Differing Learning Styles and the help of Instructional Design

According to the American Psychological Association, there are five main learning styles and two substyles that describe how any one person best absorbs or learns information. While everyone is different, most fall into one of the five styles and one of the substyles.

Paula Tallal (2014) of Rutgers University and the University of California, San Diego, ran a study to identify learning styles and the best instructional method for that learning style (Tallal, 2014*). She found that matching a method with a particular style helped the students learn more material faster and more accurately.

But, how can we apply that to Instructional Design? Let’s take a look at each individual style, what makes them different, and then explore how we can accommodate each learning style in our work as Instructional Designers.

Visual: Visual learners prefer pictures, images and spatial understanding (Tallal, 2014). This learning style learns best when material is highly visual, ie. the use of images, photos, flowcharts, graphs and other visual tools to help the learner grasp a concept. This can be incorporated into Instructional Design by adding visual queues, photos relating to the topics being discussed, charts or graphs indicating statistics or even just making emphasized information bold or italicized so it stands out to the learner.

Logical: Logical learners prefer using logic, reason and systems (Tallal, 2014). This learning style is enhanced when the learner is given instruction that is based in logic, ie. 1+1=2 and 2+2=4. They are able to logically figure out the next step. As Instructional Designers, we can incorporate this into our work by showing information in a logical breakdown. Even difficult information can be broken down to show the progression and how A became B and then C.

Aural: Aural learners prefer the use of sound or music and often put study materials to music and sing along to learn a new concept or task (Tallal, 2014). This learning style comprehends information best when it is put to music. Song lyrics, melodies and music help the learner remember the information better and for longer. Adding soft music or speaking in a sing-song tone can help these learners grasp the task and not lose focus during the lesson.

Verbal: Verbal learners prefer the use of words both in speech and writing (Tallal, 2014). They can easily be handed instructions and be able to read through and complete the task. This learning style finds it easy to complete tasks based on written instruction. As most e-Learning involves reading text from a screen, verbal learners benefit from this type of instruction. As Instructional Designers, we can make sure our captions are correct and accurate so these learners get the full effect of the information being presented.

Physical: Physical learners prefer the use of the body, hands, and sense of touch (Tallal, 2014). Physical learners quite literally learn a task by doing that task. This learning style needs something a little more hands-on. Worksheets and work along problems are good for this type of learning because they are following along step-by-step and doing the problem with you before they try it on their own. Instructional Designers can incorporate a printout of math problems or a list of materials needed to follow an example to help learners get a full picture of the information.

Social: Social learners prefer to learn in groups or with other people to collaborate and solve problems or to complete a task (Tallal, 2014). This learning is a substyle of learning which incorporates collaboration and different perspectives into the learning environment, which helps encourage people to talk through the learning process together so they all teach each other about the topic from their perspective. Discussion boards, group meetings outside of class and group projects are excellent examples of how Instructional Designers can help social learners.

Solitary: Solitary learners prefer to work alone using self-study (Tallal, 2014). This learning is a substyle in which the learner does not need outside motivation or mentoring. The learner is able to work alone and find all the information and resources necessary to complete a task. Instructional Designers don’t necessarily have to do any particular tailoring to this style of learning because the learner will make sure to take the steps needed to complete the task.

Most people follow one of the initial styles coupled with either social or solitary learning. Personally, I am a physical and social learner, meaning I learn best when an activity is hands on and in a collaborative environment rather than a verbal, solitary learner who can listen to instructions on an individual basis and successfully learn a task.

Some of the clear differences between each of the diverse learning styles not only involve the manner in which the individual learns best but also the areas of the brain that are activated when that individual is actively learning a new skill or task. You can see that when conditions line up correctly, a learner has very little trouble with the content despite difficulty of subject matter or requirements requested to complete the task.

As Instructional Designers, our goal is to take complex information and make it simple and easy to understand for all learning styles using images, concise language and clear instruction. By combining these elements, we are able to reach a larger audience to assist as many people as possible in learning a new skill or task. These concepts can be broadened to the classroom setting as well. Let’s take a look at the different learning styles and the environment in which they learn best.

In the right conditions, Instructional Design can offer a helping hand in combining words, visual queues and images relating to the subject matter and interactive “hands-on” type learning environments to best suit all learning styles. Online college courses, for example, can be difficult for a logical learner who best learns in a social setting. If a professor adds a module that is logical in nature (this step unlocks the next, and so on…) and allows students to work together and collaborate on the assignment either in person or via chat or video chat, that learner gets the opportunity to fully understand the material being presented rather than having the added stress of not understanding because the presentation of the material is poorly managed.

For tips and tricks on how to learn according to your learning style, check out D:2:L’s post Tips on How to Tailor to Specific Learning Styles: (http://lpd.nau.edu/tips-on-how-to-tailor-to-specific-learning-styles/). If you’re unsure of your learning style, try a few of these tricks and figure out what works best for you. Understanding your learning style could be a huge help in your learning process, so comment below with what you’ve found works best for you!

Tallal, P. (2014). Matching learning style to instructional method: effects of comprehension. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/edu-a0037478.pdf

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