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In today’s diverse educational landscape, understanding how individuals process and absorb information is paramount. Learning styles, a concept that has gained traction over the years, posits that people have unique preferences in the way they approach learning. This article delves into various models that explain these preferences, shedding light on the intricate ways students engage with information. Whether one is a parent aiming to support a child’s educational journey or a student seeking insight into their own learning processes, grasping the essence of learning styles can be a transformative tool in optimising education and personal growth.

Everything You Need to Know About Learning Styles - Infographic
Everything You Need to Know About Learning Styles – Infographic

Table of Contents:

Historical Perspective on Learning Styles

Teenager Studying Their A-levels

The journey of understanding how individuals learn has its roots deep in history. Long before the term “learning styles” entered educational parlance, philosophers, educators, and researchers grappled with the concept of individual differences in learning. Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, pondered the nature of knowledge and the varied paths individuals took to acquire it.

Fast forward to the 20th century, the formal concept of learning styles began to take shape. With the advent of psychological research, there was a surge of interest in understanding cognitive processes, leading to the first formalised theories about individual differences in learning. The mid-1900s saw the emergence of various models and taxonomies aiming to categorise these differences.

However, it was during the latter part of the 20th century that the study of learning styles truly blossomed. Researchers like Howard Gardner, David Kolb, and Neil Fleming introduced frameworks that resonated with educators worldwide. These models provided structure to the otherwise nebulous idea of individual learning preferences, making it accessible and actionable for teachers and learners alike.

Over the years, as educational dynamics evolved and technology played an increasingly integral role, learning styles adapted to encompass these changes. Today, they serve not as strict categories into which learners are placed, but as a spectrum, guiding educators, parents, and students in personalising the learning experience.

VARK Model

VARK Model
VARK Model, Source: What Fix

The VARK Model, developed by Neil Fleming in the late 1980s, is one of the most recognised frameworks when it comes to understanding learning preferences. Rooted in the belief that individuals have distinct modes in which they best absorb information, this model classifies learners into four primary categories.

Visual (V)

Visual learners tend to thrive when presented with graphical representations of information. Charts, diagrams, infographics, and other visual aids resonate with these learners. They often have a knack for spatial awareness and can recall information by picturing it in their minds. For visual learners, a well-organised mind map or a colourful chart might be far more effective than lengthy textual explanations.

Auditory/Aural (A)

For auditory or aural learners, the spoken word is a powerful tool. They find it easier to absorb information when it’s presented through speech, whether it’s in the form of lectures, discussions, or even audio recordings. Such learners often excel in oral presentations and discussions and may read out loud or talk to themselves when trying to understand complex concepts.

Read/Write (R)

Individuals who identify with this style have a strong affinity for the written word. They prefer information that is displayed as words, be it in books, articles, or notes. Reading and writing assignments, lists, glossaries, and manuals often appeal to these learners. They tend to take detailed notes, enjoy reading extensively, and express themselves best through writing.

Kinesthetic (K)

Kinesthetic learners are the hands-on individuals of the learning world. They benefit most from direct interaction with the material they’re studying. Experiments, role-playing, physical models, and real-life applications are the preferred learning tools for this group. Their learning is rooted in practicality and experience, often needing to ‘do’ rather than just ‘see’ or ‘hear’.

In utilising the VARK Model, it’s important to note that individuals might not fit squarely into one category. Many might exhibit a mix of preferences, benefiting from a multi-modal approach to learning. As such, understanding the VARK model isn’t about labelling but rather about enhancing the learning experience for everyone involved.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Source: Wikipedia

Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, introduced in the early 1980s, marked a pivotal shift in the understanding of intelligence and learning. Challenging the traditional notion of a single, overarching intelligence, Gardner posited that human beings possess multiple, independent intelligences. This perspective was transformative, highlighting the diverse ways individuals can excel and learn. Let’s delve into the different intelligences Gardner identified:


Individuals with linguistic intelligence have a heightened ability with words, both written and spoken. They excel in activities involving reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Often, they are naturally adept at learning languages, crafting stories, or engaging in persuasive communication.


This intelligence pertains to logical thinking, patterns, and numbers. People with a strong logical-mathematical intelligence excel in mathematics, problem-solving, logical reasoning, and scientific pursuits. They often approach challenges methodically and thrive on structured, systematic tasks.


Spatial intelligence involves the capacity to visualise and manipulate objects within one’s mind. Individuals with this intelligence tend to be good at puzzles, reading maps, daydreaming, and visual art forms like drawing, painting, or sculpture.


People with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence have a heightened sense of body awareness. They excel in activities that involve movement, such as dance, sport, or even handcrafts. Their learning is often experiential, involving physical activity and hands-on tasks.


Musical intelligence pertains to the ability to recognise, create, and appreciate rhythm, pitch, and tone. People with this intelligence might have an innate talent for playing musical instruments, singing, or composing music.


