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Learning styles2

We each learn and process information in different ways. You probably didn't realize this earlier
because most of us attended schools where teachers delivered instruction in one way. Most
teachers talked to us, and we answered their questions. We then took pencil- and paper-based
tests. Schools taught one way and didn't help or encourage us to learn our unique styles.
There are many different ways to classify learning styles. These fall into general categories:
perceptual modality, information processing, and personality patterns. The categories
represent ways to focus on the learner.
Perceptual modalities define biologically based reactions to our physical environment and
represent the way we most efficiently adopt data. We should learn our perception style so we
can seek out information in the format that we process most directly. Educators should pay
attention to modalities to ensure programs strike all physiologic levels.
Information processing distinguishes between the way we sense, think, solve problems, and
remember information. Each of us has a preferred, consistent, distinct way of perceiving,
organizing, and retaining information.
Personality patterns focus on attention, emotion, and values. Studying these differences
allows us to predict the way we will react and feel about different situations.
We will spend our time here on perceptual modalities because it has the most implications in

Perceptual Modality

Perceptual modality refers to the primary way our bodies take in information. Commonly,
researchers identify auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile styles. The field of accelerated
learning also relies heavily on modality to explain how learners can process information faster.
Howard Gardner established another way of grouping modalities. He asserts there are at least
seven modalities or intelligences that link to our individual styles.
Gardner suggests humans can be (1) verbal-linguistic (sensitive to the meaning and order of
words), (2) musical (sensitive to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone), (3) logical-mathematical
(able to handle chains of reasoning and recognize patterns and order), (4) spatial (perceive the
world accurately and try to re-create or transform aspects of that world), (5) bodily-kinesthetic
(able to use the body skillfully and handle objects adroitly), (6) interpersonal (understand
people and relationships), or (7) intrapersonal (possess access to one's emotional life as a
means to understand oneself and others).
While Gardner's work encourages us to think about modality in new and creative ways, a solid
grasp of the core modalities applies immediately to everything we do.
Most people retain a dominant and an auxiliary learning modality. We usually rely on those
modes to process information at an unconscious level, but we may be consciously aware of
which modes we prefer. We access through all senses, but generally favor one. We process
visually (by sight), auditorally (by sound), kinesthetically (by moving), and tactilly (by touch).
Visual learners prefer seeing what they are learning. Pictures and images help them
understand ideas and information better than explanations. A drawing may help more than a
discussion about the same. When someone explains something to a visual learner, he or she
may create a mental picture of what the person talking describes.
If you are a visual learner, you may find it helpful to see the person speaking. You may watch a
speaker talk, as well as listen to what he or she says.

