Dr. Jewrell Rivers is a Professor of Sociology, Marriage and Family and Criminal Justice at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
No two students learn the same. So, as faculty, we should adapt our teaching to fit students’ learning styles.
To better address and engage your students, I recommend adapting or designing a course to incorporate a multi-pronged approach that supports four main learning styles – visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of learning styles, they’re a strong foundation for a diverse set of activities that can help engage your students. All four styles can be leveraged to engage different types of learners, increase retention of material, and provide students with opportunities for rote, hands-on, collaborative, or active learning. Here’s how each style works in action, and what makes them click with students.
Visual learners best retain information in the form of graphs, images, pictures, maps, and figures. In practice, techniques that support this learning style might include PowerPoint slides, video presentations or clips, screenshots, and diagrams on the whiteboard.
You can encourage students to create their own designs or diagrams, take screenshots of textbook material, construct a display board, or produce videos to facilitate visual learning. Typically, I integrate a video in my online learning platform to allow students to engage in peer assessment through watching and discussing a video.
Auditory learners best retain information that they hear repeatedly through active listening, verbalizing the subject out loud, or discussing it. Activities that address this learning style might include group discussions, or listening to audio-recorded lectures or text, sound bites, podcasts, or audio clips. Your students can read material out loud, record lectures on their phones, actively listen to audio lectures or textbook material, engage in storytelling, or perform a song or rap.
To help students engage in auditory learning, I assign them to small groups and have them discuss the course content through a series of question prompts. I also designate students to specific roles or tasks within the group to help them engage in collaboration and exchange ideas and perspectives. Lastly, I require students to orally present the material in class to facilitate critical thinking.
Reading/writing learners retain information through rereading and rewriting material, so rote memorization and regurgitation is usually key for these students. To engage reading/writing learners, try providing students with assignments like blog posts, journaling exercises, oral histories, discussion forums, reading clubs, or writing retreats. You can encourage students to take notes during lectures, outline and rewrite their notes, summarize the text, and check lecture transcripts.
I usually create in-class quizzes and discussion forums for students to write or post responses to question prompts. For in-class quizzes, I require students to read the question, underline key words and write an answer while writing down additional prompting questions. For discussion forums, I ask students to respond to questions while reading and replying to the posts of others. Additionally, I provide opportunities for students to reflect on course material through writing an electronic journal in my online courses.
Kinesthetic learners best retain information through hands-on, experiential, or interactive exercises. So, it’s crucial to make sure these learners are up and moving. In practice, kinesthetic learning works best when students engage in course material through real-life experiences involving tactile stimulation or physical movement. This might mean providing students with role plays, case scenarios, simulation activities, service-learning projects, or portfolio assignments describing practicum or internship experiences. You can also encourage them to model concepts in real-life, participate in social action research, conduct hands-on demonstrations, engage in civic or community learning projects, or create arts and crafts examples.
In my courses, I typically engage students in simulation or interactive exercises in class or online and provide them with opportunities to participate in practicums and civic or community projects.
Taking a Multi-Sensory Approach
There is no cookie-cutter approach to understanding student learning styles, and students can’t be neatly placed or “pigeon-holed” into one category or the other. Students generally utilize a combination of learning styles in retaining material. That’s why an integrated, multi-sensory approach is best used for addressing the needs of different learners.
Employing a combination of learning styles generates a higher rate of understanding. For example, when students combine auditory learning with visual learning by attending an exhibit or watching a demonstration, they can retain 50% of the material, versus 30% for visual and 20% for auditory alone.
As a professor, I use an integrated, multi-sensory approach in my courses to address the needs of different types of learners. Using a combination of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing modalities improves retention of material and enhances the learning experience. By leveraging a combination of these activities in your course, you can better engage your students – and meet them where they are to help them understand the course material.
To learn more about course planning for a variety of different learners, check out our “5 Steps to Course Planning Success” eBook.