It's no secret that my Italian is pants. You will often hear me trying to explain to folk that I have real trouble learning languages based on dialogue, and more often than not, those folks see it as an excuse or a lack of effort or interest. The truth is, is that it's none of things. We'll, ok, there's apathy. Apathy that's born from so many attempts over the last 30 years to try and learn and getting nowhere. After that much failure, you'd be inclined not to bother, too. 

When I did my teaching post grad, as well as specialising in our subject (for me: Art & Design) we were also required to write a short paper on one other area of education. Some folk chose learning difficulties, some chose counselling or the pastoral side, and I chose multiple intelligences and learning styles. How people learn fascinates me, and I wanted to know why I struggled with certain subjects.

Back then, learning styles weren't widely accepted, and it was kinda revolutionary. The kids that couldn't stay in their seat for more than 67 seconds or the kids who lost focus after 91 seconds were no longer seen as disruptive or daydreamers. Instead we learned how to make learning more accessible. 

These days, learning styles are now widely accepted and education is trying to be more inclusive. I gather from my rants on Twitter on the subject that many folk now know their learning skills, but for those of you who don't, here's a brief rundown. There is so, so much available out there on this, and there is so much more to it than I could fit in one blog post, but it will give you an idea of not only how you learn, but how you can teach. 


Visual Learners
These learners are the most common, making up somewhere around 70% of the population, depending on the demographic. They are people who learn by seeing, watching. They are stimulated by colour and images. They're probably pretty good at reading, and may enjoy graphs or mindmaps or other such visual aids for representing information. Most methods of teaching lean this way (handouts, textbooks, blackboards etc) and in most subjects, visual learners fair relatively well.

Ever wondered why advertising campaigns with pretty pictures and grabbing visuals do so well? This is why: most people connect with visuals. Even if we're not primarily visual learners, most of us have a good visual learning skill. We can all be seduced by beautiful photographs or well presented books. 

Auditory Learners
This is the 2nd most common learning style, making up roughly 20% of the population. Auditory learners absorb information by listening. They'll be good at languages, excel at speaking fluently and confidently. If they are presented with visual information alone (for example, a private study reading from a book) they may struggle. They'll probably be pretty good at music, too, and may study better with music playing in the background.

Kinesthetic Learners
This is the least common style of learning, and describes less than 10% of the population. These learners need active involvement, they need to be doing to learn. They'll excel at practical subjects, such as sports or art or D&T, depending on which other learning skills they have. They are the least catered for learners, and they are the hardest people to teach. They don't cope well with reading or listening alone, and will want to practice what they learn, and put it into context by doing it. They tend to fidget, not simply through boredom, but because it is believed that moving helps the process of information.


None of us are purely one type of learner or the other. We will all have a primary learning skill and a secondary learning skill. A few rare people may find they're a fairly equal mix of the 3. There seem to be many tests online that help you determine which type of learner you are, and it can help you a great deal in understanding why some things work better than others for you. The last time I was tested, I was found to be 57% kinesthetic, 38% visual and 5% auditory. Which explains why I totally suck at learning (linguistic) languages.

I'm currently going to Italian classes twice a week and already it's a struggle. The primary teaching skill is auditory, which is wasted on me, and probably much of the class. Last night I nearly walked out, as the first part of the lesson was linguistic only and they kept picking on me to respond - I didn't have the foggiest what they were saying or asking of me, and I wanted to scream at them! Oddly though, once they moved onto the spelling round, where they repeated a word slowly and clearly, I was able to visualise it and write it down it. I got this part 75% correct, even though I didn't know what most of the words meant...

When I was at school, languages weren't compulsory at options time. French was taught at ages 11-14, and if you did well at the end of the 3rd year, you may be allowed to take Spanish or German as an option (in the UK system, subjects are opted out of at age 14, to focus on exam subjects). I was told not to bother taking any languages at exam level because I'd fail and it would be a waste of an O-level.

Another example - I've said before that I'm not keen on videos for demonstrating tutorials. This is very much about accessibility and not everyone (including ourselves) having an internet connection that can cope with streaming videos. If something can be downloaded as a PDF, folks can still use it when they're offline, and on whatever operating system they have. But it's not just that: the voice over, the spoken aspect of a video, causes me to glaze over. I don't hear what they're saying and what they demonstrate isn't enough by itself. If I can't have an instructor infront of me, guiding me as I attempt a new skill myself, then I want it all written down clearly so my visual learning skill can kick in fully. Lessons (which includes tutorials) that are primarily visual will reach more people.

How about telling the time? I can never seem to get into the habit of wearing a watch. I did when I was teaching full time and suspect there's some psychological reason for not being able to now (!) Whenever I ask the time, if someone tells it to me, it means nothing - it goes in one ear and out of the other. I need to see it. And even then, I may look several times before it sinks in.

Knowing about learning styles can help us in many ways beyond knowing how we learn. Yep, most of us are stimulated by visuals, but in the same vein, visuals can be a distraction, too. If you're presenting something, whether it be a website or portfolio or a document or an exhibition, keep it simple. To much clutter or bright colours distracts the viewer from what you're trying to communicate. 70% of your viewers are going to understand what you're trying to say by looking at it - don't give them too many other things to look at, or else they won't notice what you really want them to notice.

That saying about plenty of white space? There's a lot to it. When I was teaching full time, one of my responsibilities within the Art department was to liaise with the SEN department, so we could improve our delivery and cater to all students. There I learnt the real value of white space and good contrast. A page with too many visuals or too many colours or a lack of contrast can confuse even the best of visual learners, and if they struggle, there isn't much hope for the rest of us.

AuthorWoolly Wormhead