Many people assume reading is a visual action. Though we see the words, most of us process
the information by hearing ourselves say the words. As a result, researchers identify people
who prefer to process by reading, auditory learners. Others label the readers 'Print-oriented,'
aligning them closely with visual learners. Visual learners are more shape- and form-oriented.
Print-oriented people depend more on words or numbers in their images.
Auditory learners also fall into two categories. Auditory learners prefer spoken messages. The
less understood auditory learners need to hear their own voice to process the information. The
more prevalent type, 'Listeners,' most likely did well in school. Out of school too, they
remember things said to them and make the information their own. They may even carry on
mental dialogues and determine how to continue by thinking back on the words of others.
Conversely, those who need to 'talk it out' often find themselves talking to those around them.
In a class setting when the instructor is not asking questions, auditory-verbal processors
(talkers) tend to mutter comments to themselves. They are not trying to be disruptive and
may not even realize they need to talk. Some researchers go so far as to call these learners
While some auditory learners prefer to listen to both themselves and others, mounting
evidence suggests the two types are distinct and separate.
Kinesthetic learners want to sense the position and movement of what they are working on.
Tactile learners want to touch. "Enough talking and looking," they may say. "Let's work with
this stuff. Let's get our hands dirty already." Even if kinesthetic or tactile learners don't get
much from the discussion or the written materials, they may catch up and exceed the lesson
plan by working through scenarios and labs. Often, they don't thrive in traditional schools
because most classrooms don't offer enough opportunity to move or touch.
Most assessments group kinesthetic and tactile styles together, though they mean different
things. Their similarity is that both types perceive information through nerve ends in the skin,
as well as organs through muscles, tendons, and joints.
We can sometimes sense the way people process by listening to the words they use to describe
learning situations. For example, a visual learner may say, "I see your point." An auditory
learner may instead say, "I hear what you're saying." And a kinesthetic learner may say, "I feel
we're moving in the right direction."
Studies show that single-style classes (where modality indicators segregate a group) can be
more effective than classes with diverse-style learners. The non-homogenous approach,
however, seems impractical and doesn't lend itself to the various challenges learners face each
Likewise, learners can compensate when the instructional medium doesn't match individual
style. Kinesthetic learners may benefit from reading and auditory learners can improve their
understanding by touching what they are working on. Possessing various compensating
strategies allows us to benefit under all circumstances.
As learners, the most important thing we can gather from processing styles is to know our own
physiologic preferences and choose instructional media accordingly when possible.
Further, educators and instructional designers need to build courses and programs that address
multiple learning styles. Instead of using, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto
you," as the Golden Rule of training, it may be more appropriate to say, "Present information
to others as they will best learn."


Howard Gardner (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intellegences (10th anneversary edition). New York:
Basic Books.


Leslie Shelton, Joan Sheldon Conan, and Holly Fulghum-Nutters (1992). Honoring diversity: A Multidimensional
Learning Model for Adults. Sacramento, CA: California State Library Foundation.


Shelton, et al. (1992).

Bob Zenhausern, at the University of St. Johns, is a leading researcher in this field.
J. Ingham, R. Dunn, L. Deckinger, and G. Geisert (19951996). Impact of perceptual preferences on adults'
corporate training and achievement. National Forum on Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 12 (2).

Books on Learning Styles

Adult Education: Evolution and Achievements in a Developing Field of Study. John M. Peters,
Peter Jarvis & Assoc., 1991. <out of print>
Adult Education in a Multicultural Society. Beverly B. Cassara (ed). 1994.
The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development
Malcolm S. Knowles, et al Gulf Pub Co. Hardcover 5th edition. August 1998.
Adult Literacy and New Technologies: Tools for a Lifetime, Office of Technology Assessment US
Congress, 1993. <out of print>
Adults as Learners: Increasing Participation and Facilitating Learning. K. Patricia Cross, 1982.
Paperback. Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Barsch Learning Style Inventory. Jeffrey Barsch. 1980.
The Book of Learning and Forgetting Frank Smith
Brainstyles: Change Your Life Without Changing Who You Are. Marlane Miller. 1997.
Cognitive Style: Five Approaches and Relevant Research. Kenneth M. Goldstein. 1978.
Cognitive Styles and Classroom Learning. Harry Morgan. 1997.
Cognitive Styles and Learning Strategies. Rayner. 1998.
Cognitive Styles: A Primer to the Literature. Robert M. Hashway. 1992
The Complete Guide to the Learning Styles Inservice System Rita Stafford Dunn, Kenneth J.
The Emergence of Learning Societies: Who Participates in Adult Learning?
Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn. Raymond J. Wlodkowski. Updated, 1998.
Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education:, Sharan B. Merriam & Phyllis M. Cunningham,
editors, 1989.
Handbook of Individual Differences. Learning. and Instruction. David H. Jonassen, Barbara L.
Grabowski. 1993.
Helping Adults Learn, Alan B. Knox, 1986.
Helping Adults Learn How to Learn Robert M. Smith, Paperback. 1983. Jossey-Bass. [This book
is out of print, but worth watching for at used bookstores.]
How Adults Learn, J.R. Kidd, 1978.
How to Implement and Supervise a Learning Style Program Rita Dunn. 1996.
The Importance of Learning Styles: Understanding the Implications for Learning. Course
Design. and Education. Contributions to the Study of Education. Ronald R. Sims, Serbrenia J.
Sims (ed). 1995.
Individual Learners: Personality Differences in Education. W. Ray Crozier. 1997.
Inquiring Mind Cyril O. Houle
Keys to Effective Learning. Carol Carter. et al. 1998.
Learning How to Learn: Applied Theory for Adults, Robert M. Smith, 1982. <This book is out of
print but you can request a search from If you see a copy at a used books shop,
grab it!> You might want to check out Smith's other book Helping Adults Learn How to Learn.
Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide (2nd ed). Sharan B. Merriam, Rosemary S.
Caffarella. Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Learning to Learn Carolyn Olivier.
Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Learning.
Learning and Teaching Style: In Theory and Practice. Kathleen A. Butler. 1988.
Learning Strategies and Learning Styles. Perspectives on Individual Differences. Ronald R.
Schmeck (ed). 1988.
Learning Style Identification Handbook. With Forms. Paul J. Malcom. 1981.
Learning Style Profile Technical Manual. James W. Keefe. 1988.
Learning Style Theory and Practice. James W. Keefe. 1987.
The Making of an Adult Educator. Malcolm S. Knowles. 1989.
The Making of Mind. A.R. Luria
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Oliver Sacks.
Mastering the Teaching of Adults. Jerold W. Apps, 1991.
The Mind of a Mnemonist. This is the book that inspired Oliver Sacks' writing.

