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Learning Styles and the Online Environment

Updated Mar.30, 2015

different people

Everyone has their own "style" for collecting and organizing information into useful knowledge, and the online environment can be particularly well suited to some learning styles and personality needs. For example, introverted students often find it easier to communicate via computer-mediated communication than in face-to-face situations. In addition, the online environment lends itself to a less hierarchical approach to instruction, which meets the leaning needs of people who do not approach new information in a systematic or linear fashion. Online learning environments are used to their highest potential for collaborative learning when they complement many students' learning styles. Independent learners also find online courses to be well suited to their needs.

Because learners have different learning styles or a combination of styles, online educators should design activities that address multiple modes of learning in order to improve the likelihood of successful experiences for each class participant. In designing online courses, utilize multiple instructional strategies. Below is a table of the most commonly discussed learning styles. These descriptions reflect different channels of perception (seeing, hearing, touching/moving):

What is YOUR preferred learning style?

  • Take this online quiz to find out your preferred learning style. Follow up by reading about the Felder-Silverman model.
  • Multiple Intelligences Self-Assessment
  • Find your Learning Style
  • Explore the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model
  • Visual/Verbal Learners:

    These people learn best when information is presented visually and in a written form. In a classroom setting, they prefer instructors who use visual aids (i.e. black board, PowerPoint presentation) to list the essential points of a lecture in order to provide them with an outline to follow during the lecture. They benefit from information obtained from textbooks and class notes. These learners like to study by themselves in quiet environments. They visualize information in their "minds' eyes" in order to remember something. The online environment is especially appropriate for visual/verbal learners because we present most of the information for a course in writing.

    Visual/Nonverbal Learners:

    These people learn best when information is presented visually and in a picture or design format. In a classroom setting, they benefit from instructors who supplement their lectures with materials such as film, video, maps and diagrams. They relate well to information obtained from the images and charts in textbooks. They tend prefer to work alone in quiet environments. They visualize an image of something in their mind when trying to remember it. These learners may also be artistic and enjoy visual art and design. The online environment is well suited for this type of learner because graphical representations of information can help them remember concepts and ideas. Graphical information includes charts, tables, graphs, and images.

    Auditory/Verbal Learners:

    These people learn best when information is presented aurally. In a classroom setting, they benefit from listening to lecture and participating in group discussions. They also benefit from listening to audio recordings. When trying to remember something, they often repeat it aloud and can mentally "hear" the way the information was explained to them. They learn best when interacting with others in a listening/speaking activity. Online learning environments can complement these learners' style. Although most information is presented visually (either written or graphically), group participation and collaborative activities are accomplished well online. In addition, weave streaming audio and synchronous web-conferencing into an online course.

    Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners:

    These people learn best when doing a physical, "hands-on" activity. In the classroom, they prefer to learn new materials in lab setting where they can touch and move materials. They learn best in physically active learning situations. They benefit from instructors who use in-class demonstrations, hands-on learning experiences, and fieldwork outside the classroom. Online environments can provide learning opportunities for tactile/kinesthetic learners. Simulations with 3-Dimensional graphics can replicate physical demonstrations. Conduct lab sessions on campus or at student's homes, then discuss them online. Incorporate fieldwork into coursework, by providing ample online discussion both preceding and following the experience. Finally, the online environment is well suited for presentation and discussion of either group or individual projects and activities.

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    Instructional Implications

    What are the implications of these 'preferred learning styles?' In short, it may be useful for understanding oneself, but there is scant, if any, research supporting the 'matching hypothesis' that tuning instruction to fit the style of individual has any meaningful effect. See this article for a more elaborate discussion.

    Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction – A Conference Report