Learning Styles


Me at my office desk when I worked in Human Resources

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