Learning Styles

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What are learning styles?

There are lots of different ways that children learn new information. 

Reading a book, listening to a teacher or watching TV are a few examples of how they get new information and store it in their memories for using later. 

Quite often children might choose a particular way that they enjoy learning because of habit, personality, what they’ve been taught to do or what comes most naturally. All children have a mix of ways that they prefer to learn. 

These choices are known as ‘learning styles.’ 

A popular theory is the VARK learning model. The learning styles in this model are Visual, Read/write, Auditory and Kinaesthetic. You may have heard of some of these. 

Actually, there are lots more models, but these are the most common ones that your child might be tested for.

Visual Learners may prefer to use pictures, diagrams, graphs and maps to get information. They also like information displayed in posters and slide presentations.  

Read/write learners. These children find written words in a book or making notes a good way to learn. Lists, colour coding and highlighting help read/write learners as well as re-writing material over and over again.

Auditory learners. Your child might be an auditory learner, which means that they find talking out loud to themselves or others works well as, does listening to audio books or lectures. Noise while they work might be distracting but they may like to use music to help remember information.

How do you work out your child’s learning style?

Your child will complete a questionnaire and a score is given based on their answers. There may be between 10 to 40 questions depending on who has designed the test. There have been lots of different questionnaires created by different researchers over the years. You can find the VARK questionnaire online. If your child has an assessment from school or their tutor, it is likely that it is an assessment from the internet or one that has been written by the school. 

The scores will most likely show a preference for one or more types of learning.

Are using ‘learning styles’ useful?

The idea of learning styles has been around for a very long time. In that time, they have gone in and out of fashion. At the moment current educators don’t think that it is useful testing learning styles in children because there is not enough scientific evidence to support it’s use. 

Educators would like to see research that shows that the tests are reliable this means that they give the same results each time a child is tested, and this is not always the case. What seems to happen is that the results can be different for the same child tested at different times. 

Supporters of learning styles testing argue that the tests should be used several times over a child’s learning journey. They agree that learning styles will likely change, and the differences seen in the results are because the child has changed, not because the test is not reliable. 

The other bit of evidence that educators are interested in is the validity of a test. This means the test is testing the actual thing that it is looking for. So, this means that when your child takes the test to find out their learning styles instead of checking for learning styles the test is picking up on a child’s interest in a subject or how sociable they are. For example, if a child learns best by read/write but they have come out as auditory learners it might be because they think group activities where they get to talk to their friends are more fun, so will mark this as a preference. 

The learning style assessments have low validity, especially in children as the tests were mostly designed to look at how adults learn rather than children, so it is hard to say how useful they are in children. 

Because the evidence is not strong, educators are not able to support the use of learning styles fully, but a lot of educators have seen, through their own experiences, how testing for learning styles can be useful. It is important to know, that it can be hard to get good evidence for psychological interventions. 

Until then, there can be a lot to gain by thinking about learning styles and how you can help your child to learn. 

Understanding that children learn in lots of different ways has meant that teachers in schools can plan lessons which take into consideration all learning styles. A single lesson could start with the teacher talking whilst using a whiteboard. Then the children use worksheets followed by a practical activity at the end. 

Testing your child in school, might also help the teacher understand your child’s learning needs better. 

Can I use a learning styles test to help my child with their learning?

Yes, knowing your child’s learning styles can help you and your child plan their learning and look for different ways to store and remember information. 

Help your child work to their strengths

Learning styles might tell you what works best for your child or what they find easiest at the moment. You might give them the opportunity to use this learning style as often as possible. For example, if they like talking through their work to learn, listen to them or pair them up with a friend to go through the work. If they enjoy learning by doing, let them create models, use manipulatives or stand up while they problem solve. Encouraging them to work in their preferred style is more likely to motivate them to learn. But be aware that labelling a child as a particular type of learner may put them off trying things that don’t fit their preferences.

Help your child work on their weaknesses

Having a preference does not always mean that using this learning style will help your child to learn faster or get the best test scores. Your child will need to learn different ways to get information, even if these don’t suit their learning styles. You might be able to help them with less preferred learning styles by practising these from time to time. For example, if they are not confident visual learners, encourage them to read the charts and diagrams in a piece of work before looking at the text. Or you might ask your read/write learner to watch a video and remember what they heard. They may find that they are better at this than they first thought.

Help them look for new ways to learn

Knowing that there are lots of different ways to learn can help you and your child come up with a different way to approach a topic or piece of work that they are struggling with. For example, if flashcards don’t work for learning times tables, you might suggest listening to a times table song from the internet. Or if a written maths problem is hard to understand, ask your child to draw it out. Your child might be surprised with what works when they try different ways of learning the same information. 

Help them to think about their learning. 

The most useful part of doing a learning styles assessment is helping your child understand themselves better. It is a helpful way to start a conversation about learning with your child and to help them to become independent learners. 

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