Learning styles are approaches to teaching and learning that presume that the learner has a way of learning that is dominant. The purpose of identifying learning styles is to couple a method of instruction with the assumption of how the learner will learn best. There are many scholarly papers available that try to categorize and analyze learning styles. The most basic, the VAK model, breaks learning styles down into three categories: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The VAK model is a shortened version of the VAKOG model which is fashioned after the five senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory.
The foundation of all these derivatives of learning style models is NLP or neuro- linguistic programming which has its foundations in the work of Milton Erickson and later Richard Bandler and John Grinder. It was NLP that gave us the VAK model. NLP indicates that experience is subjective. Your experience is influenced by the way you take information in, mainly through your senses, and this sensory intake influences cognitive processing.
Education in the post-industrial era has been dominated by orderly, sequential, verbal and mathematical left brain tasks. Visual-spatial and nonverbal cognitive activities are usually right-brained. That is why so many of you have had difficulty in a traditional educational setting. Learning style is a person’s “consistent and characteristic predisposition to perceiving, remembering, organizing, processing thinking and problem solving (Liu & Ginther as cited in Stokes, p.11).”
The jury is still out on the true implications of learning styles theories and the effect on your ability to learn. Many neuroscientists and educational psychologists put little credence in the theory of learning styles. Much of the work that has been done trying to match learning styles to instructional materials and learning outcomes has been conducted on children. In the world of definitive experimental and double-blind peer reviewed research, there is little so far to prove much validity of the impact of learning styles on actual learning. However, very much like in the area of conation, you have a tendency to know what works best for you because you feel it inside. You intuitively know how information enters your mind.
Maybe you are being desensitized to visuals? There is widespread use in our culture of visual images via, TV, the Internet and now the mobile device and/or cell phone. Perhaps this is all happening in response to a demand for information based on the way people want to receive it. Most of you are first and foremost attracted to visuals. You pay attention to visuals.
Many of you, if not most of you (the number that is often given as about 85%), are predominantly visual learners. What that means is the principal way you take information into your brain is in the form of visual images. It doesn’t mean you do not take it in other ways also. Of course, to what degree and to what extent this happens is an individual thing. We are not all built the same way; indeed, we are all quite unique, but nonetheless, many of us take in information in a way that is predominantly visual.
The more you read, the more conflicting information you will receive regarding what might indicate that you are a visual learner. Some sources will tell you visual learners are great at spelling. Some will tell you that writing is a two-stage process that goes from visual to auditory and then from auditory to visual, so most predominantly visual learners are not great at spelling! Now which way is it? That depends on whose research you are citing! The purpose of this book is not to argue for or against exact numbers or research concerning visual learning. If you are a visual learner, you probably already know that you are. If you are not sure, the quiz at the end of the chapter may give you some indication. There is also a little quiz just for fun in the back of the book.
One learning style that is often confusing is kinesthetic learning. A current trend in training and learning states that “you learn by doing” or experience. I always have folks telling me they are sure they are kinesthetic learners when, in fact, I doubt it. Kinesthetic learning refers to propreception or the ability for the mind to provide the body and the body to provide the mind with information about the relative position of parts of the body. This is often tested by asking a person to put their arms out and touch their nose. Although touch and propreception are related in some way, neither one of these is the same as the current notion of learning by doing which clearly has all the senses as a part of it.
Our senses are our physiological connection to sensory perception which is usually considered to be housed in the cortex of our brains. The definition of what constitutes a sense is varied. Generally though, the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and the study of perception are interested in the senses. It is no wonder, then, that we are interested in the senses in our never-ending quest to figure out exactly how people learn, which of course no one can agree upon.
One of the great “ah ha” moments for me was when I was first leaning about these kinds of issues. I was walking my dog, Max, in the local park near my home. I had never really given much thought to how I learned; I just always knew I liked to learn. I also knew that my children had been telling me for years that I did not listen. So, of course, being the good mother that I am, I just ignored them. Then one sunny afternoon Max and I were in the park, and I was listening to an audio book on the iPod as we made our way around the walking trails. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I was not listening—I was not listening at all. I was having an entire conversation with myself instead. It occurred to me how often I did this. Then I began to realize just how often I really did do this. In the middle of conversation I would be thinking of something altogether different and talking to myself about it. I was not listening. When I was sitting in class supposedly listening to the teacher, I was also having a conversation. I was not listening. When I was writing things down or drawing pictures, those activities helped me to focus my attention. When I was just listening, my mind began to wander. No wonder I made lists of everything. I had Post- It notes everywhere. Now things were starting to make some sense whereas they had not before. If I wanted to remember it, I had to see it!
You Might Be a Visual Learner If:
- You write everything down when you are listening to a lecture or a speaker.
- You have endless to-do lists.
- You have Post-it notes everywhere.
- You remember what people are wearing or wore in the past.
- You remember faces but not names.
- You like charts, graphs and graphic representations.
- You remember the setting more than the plot.
- Spelling is not your strong point.
- You have a conversation with yourself rather than listening to another.
- You copy things over from one place to another.
- You like to transcribe your notes.
- You have a whiteboard and a chalkboard handy.
- You like to doodle.
- You like math.
- You know the color of your friend’s eyes.
- You can tell a story and describe the scene in great detail.
- You are affected by subtle changes in lighting.
- You could not live without your PDA, personal calendar or appointment book.
- You create mind maps, flow charts, and graphic representations easily.
- You learn to do a physical task like hitting a tennis ball best if someone shows it to you first.
Give yourself a point for each one that applies to you. If you scored better than 10, you just might be a visual learner.
If you want to take an additional VAK quiz just for fun, you can find one in the back of the book. My guess is that you already know you are a visual learner.