The Preferred Learning Style vs. the Effective Learning Style

Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic?

There has been much research on the three main learning styles of students.  As the research continues, of course, more “Intelligences” have been identified, and learning styles have been incorporated into “The Standards,” so that teachers can prepare lesson plans that touch on all learning styles to accommodate learners so that they can learn the material presented allowing them to achieve the standard at a basic, proficient or mastery level.

Most lesson plans are developed that have some aspect of all three of these styles, but there are two problems with this approach.  First, there two additional major styles that are absent from this commonly accepted list.  One is the “Representational” learner, and the other is the “Mentoral” learner.  In a nutshell, Visual learners have been told to “read.”  With technology’s progress, that’s no longer a visual task.  It’s a “representational” task, since words represent something.  Coming to this realization helps one to realize how difficulties like dyslexia can be overcome.  A “visual” task is now “watch a video.”  The “Mentoral” learning style is that one-on-one approach that’s utilized in tutoring or in private music lessons.

Then there’s the “Experiential” learning – which combines all five…just like the combination of the five senses that create and impact not just who we are, but who we become.

As teacher reviews their lesson plans with their principal, however, questions about particular students and their achievement can be part of the discussion.  This is particularly difficult for a new teacher to assess on his or her own, and information shared between teachers can be most helpful in determining a student’s “preferred” learning style.  One would think that if teachers knew the student’s preferred learning style, then achievement levels could significantly increase.

Unfortunately, we’re asking the wrong question…again.

Why are we asking the wrong question?  Perhaps it’s because business has learned that people have “preferred” communication styles.  For instance, would you like to receive an email, or a phone call, or a survey as a follow-up from your automotive service department when they want to determine your satisfaction level with their service?  Knowing how a customer prefers to communicate can lead to even higher levels of customer satisfaction.

But in a learning situation, one might “prefer” to listen to a lecture – because it allows the learner take a note or two, and act as if they are engaged.  The reality might be that rather than listening to a lecture, the student may move from basic to proficient if he or she needed to construct a working model to demonstrate understanding of the concept being presented.

The proper question, therefore, becomes, “What is the learner’s most effective learning style?”  The answer to that question can be ascertained more readily from a teacher that works with 20 students on a daily basis than one that works for 40, 250 or over 1,000.  Could that be the reason why, in today’s world of online learning, students are falling behind?

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers.” – Edward Hodnett