Frequently when a student isn't learning, people will say, "Well, teach them a different way." That is all well and good but what does that mean? What if I don't have a different way? The learning modalities are standard fare in class design and using a mix of all three of these ways of learning ensures you are engaging all the students in your classroom.
Let's examine each of the three modalities:
When testing classes, you will notice that visual learners tend to dominate your number of students. These are the students who can read the book and skip the lecture in college and still pass the tests. In class, they take a ton of notes and frequently won't remember what was said otherwise. They are heavily reliant on the printed word, charts, diagrams, and illustrations. They take notes in the book and use the highlighter a fair amount.
When recalling information during the test, they will often be able to visualize the information written in their notebooks. When searching for information in the textbook, they will remember where it was on the page -- even the left or right hand side -- where they first read it. They are often the person in your office who insists that file folders have different colored labels based on what is in them.
Strengths: They can focus often even in a distracting environment. They can retain a high level of the material based on the reading portions alone.
Difficulties: They may be overly reliant on the printed word and can become lost if the topic shifts verbally without a corresponding visual shift. They are reliant on important information being reinforced visually and won't always catch important points if they are only made orally. If they didn't write it down, they may not remember its importance later.
Strategies: Write important points on the board, use PowerPoint to visually enforce what is being said in a picture or diagram-based way, assign readings ahead of class, and encourage reaction papers.
The auditory learner will remember 30% to 40% of what is being said during the lecture portion of the class -- often without taking notes. They need to talk about the issues presented for them to be assimilated into their prior knowledge and they ask a lot of questions in order to help with this assimilation. When it comes to reading, they often prefer the book-on-tape version so they can listen to it while they do other things. They often present themselves well when speaking in front of the class. Many public speakers, poets/writers, pastors, and musicians are auditory learners.
Strengths: They remember a high level of the information just through listening often in the same tone or voice of the person saying it, they can easily catch contradictions in what someone has said in the past versus what they are saying in the present, and they are frequently excellent orators and story tellers.
Difficulties: When competing sounds or voices are in the environment it can be difficult for the student to focus solely on one, they may find it difficult to write while people are talking around them, and they may be overly reliant on processing information out loud while coming to a conclusion.
Strategies: Assign oral report presentations, make time for focused discussions during class, allow time for on-topic questions during your lesson planning, relay information through real-life stories and examples relating to the topic, and use opinion-based or brainstorming types of call-out questions during the lecture portion of your presentations.
This learner is movement and touch-based. They need to do it to get it. You could ask them to do the reading but, typically, nothing cements until they actually do the skill you want them to learn. When taking notes, the tactile learner will frequently write so hard you can see the words imprinted onto the next page in their notebook. This type of learner needs to move while learning. Sitting still and focusing can often be frustrating and simply not as productive as getting up and moving while memorizing. Movement actually speeds up their learning process.
A lot of actors and artists fall into this category. People assume artists are visual learners but frequently they are not. Art may be seen with the eyes but it's the hands that create it. Actors will tell you that often it's when they are up on the stage moving around doing the blocking and actually full-on doing the in-the-body emotion of their line delivery that the lines stick and become memorized.
Strengths: They tend toward the more creative end of the spectrum and can provide out of the box answers or solutions and they learn faster through exploration and failure until a success is achieved.
Difficulties: If information is presented entirely in the visual format, they will experience frustration and learn more slowly. They require a highly practical knowledge of what is to be learned and frequently require the lab portions of a class to ensure they learn the material.
Strategies: Build in breaks every 90 minutes to allow for more movement, embrace role plays and actually doing the tasks together during class that you want them to learn, encourage illustrations along with the writing they do for class, have them make artistic brochures of the information to be presented rather than the standard paper format, and get them up and moving using four corners or the human graph.
It's important to note that people don't use just one of these modalities but use a mix of all three in their learning process. Some areas may be stronger than others, however. If something is presented entirely in one style that corresponds to a student's weakest modality the student may take much longer to learn the information and experience higher levels of frustration. If you haven't already considered different methods of individual learning in your current training classes, take the time to examine if you are embracing all three modalities in your classroom.
These modalities can be explored in much more depth. If you Google this topic, be sure to use "modalities" and not "styles" as you continue your research. There are many assessment tests online if you want to take a more informal survey about to what degree you embrace each of the modalities in your own learning.
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