Learning Modalities and Why They are Important
It’s easy to assume that everyone learns in the same way and even easier to assume that they learn the way that we do. But people actually learn in very different ways. And one of the main differences in how they learn is captured in the concept of learning modalities.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that one of the definitions of modality is:
“One of the main avenues of sensation (as vision)”
So, learning modalities refer to which avenues of sensation people prefer to use to learn.
- Many people are visual learners. In other words, the modality with which they prefer to learn is the sense of sight. Such people like to see information in the form of charts, graphs, images and demonstrations or to read descriptive text that allows them to form a mental picture of the content.
- A relatively equal proportion of learners are primarily auditory. The learning modality they prefer is the sense of sound. They like to take in information via the spoken word. They notice not only what is said, but how it is said, including the tone of voice. When they can integrate elements of music such as tones or rhythms it can enhance their learning experience.
- A smaller proportion of learners are kinesthetic. The modality through which they prefer to learn is the sense of touch, which may also include bodily movement. If you want a kinesthetic learner to best internalize material, let them physically interact with it somehow. Give them objects to hold and manipulate. Have them act out scenes related to the material. And so on.
Note: Some people recognize a fourth learning modality, tactile, consisting of those that prefer touch and distinguish this from kinesthetic, which they define as simply preferring bodily movement.
Some percentage of learners thrive best when learning via a mixture of these different senses.
It’s very important for those involved in education to be conscious of these different learning preferences. Since just about every group of learners will include people with each of these styles, a diversity of teaching strategies is necessary to help them all reach their potential. Luckily, in recent years, word has spread about these differences in learning style and more educators are being trained to use multiple approaches in their teaching methods.
But these learning modalities have implications not only in the classroom, but also for many aspects of how a person functions. Dr. Margaret Anderson at State University of New York Cortland offers a very useful chart on her page about learning modalities. The chart shows how a person’s preferred learning style affects everything from how they approach spelling to how they talk to how they interact with people.
This particular site, Kinesthetic Learning Strategies, is dedicated to those kinesthetic learners whose needs are often overlooked because they are less common than visual and auditory learners. We aim to help spread the word about the needs that these learners have to educators, parents, and the learners themselves.
Once you understand what learning modalities are and their implications, it can help you experience interactions with people in a whole new way. Next time you’re speaking with someone, try to figure out from how they communicate and the particular verbal choices they make which modality they favor. If you can’t figure it out, at some point, ask them. They may not be conscious of it themselves yet and may find it very interesting to think about.
When you know someone’s preferred modality it can greatly enhance communication. You can share information in ways that are going to be most easily internalized by them and avoid a lot of misunderstandings. Similarly, when you can share your preference with others, they can do the same for you.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, there are many resources that focus on it. Click any of the links below to explore:
- Amazon’s resources on Visual Learning
- Amazon’s resources on Auditory Learning
- Amazon’s resources on Kinesthetic Learning
We believe the world will be a better place when people understand their learning styles and how they relate with those of others. So let’s continue to inform people about this issue.
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