Interpersonal intelligence relates to one’s ability to understand and interact with others. Those with strong interpersonal skills are often empathetic, good at group activities, and excel in understanding people’s emotions, motivations, and intentions.


While interpersonal intelligence deals with understanding others, intrapersonal intelligence concerns understanding oneself. People with this intelligence have a deep self-awareness, understanding their own emotions, goals, motivations, and strengths.


Introduced later by Gardner, the naturalist intelligence pertains to the ability to recognise and categorise plants, animals, and other parts of the natural world. Individuals with this intelligence often have a deep appreciation for nature and can notice subtle changes in their environment.


Another later addition, existential intelligence, relates to the capacity for deep philosophical thinking. Those with existential intelligence often ponder life’s big questions and are drawn to existential philosophy, theology, and the deeper aspects of human existence.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory is not just an academic construct; it serves as a reminder of the diverse talents and abilities people possess. It underscores the idea that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning, and that each individual’s unique combination of intelligences can and should be nurtured.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory

Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory
Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory, Source: Wikipedia

Introduced by David Kolb in the 1970s, the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) offers a holistic perspective on learning, suggesting that our experiences shape the way we acquire and assimilate knowledge. Unlike other models that focus predominantly on cognitive processes, ELT emphasises the importance of concrete experiences in conjunction with reflection, conceptualisation, and active experimentation in the learning journey. Here’s a closer look at the four stages of Kolb’s cyclical model:

Concrete Experience (CE)

This is the phase where individuals actively engage in an experience, be it a new event or a reinterpretation of an existing one. It serves as the foundation upon which the other stages build. For learners, this could be as simple as a hands-on activity or a firsthand encounter with a topic or concept.

Reflective Observation (RO)

Following the experience, individuals enter a phase of reflection. Here, they contemplate the experience, mulling over their reactions, feelings, and observations. This introspective phase is crucial, as it allows learners to draw insights and make sense of what they’ve encountered.

Abstract Conceptualisation (AC)

From reflection springs the process of conceptualisation. In this stage, learners draw conclusions from their reflections, formulating theories or concepts based on their experience and observations. Essentially, they develop a more structured understanding, framing their experience within broader contexts or theoretical constructs.

Active Experimentation (AE)

Equipped with new concepts or theories, learners proceed to test these out in new situations. They apply what they’ve learnt, experiment with their new knowledge, and essentially, set the stage for a new cycle of concrete experience.

It’s worth noting that Kolb’s model is iterative. Learners continually cycle through these stages as they encounter new experiences, reflecting on and adapting their understanding in a continuous loop of learning.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory underscores the dynamic nature of learning, emphasising that it’s not just about passive absorption of information. Instead, it’s an active, ongoing process where experiences and reflections play pivotal roles in shaping an individual’s knowledge and understanding.

Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model

Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model
Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model, SourceL The Peak Performance Centre

In the landscape of learning models, Anthony Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model stands out for its focus on the ways individuals perceive and order new information. Introduced in the 1970s, this model posits that each person has innate and distinct ways of thinking and processing information, which he termed as “Mind Styles”. Differing from the typical learning styles that emphasise input methods (like seeing or hearing), Gregorc’s model is more about the cognitive processes individuals use. Let’s delve into the four main mind styles he identified:

Concrete Sequential (CS)

Individuals with a Concrete Sequential style are methodical and grounded in reality. They thrive on clear instructions, step-by-step processes, and hands-on tasks. These learners typically excel in situations where details are crucial. They prefer structured environments, enjoy routine, and are adept at practical tasks that require precision and a systematic approach.

Abstract Sequential (AS)

Abstract Sequential learners operate in the realm of theories, concepts, and ideas. They have an affinity for logical reasoning, detailed analysis, and structured thinking. While they may not always require tangible experiences as the Concrete Sequential learners do, they need clarity in thought and a well-defined structure in information. Reading, writing, and research typically appeal to these individuals.

Concrete Random (CR)

Individuals with a Concrete Random style are instinctive problem solvers. They rely on their intuition and often come up with innovative solutions to challenges. They are hands-on learners but, unlike the Concrete Sequential style, they don’t necessarily need a structured approach. They tend to experiment, take risks, and explore multiple avenues to find solutions.

Abstract Random (AR)

Abstract Random learners are holistic thinkers. They are deeply attuned to emotions, relationships, and interpersonal dynamics. These individuals learn best through personal connections, stories, and discussions. They thrive in collaborative environments and often require a personal or emotional connection to the subject matter to engage deeply.

Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model offers a unique lens through which we can understand learning preferences. By focusing on the cognitive aspect of learning – how individuals think and process information – the model provides valuable insights for educators, parents, and learners to tailor educational experiences that align with innate cognitive strengths.

