If you’re a teacher, your biggest priority would be ensuring that your students have a rich learning experience. With the prevalence of online learning now,there is the opportunity to create a comprehensive and engaging learning environment.
Understanding how we learn and process information and utilising more all-inclusive teaching strategies is a valuable tool for a teacher. So, let’s take a look at the concept of learning styles and how a technique called multi-modal learning can strengthen your teaching and benefit your students, especially within a digital context.
Learning styles and the VARK Model
The idea behind learning styles is that each individual will learn and understand information best when it’s presented in a particular way. For example, one student may understand the life cycle of a plant when shown a diagram while another remembers it more by listening to a lecture. Many models have been devised over the years to categorise learning styles but the most well-known is the VARK model. Developed by Neil Fleming, the VARK model suggests that there are four types of learners. Each learner relies on a certain sensory modality. A modality is a channel of communication, where a person can give, receive and store information. As such, Fleming’s VARK model has four modalities:
V – Visual
A – Auditory
R – Reading (and Writing)
K – Kinaesthetic
Let’s break down these modalities and examine teaching methods that support each one.
Visual learning style
Visual learners understand information best when they see and observe it. Visual aids are the key here, with graphic elements that represent the data. These may not just be photos and videos but also designs, shapes and patterns that can help convey ideas and concepts. Examples include maps, charts, graphs and labelled diagrams. You’ll notice that students who are primarily visual learners will often doodle or sketch and note down information with diagrams. They may also struggle to focus on lectures as auditory information may be difficult to process. To help visual learners, you can employ visual teaching strategies. This could be including visual data and illustrations in presentations or including assignments that involve sketching and diagrams. You can also encourage students to practise visual note taking, where they can record information from lessons with a mix of texts and visuals. This would include making mind maps, flow charts, doodles and adding images.
Auditory learning style
Information that has been presented vocally is best retained by auditory learners. By hearing and reciting concepts and ideas, they are able to comprehend more clearly. These are students who read out loud or repeat information to themselves to understand; they may even read slowly to properly absorb new material. They may excel at communicating and explaining things verbally. Lectures, group discussions and audio resources are the best for these learners. Group discussions in particular can be beneficial to help them employ their auditory and verbal processors. Asking questions during lessons can also activate these sensors in students. You can further support them by asking them to record lectures so they can play it back later. These students can also benefit from learning ideas and facts through mnemonic and acrostic devices. You can also encourage activities where students explain and teach to each other.
Reading (and writing) style
These learners prefer information that is text based and retain information by reading and writing. These students may be comfortable with written assignments and have an affinity for researching online and using thesauruses and dictionaries. Some may even enjoy journaling and keeping diaries. As traditional school curriculums already centre around writing and research, these students may find themselves in their element. Encourage these students by providing extra text-based resources and allowing them to refer to written material of all types. Encourage note taking and summarising information and also teach them to translate visuals to text, like describing and writing out diagrams and bar charts.
With an inclination towards the tactile, kinaesthetic learners like to experience things and learn by doing. They like a hands-on approach and respond well to moving and being physical. They use their hand and body as an instrument for learning. These students are often good dancers and athletes as they are adept at understanding instructions or routines physically. You’ll notice that they use their hands or act things out when explaining something. For these students, it’s also important to use real-life examples and cases as they can comprehend better when they imagine a physical space and ‘real’ situations. Include demonstrations, instructional videos, case studies and props in the lesson plan to engage kinaesthetic learning. Students can also be given activities that include role-playing and games that use the physical space of the classroom.
Although there are four categories, the reality is that most people are multi-modal. Their modalities will overlap and learning in different contexts will call for different modalities. Research has shown that the brain is constantly rewiring itself. This is known as neuroplasticity and it results in changes to how we learn over our lifetime. So, people will use different modalities all the time and preferences can evolve. This is especially true with children, who rapidly develop and learn. However, learning about these styles can help you identify how your students learn and create a learning environment catered to them. Some students may lean more towards a particular type of learning and they can be given special support if they’re struggling.
Since students can’t be easily categorised, what teachers can do is adapt their teaching methods to be multi-modal. Multi-modal teaching has been proven to be effective, with research showing improved performance and engagement in students. By understanding the VARK model, teachers can devise lessons that appeal to all of the different modalities and provide a holistic learning experience. With the onset of the pandemic and the current situation of the country, online learning has become prevalent. You’ll have noticed that online teaching has opened up a more blended learning approach, allowing students to learn using more alternative digital resources. Many teachers have fully embraced this style of teaching and have subsequently taken on a multi-modal approach. Here are some strategies you can use if you haven’t already for more substantial and stimulating lessons.
Assign multi-modal activities – Give students online quizzes and interactive games that they can use as sources of information and as practice. For example, there are online mathematics games that allow children to practice algebra and geometry.
Incorporate case-based learning – Provide detailed real-life examples for concepts and ideas rather than just the textbook descriptions; video demonstrations can be useful here, with ample resources on platforms like YouTube and TEDx.
Encourage multi-media projects – When it comes to assignments, give students the option of submitting more than just an essay. Set assignments that will get students to make videos, presentations or performances that will allow them to present the information they learned in a more exciting way.
Give multi-modal feedback – With students submitting multi-modal work, it only makes sense that teachers provide an equivalent response. Give students more in-depth feedback by utilising different communication channels. For example, send a recording of yourself marking a student’s work and providing comments as you go. Students can both see and hear the feedback, making it more effective.
Teaching is not an easy task, especially with more traditional methods becoming obsolete. As such, these concepts and strategies can give teachers a framework for understanding how their students process information and implement techniques that can help bolster their learning, especially in an online environment.
By Thiyashi Koththigoda