to them because they do encourage the development a variety of teaching methods that are more fun and engaging than the typical lecture-based approach to education.

    I would hope that we are perpetuating sound, evidence-based instructional theories as a field… and “Learning Styles” isn’t one of them. However, there is still some value in looking at the learning styles approach as we develop instructional materials. We do know that the introduction of novelty can create a spike in learner attention and, it seams to reason that would support learner retention. Dual encoding of information also helps reinforce concepts so a learner has more than one way to “access” the information on recall (see Ruth Clark’s work). So, while I wouldn’t say Learning Styles are a particularly good foundation for instructional materials development, understanding Gardner’s work can help us create learning experiences that have variety and texture.

  14. John Tiller

    Admittedly there are differences in how a student or teacher approaches content to be learned. For me the content to be mastered is the larger objective than the approach. If either is only committed to “learning my way” or “teaching my way” then dullness is sure to follow. Both students and teachers must learn the skills of FLEX to a secondary approach when the preferred is thwarted.

    The new emphases coming with the common core state standards for K-12 embraces multiple approaches to solving problems, especially in mathematics. For me the best learning/teaching style is FLEXIBILTY on the way to mastering CONTENT.

  15. K Colleen

    These learning styles theories have been debunked for awhile, though youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sIv9rz2NTUk

    and danielwillingham.com/learning-styles-faq.html

    • Patricia A Machun

      Ruth Clark has it spot on….not learning styles, but learning preferences. When designing training, key is to determine if the learner is a novice, with no schema or experience in the subject, OR, does the learner have existing knowledge on which to add.

      I have read numerous articles or books (including Ms. Clark’s) pointing out no real scientific evidence supporting the learner’s style.

    • linda smith

      everyone has a different yet unique learning style. i get distracted easily so i must
      pay close attention when anyone is talking to me or giving me really important directions.
      i also learn best when a person or people are patient and kind.

  16. Karen

    Learning styles was the “method du jour” a few years ago, and while its still relevant, it simply doesn’t matter that much anymore. People certainly do have preferences, and learn better in certain ways, but we are an adaptable species & regardless of “preferences,” we can learn in a variety of ways. Client companies really do not have the resources to do a lot of analysis about the learning styles of their prospective audience, or worry about which style works for whom, and in my experience, don’t unless the audience is fairly homogenous. As an eLearning designer for many years, I have found that the best path is to build in a variety of activities that engage the audience in different ways and for different goals, rather than trying to tailor something specifically to one style or another.

  17. Sam

    Barbara Soloman and Richard Felder created a questionnaire that helps folks identify their learning preferences. I agree with Karen that training needs to be designed with variety and not targeted to any one preference. This survey below has been used with school students and teachers report that students gain a better understanding of themselves after taking it. A common response is “Yes, I am like that!”. Maybe the concept of learning preferences is of more use to learners than it is to instructional designers.

    mylearningstyle.info

  18. Debunking the myth of Learning Styles
    http://elearningindustry.com/the-myth-of-learning-styles

    There is no convincing evidence to prove that when an instructor changes the presentation mode of his course to match the learning style of his students actually helps them learn.

    There is no “better” or “faster” learning as an outcome of implementing individual preferences into a course. It’s just a style that ultimately makes no difference in learning.

    Instructors should not just take under consideration the learning styles of their students, but also their background and interests.

    Content is the parameter that should directly affect the mode of presentation and not the learning style of the students.

    It’s definitely more efficient to create a course based on the motivational characteristics of the students and not their learning styles, and always be ready to adjust the learning methods and techniques and engage multiple senses rather than just one.

    Perceptual learning has to do with senses and there is nothing restrictive about that. It doesn’t prove that someone is a specific type of learner. It merely suggests that people have preferred learning styles.

    Not all learning happens the same way and nor should teaching. What’s crucial is to decide which techniques are best for which learning outcomes and not about customizing a course based on learning styles.

    We mostly think of learning styles as de facto, without questioning their true value, purpose and relevance. And the truth is that according to recent research conducted by major US universities there is no correlation between learning styles and successful learning.

    Resources

    Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D. and Bjork, R. (2010) Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9, pp. 105-119.
    Dembo, Myron H.; Howard, Keith. (2007) Advice about the Use of Learning Styles: A Major Myth in Education. Journal of College Reading and Learning.
    Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success, Random House, New York, NY.
    Roediger, H. L. and Karpicke, J. D. (2006) The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science 1, pp. 181-210.
    Kratzig, G.P. and Arbuthnott, K.D. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of the hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 238-246.

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