Debates and Critiques Surrounding Learning Styles

The concept of learning styles has permeated educational theory and practice for several decades, garnering both ardent supporters and sceptics. While the idea that individuals might have unique learning preferences is intuitively appealing, the empirical evidence supporting its efficacy in enhancing learning outcomes remains contentious. Here’s an overview of the major debates and critiques:

Empirical Support

One of the primary criticisms against learning styles is the lack of robust empirical evidence supporting their impact on learning outcomes. Many studies fail to conclusively demonstrate that tailoring instruction to an individual’s preferred style results in improved learning or retention of information.

Definitions and Overlaps

The multitude of learning styles models, each with its own set of definitions and categories, can be confusing. There’s significant overlap between models, leading some critics to argue that the distinctions are arbitrary or overly simplistic.

Fluidity of Learning Preferences

Some educational researchers argue that learning preferences aren’t static. Instead, they may evolve based on context, content, or experience. A student might prefer visual aids for a subject like biology but find auditory explanations more useful for another subject like history.

Potential for Misclassification

There’s concern that labelling students based on a particular style might pigeonhole them, potentially limiting their exposure to other learning methods. Additionally, self-assessment tools, commonly used to determine one’s learning style, might not always be accurate, leading to potential misclassification.

Overemphasis on Adaptation

Critics argue that an overemphasis on adapting teaching methods to learning styles might detract from focusing on more effective, evidence-based teaching strategies. There’s also a risk that educators might oversimplify or reduce content to cater to a specific style, potentially compromising the depth of instruction.

Benefit of Multimodal Teaching

Instead of seeing styles as mutually exclusive categories, some argue for the benefits of a multimodal teaching approach. By incorporating various methods – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. – educators can provide a richer, more comprehensive learning experience, potentially benefiting all students, regardless of their preferred style.

In conclusion, while the concept of learning styles offers an intriguing framework for understanding individual differences in learning, its practical application in education remains a topic of debate. As with many pedagogical approaches, it’s essential to remain open-minded and critically evaluate the benefits and limitations, ensuring that the primary goal remains: effective, inclusive, and comprehensive education.

Practical Implications for Educators

The debates surrounding learning styles, regardless of where one stands, have underscored the importance of acknowledging individual differences in the classroom. While the rigid adherence to specific learning styles may be debated, the underlying idea has catalysed a broader movement towards more flexible, adaptable, and student-centred teaching methods. Here are some practical implications for educators based on the learning styles discourse:

Diverse Instructional Strategies

Even if not strictly adhering to learning styles, educators can benefit from using a mix of instructional strategies. Incorporating visuals, discussions, hands-on activities, and reading assignments ensures that students receive information in various formats, potentially increasing engagement and comprehension.

Adaptive Teaching

Recognising that not all students respond to the same teaching methods, educators might consider adopting a more adaptive approach, adjusting their strategies based on student feedback, assessments, and observable engagement.

Emphasis on Self-awareness

Encouraging students to understand their learning preferences, even informally, can foster self-awareness. This understanding can help students develop effective study habits, seek out resources that suit their preferences, and advocate for their learning needs.

Avoiding Over-reliance on Labels

While understanding of different learning preferences can be insightful, educators should be wary of pigeonholing students or making assumptions based solely on these labels. It’s vital to see each student as a unique individual with a range of capabilities and preferences.

Promote Multimodal Learning

Given the potential fluidity of learning preferences, educators can promote a multimodal approach. This doesn’t just mean mixing visuals, audio, and hands-on activities but also integrating digital tools, collaborative projects, and independent research to provide a holistic learning experience.

Continuous Feedback Loop

Establishing a continuous feedback loop with students can offer insights into which methods are working and which might need adjustments. This approach allows educators to remain responsive to students’ needs and refine their teaching strategies accordingly.

Professional Development

Educators can benefit from professional development sessions that introduce them to diverse teaching strategies, technological tools, and the latest research on effective instruction. Keeping updated with pedagogical developments ensures they are equipped to provide the best learning experiences.

In essence, the discourse on learning styles, regardless of its empirical standing, reminds educators of the diversity inherent in any classroom. By staying adaptable, seeking feedback, and continuously refining their approaches, educators can strive to meet the diverse needs of their students, ensuring a richer, more inclusive learning environment.


In the ever-evolving landscape of education, understanding individual preferences and differences isn’t just a luxury, but a necessity. With each learner standing at the confluence of multiple influences – culture, upbringing, experiences, and innate cognitive structures – there’s a poetic complexity to how we learn. But within this intricate dance lies a universal truth: education, at its core, is about human connection.

Enter Edumentors, not just as another tutoring platform, but as a testament to the profound impacts of peer mentorship and guidance. Learning isn’t merely the transmission of knowledge but also a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. The bridge between today’s uncertainties and tomorrow’s potentials can often be a single conversation, an understanding nod, or a shared struggle. And who better to guide young learners through these academic mazes than those who have recently navigated them?

The tutors at Edumentors, students from the UK’s elite academic institutions, embody more than just subject mastery. They represent resilience, ambition, and the sheer power of mentorship. In their guidance, students not only find clarity in complex equations or historical timelines but also witness a mirror of what’s achievable, instilling a newfound confidence.


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