Along with a number of learning theories there is also the theory that students have different learning preferences. There are several different learning preferences, along with different approaches to interpreting and categorising these different preferences. It is important to deliver “a balance of learning activities in the sessions we deliver to accommodate the mix of different learning styles, thus creating an inclusive learning environment.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 16) It is unusual for students to have a one hundred percent bias towards a particular preference, as learning preferences are just that, a preference, “although individually we have a preference for one approach, it does not mean we are incapable of doing it any other way.” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 14) If students know what their learning preference is they can specifically target this preference during revision, however, this can cause issues within the class as students may choose not to work at specific times as they feel it doesn’t suit their learning preference.

A simple learning preference is VARK by Neil Fleming, which groups learners into four categories, Visual learners, Auditory learners, Reading/writing learners and Kinaesthetic learners. Visual learners will prefer teaching material that includes graphics, such as charts, graphs and diagrams. Auditory learners prefer activities such as discussions, question and answer sessions, guest speakers and lecturers. The preferences of a Reading/Writing learner are reports, user manuals and assignments. Kinaesthetic learners prefer doing either simulated or real activities; if they are experiencing and practising the task they will feel most comfortable. This is particularly suited to practical tasks in which the students can get involved and get their hands dirty.

An example of using VARK in my teaching could be when teaching students how to program, there are many possible approaches that would suit a variety of learners. The approaches I utilise while teaching programming are explaining how to complete the particular task while I have a PowerPoint on display explaining how to do it. These fulfil the preferences of Auditory and Reading/writing learners respectively. Then there will be an example that will either be provided via a handout or on the PowerPoint, this particularly appeals to visual learners when design, layout and interface aspects are included, due to the imagery used. Finally, students will need to implement the functionality for themselves which will appeal to Kinaesthetic learners, for particularly complex tasks I will also include a demonstration that should also appeal to Kinaesthetic learners.

Another approach to learning preferences is the Honey and Mumford learning styles, in which learners are categorised into 4 categories: Activists, Pragmatists, Theorists and Reflectors. “Honey and Mumford learning styles were developed by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford in 1986.” (Rumson, 2017) Each of the categories has a different preference to learning. Activists want to get involved and learn by doing, this could be similar to a Kinaesthetic learner. Theorists would rather focus on the data, making use of background information and apply theoretical concepts to make a hypothesis. Pragmatists learn best by thinking about how what they are learning can be applied in reality. Although they will use data and concepts, it will be constrained to how they can be used practically in reality. Learners who show reflector traits focus on multiple perspectives and alternative points of view rather than getting involved.

An example in my class could be that students who exhibit an activist learning style may want the pace on practical sessions to be faster, whereas students with a reflector learning style may wish to take a step back and view other people’s perspectives before moving on. When students start in the first year they complete a series of diagnostic tests, some of which are to provide them with feedback into their learning preferences, this information also goes into the group profile. When teaching very small groups or individual students in the past, I have made use of the group profile details to specifically target the student’s preferences; however, with larger groups it would be impossible as the group profile will likely contain every learning preference available. While these learning preferences make it easy for teachers to put labels on students in an attempt to make their lives easier, it is essential to remember that “the objective of education is learning, not teaching”. (Russell & Greenberg, 2008, p. 5) Learning “is a very individual, complex, and, to some degree, an indescribable process: something we just do, without ever thinking too much” (Kelly, 2002) about, these learning preferences should be used to assist when planning lessons to ensure inclusive learning is implemented.

Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Kelly, L. (2002, 11 22). What is learning … and why do museums need to do something about it? Retrieved from Australian Museum:

https://australianmuseum.net.au/uploads/documents/9293/what%20is%20learning.pdf

Rumson, R. (2017, March 28). HONEY AND MUMFORD LEARNING STYLES. Retrieved from The E-learning network:

https://resources.eln.io/honey-and-mumford-learning-styles/

Russell, A. L., & Greenberg, D. (2008). Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track. New Jersey.

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