The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, Malcolm S. Knowles,
Modes of Thought: Explorations in Culture and Cognition. David R. Olson, Nancy Torrance
(eds). 1996.
Nurturing Intelligences. Brian Haggerty. 1994.
Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles. Robert J. Sternberg, Li-Fang Zhang
(eds). New!
Profiling and Utilizing Learning Style. James W. Keefe (ed). 1988.
Profiling and Utilizing Learning Style. James W. Keefe (ed). 1988.
The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. Sharan B. Merriam, Ralph G.
Brockett (Contributor) Jossey-Bass. 1996
Self-Directed Learning: A Practical Guide to Design, Development, and Implementation.
George M. Piskurich. Jossey Bass, 1993.
Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger.
A Teacher's Guide to Cognitive Type Theory & Learning Style. Carolyn Mamchur. 1996.
Teaching & Learning Through Multiple Intelligences. Bruce Campbell, Dee Dickinson, Linda E.
G. Campbell. 1996.
Thinking Styles. Robert J. Sternberg. 1997.
Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and
Effective Practices. Stephen D. Brookfield, 1991 reprint. Jossey-Bass.
Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation
Articles about Learning Styles
The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is a federally-funded national
information system that provides services and products on a broad range of education-related
issues. Copies of their articles can be ordered through You'll need
the specific document number (for example, ED302280) to order reports and articles.
Applying Learning Styles Research To Improve Writing Processes. Nathan B. Jones. ED400719
Learning Style: Cognitive and Thinking Skills. Instructional Leadership Series. James W. Keefe.
Learning Styles and the Classroom. Arthur J. More. ED368479
Learning Styles Counseling. Shirley A. Griggs. ED333308
Learning Styles. Charles S. Claxton, Patricia H. Murrell. ED301143
Learning Styles. ED323249
Learning Styles. What Research Says to the Teacher Series. Judith C. Reiff. ED340506
Learning Styles: A Review of the Literature. Linda J. Swanson. ED387067
Learning Styles: Implications for Curriculum and Instruction. Harley J. Ast. ED302280
Report of the New York State Board of Regents' Panel on Learning Styles. ED348407
The Importance of Learning Styles: Understanding the Implications for Learning. Course
Design. and Education. Contributions to the Study of Education. No. 64. Ronald R. Sims,
Serbrenia J. Sims (ed). ED386130