Learning Styles

In years gone by, before I became a mother and chose to stay at home with my children, I was a Human Resources professional. In fact I still dabble in that role on an unpaid basis now, but that’s for a different post!

One thing that was regularly at the centre of my work was a keen interest in different learning styles. The way that two people can approach the same subject and absorb the information in entirely separate ways. Accordingly I adapted training sessions, presentations, team building activities, and even considered this when policy writing. It was motivational to me to engage all my audience, not just the ones who would happily sit through ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ presentations, or group umpteen post it notes on the walls, and I was always satisfied with the positive feedback that I would receive because of this.

It made sense, therefore, in my brain, that formal learning for my children would follow a similar pattern. That someone sensible at the Department for Education would feel the same way, and that our curriculum would be delivered in a manner which would accommodate these different learning styles. I know that both my parents (now retired school teachers) were always interested in this and keen to bring the syllabus to life for all of their students. So it makes me somewhat sad, but mostly very cross, that there isn’t more allowance in the current curriculum to cater for all. That teachers, in a professional that is regularly being stretched in all directions whilst facing budget cuts (despite doing one of the most important jobs in the country), are put in a position where they are encouraged to steer pupils towards achieving set targets which should be demonstrated in a very restrictive manner.  That rather than reaching their potential through their own learning mechanisms, children are put under pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘achieve’ in one way or another that might be at complete odds with their natural preferences.

Take the VAK* (Visual-Auditory-Kinaesthetic) model of learning styles for example. Our middle son (4) is a kinaesthetic learner. So why should he have to sit down to learn his phonics in a very set manner, why can’t we act them out? As a matter of fact we are very lucky with his school and his class teacher is fantastic, but he was told by another teacher (fortunately not a member of staff at his school) that he shouldn’t refer to Letterland. Why? Because that system is out of date. Of course that raised my hackles. I will always use different methods of supporting my children with their learning, depending on their style preference, to try to ensure their engagement with and enjoyment of their work. There are some excellent teachers out there who I know share this view, but our curriculum seems so stifling it must be difficult for even the most creative to find common ground between the expectations of an overarching policy and the reality of a classroom with up to 30 individual personalities.

Now, I’m by no means perfect, but take my pocket money post as an example. We will apply the same method to Munch when he gets to an age where he starts to get pocket money, but he will be more likely to ‘earn’ it through making models or structures, because that’s what motivates him to want to know more. Whereas Chief (6) is loving reading and writing reviews because he is a visual learner.

So the point of my post? If your child is struggling to grasp a concept, try to turn it on its head and use a method that compliments their learning style to help them. If you’re not sure, ask for help from the teacher, but if you reach a dead end don’t give up. It’s time our children are afforded the same access to all avenues of learning that as adults, we expect.

Equally, apply the same principle to yourself. You can do it, whatever “it” might be. If you’re stuck, take a few steps back and look at it from a new angle. You’ll find your learning groove when you take some pressure off yourself.

What do you think? What learning styles do you have in your family and what is your preferred method of learning something new? Feel free to comment below.

*VAK is one system of defining learning styles but there are many alternatives. A general rule of thumb is that visual learners like to read or write; auditory learners like to be told or ask/ talk things through; and kinaesthetic learners like to do or figure it out by trial and error. Of course there is plenty of overlap and I believe that we can all study through many methods, even where we have a clearly defined preference, but that information is most likely to be absorbed in a select few ways.

This Mum's Life
12th February 2017


Interesting post which I agree with. It’s hard to know where changes need to be made in order to support teachers in accommodating different learning styles. I suspect some extra funding from central government wouldn’t go amiss. And support from the department for education in place of target setting and inspections.
I took a BTEC in education and training a couple of years ago, and the qualification was based around using teaching style to accommodate VAK learning styles. The BTEC is aimed for people who teach 16+ ages; for example, private tutoring, college tutoring, or taking adult learning classes. It was a very interesting course but the shame of it was that the tutors were pushing the message that this is how we should all be teaching. The reality when you get to the classroom is that there is so much pressure from all directions, and so little time to teach, the VAK system becomes impossible to implement.

I completely agree! Teachers have a really tough job and I take my hat off to them, it must be frustrating. It certainly astounds me that there is so much more understanding of accommodating different styles for adults / mature students, yet at school age there’s so much focus on sitting down and learning in a very formal manner, with heaps of testing from a young age to boot! Plus of course the removal/ reduction of coursework and controlled assesements at GCSE and A-level, and don’t get me started on budget cuts… 😉

I’m definitely a visual learner, preferring to read and write. I used to teach 7 to 8 year olds at church and always included activities to suit the different learning styles in each session, using drama, art, storytelling, dance etc. I quickly sussed out which children suited which type of activity. It’s fascinating stuff!

I’m a visual learner too Sandra! I love the challenge of thinking of ways to engage different learning styles. Your church classes sound like they captured that very well, I bet they were great fun!

I always try to engage all my pupils by using a variety of approaches. But the whole learning styles approach seems to have lost a bit of popularity in recent times. I do believe that learning styles can also change over time. My son is a very visual learner (autistic) I need to make mind maps for him to help him learn for tests at school, he finds it difficult to learn by reading the information. #BigPinkLink

Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree. I was called last year to help someone trying to engage their colleagues with a new IT system. Their ‘train the trainer’ programme had specifically told them to get users to use the system, but one of their peer group was a very visual learner and needed to watch a demonstration and take copious notes (which is how I learn too!). They hadn’t heard about altering their approach for different styles of learning. Fortunately I know of several companies who still hold this at the heart of all that they do with training their staff though. I also agree that children will change, and I don’t envy the role of any educator trying to navigate between individual learning preferences and the targets that are being set centrally, I imagine it is exceptionally difficult.

This is an excellent post. Yes, we are all different and learn differently, so kids will be no different. I have found that sometimes what works for one kid may not work for another and I just have to find something that helps each of them. I guess it is harder for the school system because they have to cater for masses of children. Thanks for linking with #bigpinklink

Thank you! Yes, it must be very hard for teachers. I alter the way we approach learning at home for our boys, that can be tricky some days and we only have three! From my perspective it would be nice if there was more acknowledgement centrally when targets are considered and set, and more support available for teachers who would like it.

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