Cheat Sheet for Different Learning Styles

There is vast literature on how people learn. Below is a very brief summary for the sake of facilitating healthy small groups.

“Learning Preferences” is a phrase commonly understood to honor the many different ways individuals approach new information and learning. Understanding a little about these preferences will help you as a facilitator better engage your group. The best group lessons are those that accommodate, to the extent possible, a range of preferences noting that most people are “multimodal,” easily moving between learning styles.

Part of what inspires us to learn is being challenged within a reasonable range of ability. Knowing the preferred learning styles of those in your small group will make your members more comfortable and allow you to stretch the group. If you are interested in learning more, ask a teaching in your congregation! An excellent resource on this subject is the book The ABC’s of How We Learn, based on a popular Stanford University course.

One commonly used framework for describing learning preferences is “VARK” that places learners in four basic domains: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic, again recognizing that many individuals are multimodal learners.

Visual learners have a preference for seen or observed things, including the written word, pictures, films, or handouts. These learners use phrases such as “show me” and “let’shave a look at that.” They can often remember where they have seen something, even if they can’t remember specific details. Visual learners will learn best after reading an instruction or watching someone else do it first. These are the people who will work from lists and written directions.

To accommodate visual learners in your small group, write out an agenda of your time together each week. Printing out prayers and scripture for each lesson will be appreciated. The addition of inspirational art would be a bonus.

Auditory learners transfer information through listening: to the spoken word of self or others, to sounds and noises. These learners use phrases such as “tell me” and “let’s talk it over.” Auditory learners will learn best if they are invited to converse about the subject matter. They also learn well by singing or repeating in rhythm! These are the people who remember the words to songs and can easily incorporate spoken instructions.

To accommodate auditory learners in your small group, review out loud all action items, from the group norms to the lesson agenda, to any prayer or scripture.

Most recent research has demonstrated a continuum between what was classically understood as a Read/Write preference and a Kinesthetic preference. In small study groups such as these, Read preferences are well understood within the visual learning domain because text is the primary visual stimulus you will be using. Similarly, Write preferences are naturally affiliated with Kinesthetic learning.

Kinesthetic learners have a preference for movement and physical experience, touching, sensing, doing, and writing. These learners use phrases such as “let me try” and “how do you feel?” Kinesthetic learners will learn best by trying out a new task or even being allowed to learn while moving about. These are the people who like to experiment, who seem to always be doodling, and who rarely look at instructions before diving in!

To accommodate kinesthetic learners in your small group, allow for time to enjoy large motor movement (stretching, dancing, changing positions). Many kinesthetic learners will also learn from time spent in experiential prayer, such as manipulating clay or pipe cleaners, coloring, or building with Legos.