Teaching and Learning Resources

Learning Styles

A learning style or learning preference refers to the way one tends to learn best. It identifies the preferred method(s) of taking in, organizing, and making sense of information. While no one has a completely static learning style, it is useful to recognize the different learning styles that students prefer. 

Individuals are often categorized into three main learning styles:

  1. Visual Learners learn new skills by seeing and learn new information best through visuals. Using diagrams and other visual methods of learning are recommended for these types of learners. How can an instructor support visual learners? The use of hand-outs, charts and visual information, such as the use of power points in class will support the visual learner in  more easily absorbing the information.
  2. Auditory Learners learn best through the use of verbal communication and lectures. Information presented through written works often does not make sense until it has been heard. There are many things that auditory learners listen for while they are learning a new skill. They listen for the tone of voice, the pitch within the voice and even the speed of the person that is teaching the new skill or information. All of this information that has been interpreted is then used when learning.
    How can an instructor support auditory learners? The creation of recordings of the information such as podcasts allows them to playback and repeat things aloud.
  3. Tactile Learners or “kinesthetic” learners learn better when they can take a hands-on approach. Tactile learners sometimes have a shorter attention span which can make it difficult to learn new skills unless a hands-on approach is taken.
    How can an instructor support tactile learners? The use of experiments, trial and error
    exercises as well as active learning techniques are useful strategies for these learners.

The benefits of thinking about and understanding your student’s learning preferences as well as having students understand their own particular learning styles include the following:

  • students learn most effectively when teaching strategies are closely matched with their preferred learning style
  • learning is often improved when one knows what their strengths are and have the opportunity to do more of what they are good at
  • learning is often improved when one knows what their challenges are and having the opportunity to enhance their skills in these areas
  • different situations and learning environments require different learning strategies, so it's best to have a large repertoire from which to draw

Further information on types of learning styles and how to incorporate these into your teaching can be found below.
See also Learning Approaches and Kolb’s Learning Styles.

Related Resources

The Learning Styles guide from he University of Guelph provides a brief introduction and overview of issues and concerns to be considered when exploring the use of learning styles to inform teaching strategies.

A brief description of each of Kolb’s learning style can be found at changingminds.org.

The VARK Questionnaire is a guide to understanding visual, aural, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning preferences.