Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Let's start out with a quiz. The fun kind of course.
Imagine these learning scenarios:
1. You have no idea what a pie is, and you are dying to know. Which would best help you learn what a pie is?
A) Someone reading you a long description of a pie
B) Sticking your hands in a warm pie fresh out the oven while blindfolded
C) Being shown pictures like this
2. You want to learn more about quantum physics. Which would be best to get you started?
A) Diving headlong into a dense, dry textbook on the subject
B) Stepping into a quantum laboratory and randomly pushing some buttons
C) Having a knowledgeable expert verbally explain the basics to you
3. A box of Legos is spilled out in front of you. You want to build a replica of your house. Do you:
A) Glance at a complex diagram showing you a model of a Lego house
B) Listen to a step-by-step instruction audio read in a monotone voice
C) Just start tinkering and playing around with the pieces until you build the replica
Now, there are no right or wrong answers to the questions above. However, if you chose C) for all the questions like I did, then you might be a legend like myself. For the pie scenario, answer C) is a visual solution. For quantum physics, C) is an audio solution. And for Legos, C) is a kinesthetic solution. Each learning scenario is ideally suited for a different learning style.
In actuality though, the whole quiz above is a sham (Gotcha!) because approaching learning from all the learning styles (visual, audio, and kinesthetic) is the best way to enhance understanding.
If you want to know what a pie is, then seeing various pictures of a pie is a good place to start.
And if you want a deeper understanding of a pie, then stick your fingers in it. Taste its deliciousness. Smell its sweet aroma.
And if you really want to round out your pie knowledge, have someone describe their experience of a pie to you using descriptive adjectives like flaky buttery crust or warm gooey insides .
All of these combined contribute to a full and rich understanding of a pie.
Now who's hungry?
Learn by Doing It All
Sometimes it is easier for someone to show you, sometimes it is easier for someone to explain to you, sometimes it is easier to get your hands dirty and do it yourself. And usually the best is to have all three.
And yet, as much as 90% of educators across the world still believe that individuals have specific learning styles applicable to all learning scenarios despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. You might even think that you have a specific learning style, and you'd be wrong. That's just bad science, Tonto.
The risk is that if you become attached to a particular learning style, then you'll start clinging to that idea like a 2-year-old clings to his mama's leg, and you'll miss opportunities to learn. You need to stay flexible and open to all different learning styles depending on the context of the situation.
If your answers above applied the same learning style (i.e. all visual, all audio, all kinesthetic) to all situations, then you may want to stop and think if what you chose would really benefit you most.
Evolution spent millions of years giving us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hands to feel. Why wouldn't you use them all?