For those of us in the education field (well, you’re in the education field, too, but from another side), there’s been a lot of talk over the years about learning styles.  Most of this talk originates with the landmark study from 1999, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School.  That study drew heavily on Howard Gardner’s earlier (1983) work on Multiple Intelligences, and it served an important purpose because (at least to some extent) there was a prevailing view that everyone could, or should, learn in pretty much the same way.  If students weren’t learning in the style that was taught, it was because they were just not very capable of learning (I’m doing some exaggerating here).

We’ve come a long distance since then, and it has pretty much become part of accepted common sense that different people learn in different ways, and that teaching should work to support those different styles.  And those styles have become codified, and in fact turned into a bit of an industry, which classes students into their various learning styles, and prescribes teaching techniques to help meet those styles.

The definitions of the specific styles vary somewhat, but the general outline that is used most often defines these seven styles (sometimes the names vary, sometimes there are less than seven):

  • Visual (spatial). You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical). You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic). You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic). You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical). You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal). You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal). You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

You can find all kinds of graphs and charts on the web about how these relate, and what teachers can do to help determine which styles their students are using and how to help them.  If a student is an aural learner, you’d better not try to get him to understand a text by reading it silently! Students who are social learners should be working in groups, and if they’re physical, too, it’s a good idea to have them moving around the room or manipulating objects.

You can even find some tests or quizzes online which let you determine your own learning style.  Now, I think that these are not very useful for any real analysis (for that you need to have a real study with interviews and multiple evidence, not just a few questions on a website).  But they can be a bit funny and entertaining (like those facebook quizzes: “What kind of underwear are you?” or “What Hollywood movie is most like your life?”).  There’s one fairly good one here, but they are all over the web (be cautious–some of them will want you to enter your email address, and send you plenty of spam afterwards).

But when I tried one of these recently, I got these scores (out of a possible score of 20 for each):

  • Visual 3
  • Social 0
  • Physical 3
  • Aural 1
  • Verbal 1
  • Solitary 3
  • Logical 3

I seem to be a little bit of everything (except social) but not much of anything (remember, 20 would be considered a high score on this scale–I didn’t score over 3 on any category).

I think, really, that these learning styles might be present in everyone all the time, and it’s a matter of degree, or individual context, or even time of day or season of the year, rather than being real permanent or definitive traits.  Sometimes, in fact, I’m social and want to be with other people when I’m learning.  Sometimes I like to dance or whistle or sing while I’m studying, while other times I like to learn by sitting and thinking quietly–or thinking while I drive or work on restoring an antique radio.

What about you? Do you have a learning style that is singular? Or multiple styles? And…can you connect this to culture(s)?  And is/are there (a) teaching style(s) to connect to your learning style(s) (those parentheses and slashes do get awkward, don’t they? :-)).