Sonya Ratliff

Tips for Accommodating Different Learning Styles

As educators, we should always be looking to meet the needs of accommodating various learning styles.  Often times, as instructors we tend to be creatures of habit, using the same content over and over again. Instructors should be open to using and selecting the appropriate tool that will help students achieve the learning objective. I recently had an instructor that wanted more information or training about how to select the best tool for a particular learning style. I imagine other instructors would have this same question. So here goes.

We all have a way in which we best learn. Odds are, every student in your class has a different preferred learning style, which can make it difficult for you to be the most effective teacher. However, by trying to incorporate various methods into your teaching, you may be able to reach the majority of your students. At the college level, it is expected that students have an idea of how to adapt to most teachers—although it cannot hurt to help them out a little! Below I have a couple of different learning styles and ways in which you can accommodate them.

Learning Styles Characteristics Tips for Accommodating
Visual (spatial) Learner Someone with a Visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc. These people will use phrases such as ‘show me’, ‘let’s have a look at that’ and will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.
  • Use maps, flow charts, graphs, and timelines to organize materials
  • Use flash cards for review of material(self-assessment)
  • Use pictures or cartoons to display concepts
  • Use online puzzles to manipulate and move data
  • 3D and morphing software
Aural (auditory) Learner Someone with an Auditory learning style has a preference for the transfer of information through listening: to the spoken word, of self or others, of sounds and noises. These people will use phrases such as ‘tell me’, ‘let’s talk it over’ and will be best able to perform a new task after listening to instructions from an expert. These are the people who are happy being given spoken instructions over the telephone, and can remember all the words to songs that they hear!
  • Voicethread (Discussion Forum responses)
  • Interactive books with audio
  • iTunes
  • Projects with audio components, interviews, seminars, giving of reports and speeches, powerpoint w/ audio component
Kinesthetic or Tactile Someone with a Kinesthetic learning style has a preference for physical experience—touching, feeling, holding, doing, practical hands-on experiences. These people will use phrases such as ‘let me try’, ‘how do you feel?’ and will be best able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. These are the people who like to experiment, hands-on, and never look at the instructions first!
  • Synchronous conferencing, group work
  • Virtual field trips
  • Self assessment quizzes, model building,
  • Presentations, demos

Learning Activities: Which Do Different Learners Respond Well and Poorly To?

In order to fully take advantage of online learning, an instructor needs to understand what types of activities learners respond to so that they can apply the same techniques in their course delivery. Some of these, to which they respond well or poorly, are:

Respond well:

  • Activists—respond well to new problems, being thrown in at the deep end, and team work.
  • Theorists—interesting concepts, structured situations, and opportunities to question and probe.
  • Pragmatists—relevance to real problems, immediate chance to try things out, and experts they can emulate.
  • Reflectors—thinking things through, painstaking research, detached observation

Respond poorly to:

  • Activists respond poorly to passive learning, solitary work, theory, and precise instructions. They would rather take an active part in learning.
  • Theorists—the lack of apparent context or purpose, ambiguity and uncertainty, doubts about validity creates a lack of basis for learning.
  • Pragmatists—Abstract theory, lack of practice or clear guidelines, no obvious benefit from learning do not allow pragmatists to apply learning to real-life situations.
  • Reflectors —Being forced into the limelight, acting without planning, time pressures creates a tense learning environment.

The “Ideal” Online Course has incorporated adaptive teaching methodologies and made the best use of the curriculum and technology such as the ones below:

Student Learning Objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Each lesson plan should include student learning objectives, which cover the goals and objectives of a particular lesson. They should include Bloom’s Taxonomy words at all 6 levels in order to encourage and build upon the learning cycle. They should also include objectives that focus on all the different learning styles; visual, auditory and kinesthetic/tactile.

Teacher Strategies which address all learning styles:

Teacher strategies (PPT, lectures, videos, readings) should be included with each lesson so that teachers have the opportunity and ability to adapt their teaching styles to individual learners without having to resort to continuous re-education.

Activities that adapt to different learning styles:

Web-based interactive activities  that address a variety of learning styles should be included. These activities should enhance the lesson content and offer opportunity for further exploration in the content area.

Assessments that cover full content:

Assessments that can be computer graded if possible (short answer and essay are rarely graded unless parsing is included in the technology infrastructure) should be included to cover the entire scope of the lesson. They should also be in a variety of forms (identify and define, true/false, multiple choice, multiple answer, short answer, essay) so that individual learning styles are challenged, and so that students are encouraged to build a ‘learning cycle.’ They should also employ all 6 levels of Bloom’s taxonomy so that students are challenged to think on different levels.


Sonya Ratliff

About Sonya Ratliff

Sonya joined DePaul University’s School for New Learning in February 2016. She has more than 20 years of experience working with faculty/students at higher education institutions including; Chicago State University, City Colleges of Chicago, and the University of Phoenix. During that time, she held various positions in Student Services, Information Technology, and Academic Affairs. Sonya earned a BS in Health Information Administration and an MS in Education and Technology from Chicago State University. Sonya has dedicated her career to helping faculty/students bridge the gap between the traditional classroom and the online learning environment. In her spare time, Sonya likes to read, shop, and spend time with her family. She is an Instructional Designer with Faculty Instructional Technology Services assigned to SNL.

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