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Understanding the 4 main types of learning styles and how to teach to them will help both your students and your courses be more successful.

When it comes to learning something new, we all absorb information at different rates and understand it differently too. Some students get new concepts right away; others need to sit and ponder for some time before they can arrive at similar conclusions.

Why? The answer lies in the type of learning styles different students feel more comfortable with. In other words, we respond to information in different ways depending on how it is presented to us.

Clearly, different types of learning styles exist, and there are lots of debates in pedagogy about what they are and how to adapt to them.

For practical purposes, it’s recommended to ensure that your course or presentation covers at least 4 main types of learning, also known as the VARK model.

In this article, we’ll cover what the VARK model is, break down the 4 types of learning styles, and give practical tips for how you can improve your own teaching styles, whether it’s in higher education or an online course you plan to create on the side.

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What are the 4 types of learning styles?

In the academic literature, the most common model for the 4 main types of learning you can find is referred to as VARK.

VARK is an acronym that stands for visual, auditory, reading & writing and kinesthetic. It’s not an exhaustive list, and there are other types of learners, but most learners prefer to understand information through one of these 4 learning methods.

  1. Visual

It’s easy to identify visual learners as they pay special attention to images, diagrams, charts, graphs and presentations. You might also notice that visual learners often doodle and make all kinds of visual notes of their own.

When you’re teaching visual learners, it’s not necessary to rely soley on photos and videos. What they are looking for most of all is recognizing clear visual relationships between different ideas.

So make sure to get visual yourself by doodling and drawing pictures. Give handouts, create presentations. Search for useful infographics.

Since visual information can be pretty dense, give your students enough time to absorb all the new knowledge and make their own connections between visual clues.

  1. Auditory

The auditory style of learning is quite the opposite from the visual one. Auditory learners need reinforcement through sound. You can see that they prefer to learn by listening and might not take any notes at all. In addition, this type of learners often ask questions or repeat what they have just heard aloud to remember it better.

Aural learners are not afraid to speak up in class and are often great at explaining themselves.

When teaching auditory learners, keep in mind that they shouldn’t stay quiet for long periods of time. So plan a few activities where you can exchange ideas or ask questions. Watching videos or listening to audio during class will also help with retaining new information.

  1. Reading and writing

There’s another specific learning type that focuses primarily on the reading-writing aspect of knowledge acquisition. Such verbal learners primarily process new information through the written word. In some ways they are close to visual learners but their preferred learning style is words, not images.

To support the way reading-writing students learn best, make sure they have time to take ample notes and allocate extra time for reading. This type of learners also does really well at remote learning, on their own schedule.

Including reading materials and writing assignments in their homework should also yield good results.

  1. Kinesthetic

Kinesthetic learners are, in some ways, the most difficult ones to prepare for in a regular class setting. These students are tactile and need to live through experiences and do things to really understand something new.

Take note that kinesthetic learners can’t sit still for long and need more frequent breaks than others. You need to get them moving and come up with activities that reinforce information that was just covered in class. Acting out different roles is great; games are amazing; even collaborative writing on a whiteboard should work fine.

In general, try to bring every abstract idea into the real world to help kinesthetic learners succeed.

Are there any unique intelligence types commonly shared by your students? Adapting to these different types of intelligences can help you can design a course best suited to help your students succeed.

How to help students understand their different types of learning styles

Unless you’re teaching preschoolers, most students probably already realize the type of learning styles that fits them best. But some students do get it wrong.

The key here is to observe every student carefully and plan your content for different learning styles right from the start.

Another idea is to implement as much individual learning as you can and then customize that learning for each student. So you can have visual auditory activities, riddles for logical learners, games for kinesthetic learners, reading activities, writing tasks, drawing challenges and more.

How to accommodate different types of learning styles online

When you’re creating your first course online, it’s important to dedicate enough time to planning out its structure. Don’t just think that a successful course consists of five uploaded videos.

Think about how you present the new knowledge. Where it makes sense to pause and give students the time to reflect. Where to include activities to review the new material.

Make sure to include the tips from above to tailor your course to each learning style, or at least create enough balance. Explore blended learning, if possible, combining teacher-led classes with self-guided assignments and extra ideas that students can explore on their own.

Are there any unique intelligence types commonly shared by your students? Adapting to these different types of intelligences can help you can design a course best suited to help your students succeed.

How to create a online course for all

Now that you’re ready to teach something to everyone, you might be wondering what you actually need to do to create your online courses. Well, start with a platform.

Thinkific is an intuitive and easy-to-use platform any instructor can use to create online courses that would resonate with all types of learning styles. Include videos, audios, presentations, quizzes and assignments in your curriculum. Guide courses in real time or pre-record information in advance. It’s your choice.

In addition, creating a course on Thinkific doesn’t require you to know any programming. You can use a professionally designed template and customize it with a drag-and-drop editor to get exactly the course you want in just a few hours. Try it yourself to see how easy it can be.

Get started today for free.

This article was originally written in August 2015, and was refreshed June 2022.