What Are Learning Styles? And How To Use Them To Support Every Student


Why do some students learn best through presentations while others connect through hands-on activities? Why do some students want to listen while a concept is explained to them, while others prefer to study a diagram in silence? Educators understand that even when the learning objective is the same, students often take different paths to get there.

Every day, your students are demonstrating a preference for their learning style. So, what are these learning styles? We'll share everything you need to know about learning styles and how you can use them to support students.

The History of Learning Styles    

The concept of "learning style" was first recognized as early as 334 BC by Aristotle. Yes, that Aristotle, when he stated his belief that "each child possessed specific talents and skills." The idea has evolved ever since, with many researchers developing their own theories. 

In 1936, Jean Piaget theorized that cognitive development is universal across cultures. He believed a child’s development is influenced by how the child interacts with the environment, with his or her own independent experiences allowing the child to construct his or her own knowledge. Contrary to Piaget’s theories, in 1978, Lev Vygotsky put forward that a child’s development is influenced socially and culturally, with community playing the biggest role in a student’s ability to make meaning from things.

Then, in 1983, Howard Gardner revolutionized how we understand intelligence when he proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. He described seven different and distinctive learning styles into which he believes that students are categorized. Those seven are visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. 

Just four years later, in 1987, theorist Neil Fleming shared his slightly different thoughts regarding learning and learning styles. His theory came with an acronym, VARK, which stood for the four learning styles as he saw them. Those four are visual, aural, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. It was Fleming's VARK theory that would become the most widely adopted — with many states incorporating it into their curriculum and even licensure exams.

The Importance of Understanding Learning Styles   

The one thing that all of the learning style theorists agreed on was that learning styles were important for everyone to know. They believed that understanding and being comfortable with different learning styles, especially their own, would allow people to advocate for themselves to become successful lifelong learners. 

However, learning styles are important to no one more than they are to students and teachers.

When a student understands their own learning style, they have the ability to improve their learning experience. Or, if the student is at a young age, having a parent or teacher understand the student's learning style will give them that same advantage. This is because students who are taught using a method that aligns with their learning style tend to better understand the material and retain the information for a longer period of time. If a student is struggling with a concept, they can ask the teacher to explain it in a way that's suited to their learning style. Students can also adjust their study habits to match their learning styles to boost their learning outcomes. 

Teachers can benefit as well, both from knowing their own learning style and from knowing all the different learning styles their students may prefer. When teachers know their students' learning styles, they can plan their lessons to best suit their students. This will allow them to communicate concepts effectively, especially with students who are struggling to grasp lessons. Teachers do their jobs more efficiently, and students perform better. 

Exploring Different Types of Learning Styles    

It's a common belief that teachers and district leaders need to understand learning styles to offer a variety of options in the classroom and fully unlock each student’s full potential. Let's review a few of the most common types of learning styles and how teachers can connect with each. 

Visual learning

One of the most common learning style types is visual learners. Visual learners gravitate towards visual stimuli like videos and diagrams. To connect with these students, incorporate visual aids. You can also encourage more visual note-taking that includes charts or concept mapping. These learners may show strong spatial reasoning and naturally do well in subjects like geography or geometry.

Auditory learning

The next common learning style type is auditory learners. Auditory learners have an ear for new information. Discussion and verbal communication pave the path to understanding with these students. Include activities like debates and audio materials such as podcasts to reach them. These students may gravitate toward subjects like language arts and music.

Kinesthetic learners

Kinesthetic learners are the movers and shakers of the classroom. Students with this learning style engage best with physical learning. Role-playing scenarios or tactile exercises allow these students to quite literally grasp and experience the concepts. These learners may naturally do best in subjects like science and math. 

Multimodal learners

Above, we covered the three main cognitive learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. However, some students do their best work in environments where they can use a combination of learning styles. These students are known as multimodal learners.

A varied approach that includes multimedia, discussions, and movement will work best here.  Multimodal learners respond well to teaching methods that engage multiple sensory systems at the same time.

Why Is Incorporating Different Learning Styles Important?   

Taking the time to incorporate learning styles in the classroom helps educators create effective and inclusive education environments. Let's explore how this improves experiences for teachers and students alike.

