What are Learning Styles?

Each individual person has their own set of ways with which they learn best. These pathways to learning have been implicitly discovered through years and years of academic training. Some students find they learn best from a lecture when the professor presents key points in a visual manner-either on the board, on an overhead, or by other means. Others find that they have a much easier time hearing someone talk about a subject than reading the same ideas on paper. These two examples present the two key learning styles: Visual and Auditory.

But learning styles are not limited to the senses of hearing and sight; there are as many different ways of learning as there are learners. Each person has a different manner in which they have learned how to learn.

And while learning styles are as varied as the students who come to Xavier University, there are some specific categories into which people can be classified as learners, and some specific hints we can use to more effectively learn through our learning styles.

A Few Learning Style Inventories

When a student comes to the LAC to sign up for a tutor, we ask them to complete a Learning Style Inventory, called the Barsch. This inventory helps to quickly evaluate a student's strongest and weakest learning styles in the following categories:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Tactile (small motor movements)
  • Kinesthetic (large motor movements)

You can click here and print the Barsch out, or contact the LAC, and we will be happy to send you a copy. Several other interactive Learning Styles Inventories are available on-line. Some of them are:

What do the Inventory scores mean?

The Visual or Auditory style, whichever scores the highest on the inventory, is considered the primary preferred learning style. The Tactile or Kinesthetic are considered secondary, even if the scores are higher on these two than for the Auditory or Visual styles. This is because we do most of our learning through our eyes and ears, and use the senses of touch, feeling, and motion to augment that primary learning.

However, it is important to note that the Barsch and the above on-line inventories are quick, and non-fail-proof, methods of evaluating learning styles. There are many facets of learning styles that are not covered by these inventories, and most people have overlapping strengths within their learning styles.

For example, learning from a graph or chart can be a very different matter from learning from a paragraph, but both are considered a visual process under this inventory. Someone who enjoys listening to music while studying could be using it primarily as an auditory aid, while others may be concentrating on the beat of the music, providing kinesthetic stimulus.

What should I do now?

All in all, you should use your inventory scores to start to think about how you most effectively study and learn.

You may also want to try to broaden your learning styles-it never hurts to try to improve one's auditory comprehension if one is a primary visual learner. Taking a multi-sensory approach will both help overall comprehension and ability to retain information through many avenues for learning.

The following chart presents some hints to help discover the most effective methods of learning through your unique set of learning styles:

Clues to this Style
Suggestions for studying
  • Needs to be able to see the information.
  • Artistic talent in the visual arts.
  • Difficulties following spoken directions.
  • Misunderstanding or misinterpretation of spoken material.
  • Overreaction to sounds.
  • Take lecture notes.
  • Underline, highlight, or circle printed material.
  • Borrow others' notes, compare to own.
  • Draw pictures in notes to illustrate concepts.
  • Use a variety of colors-in pens, pencils, markers, highlighters, paper, etc. for different categories or concepts.
  • Write it out!
  • Use outlines, pictures, graphs, charts, and diagrams.
  • Draw out ideas.
  • Work with many colors.
  • Make sure you can take any visual materials away with you--from class, tutoring and study group sessions, etc., so you can go back and look at them.
  • Preference of material which can be listened to.
  • Difficulties following written directions.
  • Spoken expression is much more effective than written.
  • Difficulties reading non-verbals.
  • Closing eyes to better understand spoken material (but NOT to sleep!).
  • Study in groups and talk things out.
  • Get a mini tape recorder.
  • Record lectures, tutoring and study group sessions, etc. (makes a permanent verbal record of material).
  • Read texts out loud (into recorder).
  • Listen to lecture/text tapes while driving, walking, working out, etc.
  • Dictate papers, to be typed later.
  • Read questions aloud.
  • Use word association.
  • Work out problems aloud.
  • Preference for hands-on learning.
  • Can assemble parts without reading directions.
  • Need to be able to touch or manipulate what is being learned.
  • Trace letters of words with finger (to memorize spelling, for example).
  • Use finger as a guide while reading material.
  • Take, and type out or rewrite class notes.
  • Get hands on-in science or computer labs, for example-don't just watch someone else do it.
  • Use models-of the human brain, DNA, etc.
  • Write out everything.
  • Draw charts or diagrams of relationships.
  • Difficulties sitting still.
  • Learning is more effective when physical activities are involved.
  • Strong athletic talent.
  • Use musical rhythms as patterns for memorization.
  • Make up dances for different ideas.
  • Study or brainstorm while walking or working out.
  • Turn ideas into material objects.
  • Incorporate building or putting things together into studying.
  • Organize ideas by rearranging sentences that have been cut out.
  • Use movement whenever possible.
  • Do role-plays and skits.
  • Make letters, numbers, or shapes with body for memorization.