Enhancing engagement and participation

Today's teachers are reporting increasing difficulty engaging students. And without genuine engagement, students often fall short of true, long-lasting learning.   

One of the best ways to increase engagement in the classroom is to tailor instruction to align with students' strengths through their learning styles. For example, consider kinesthetic learning. Giving your kinesthetic learners a role to play as part of your lesson can help them engage with, retain, and even enjoy the classroom material.

Maximizing learning outcomes

Embracing diverse learning styles also promotes deeper understanding and retention of course materials. For instance, visual learners may benefit from the use of visual aids such as diagrams and charts to reinforce concepts. Auditory learners may thrive in environments where information is shared through lectures or discussions. Classroom lessons, when delivered via preferred learning styles, are more sticky, leading to improved assessment results and enhanced performance in the long term.

Improving inclusivity 

Incorporating learning styles into teaching practices leads to greater inclusivity. It also celebrates the diversity of learners within the classroom. Recognizing and accommodating individual differences in learning preferences ensures that all students, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities, have equitable access to educational opportunities and resources. It can also help each and every student feel more confident and capable.

Challenges That Come With Accommodating Learning Styles   

Navigating different learning styles may be important, but it isn’t easy. Here are the challenges that make it difficult for teachers to accommodate all learning styles.

Teacher shortages

There are at least 36,500 vacant teaching positions and 163,000 underqualified individuals filling teaching positions across the United States. Meeting the needs of every student and aligning with their learning styles is tough when there are so many teacher vacancies and overcrowded classrooms. Until they can solve the issue of teacher vacancies, schools need to find ways to do more with fewer staff members. And to the overworked teachers, tailoring lessons to students' learning styles may seem like an impossibility. 

Limited resources and time constraints

Scarce resources and the relentless pressure of time constraints create additional significant challenges. While maximizing the use of technology and using open education resources can ease the burden, these factors do get in the way of more personalized instruction. 

Classroom dynamics and size

The dynamics of the classroom can pose additional challenges for accommodating learning styles effectively. Public schools see an average class size of 24 students. Most public schools also have a student-to-teacher ratio of 16 to 1. In this environment, educators may struggle to provide personalized attention and support to each student. 

The diverse backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles present in a single classroom can also complicate instructional planning. Overcoming this requires careful consideration and access to the right resources.

How To Accommodate Different Learning Styles in the Classroom   

With the right strategies in place, you can empower every student to thrive. Consider these ideas to help you incorporate different learning styles and activities into instruction.

1. Flexible lesson planning

Supporting students well starts with a strong foundation. Flexibility in lesson planning is essential for accommodating diverse learning styles. As you discover what works best for your students, you can update your plans to meet their needs.

2. Varied instructional materials

Use a range of materials in the classroom, from traditional textbooks to multimedia resources. Providing choice in instructional materials empowers students to engage with course content in ways that resonate with their individual learning styles.

3. Group activities

Group activities and collaboration offer valuable opportunities for students to learn from one another. Students can work together to solve problems and share their perspectives. 

4. High-impact tutoring

High-impact tutoring is a form of educational support that occurs 1:1 or in small groups. It's a research-backed, strategic approach that supplements classroom materials and delivers powerful results. Modern virtual tutoring platforms, like FEV Tutor, can support a variety of learning style options, including Kinesthetic, Verbal, and Auditory, empowering each student to choose their preferred form of communication for learning.

5. Collaboration and professional development

By sharing best practices and collaborating on curriculum design, educators can find new ways to instruct their students.  Focusing on this also helps all teachers stay on top of trends in education, like gamification mechanics and AI in the classroom.

Ready to support all learning styles with high-impact tutoring?

For students who struggle, having classroom material communicated to them in their preferred learning style can open new pathways to understanding.

For educators, knowing and including all learning styles can make lessons more effective. It cuts down on re-teaching and closes frustrating knowledge gaps. High-impact tutoring supports different learning styles and supplements the curriculum. 

Want to connect your students with 1:1 live virtual tutoring tailored to their unique learning needs? See how we can implement high-impact tutoring to empower your students’ success.