How to Use Online Learning to Suit Different Learning Styles
Are you a teacher who is having a hard time transitioning from classroom setup to online learning?
Here are some tips you can use to make learning online more fun and tailored to different learning styles!
In this article, I'll talk about some strategies and materials you can use in online teaching. What do you know, maybe you’ll discover you like some of these better than teaching in person too!
Online Learning is Our New Norm.
If you’re a student or a teacher, or even if you’re not, you probably know that classes have been suspended for over two months now. To cope, however, some of them have opted to hold online classes as a way to continue the semester.
Going through my social media wall over the last two months, I have often encountered complaints about the struggles of such a setup. The biggest issues being unstable internet connection and the limitations of conference call applications in accommodating the needs of a classroom.
As someone who grew up attending class in a physical classroom, the idea of meeting my classmates and teacher over a video call on my laptop sounds absurd. But that’s the reality students and teachers now face.
Instead of running to classrooms in order to beat the bell, the new norm is tuning in to a video call and asking, “Do you hear me?” While we lament the loss of running around on campus, we can now enjoy the running joke of asking whether someone can hear us properly while flashing them an unflattering angle of our face.
Given this reality, I felt that it would be interesting to explore how teachers and students could utilize online platforms to improve the learning process.
A lot of the time, we identify something as an obstacle simply because it’s new to us and not because they’re inherently bad. I think that is the case with online learning.
The teachers who struggle with this are often the ones who have been teaching the longest and are most comfortable teaching in a physical classroom. It’s not surprising then to know that the sudden change in teaching environment is perceived to be jarring, if not outright odious.
But just because something is new, doesn’t mean it has no potential. Actually, I’m an advocate of e-learning. I think it works very well for me. I do have to agree that it is not for everybody. We also have to consider the big issue of internet availability in the Philippines; but that’s a topic for another day. Today, I’d like to explore how online learning can actually be better for some learners.
The Different Learning Styles We Usually Encounter
To start with, I’d like to talk about “learning styles”. Currently, there are plenty of studies devised to improve learning in a classroom setting. However, despite their abundance, none of them have been particularly helpful in making targeted changes that improved classroom learning and research on this subject area is currently ongoing.
One of the limitations I notice with these learning style models is their target, which is to improve how teachers conduct classes to help students learn better. You see, students are very different, and their learning styles vary a lot. Hoping to target them collectively is a feat one wouldn’t seem capable of doing. That’s why when I discuss these learning styles, I caution educators who plan to target a wide audience to always take into consideration the reality that one simply cannot accommodate the learning style of each and every student, and diversifying learning strategies in one’s class for the sole purpose of reaching everyone might end up sacrificing the continuity of the class entirely (Romanelli, Frank, et al.).
Another thing I’d like people to keep in mind when discussing learning styles is that everyone’s within a spectrum of these learning styles, and that any preference we have in learning has no bearing on our level of intelligence.
The VARK Model
With that said, I’d like to discuss four learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/ writing and kinesthetic. These learning styles comprise Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mill’s 1992 VARK model (4 Different Learning Styles You Should Know: The VARK Model) which is a revised model of the original 1979 VAK Model by by Barbe, Swassing and Milone (Romanelli, Frank, et al.).
Additionally, I would also like to discuss how teachers and students can use online conferencing platforms like Canvas, Google Meets, Skype or Zoom during this season of e-learning to maximize their learning potential.
The Visual Learner
People who are visual learners learn best when reading graphs, models, tables and charts. More than what the term implies, these learners don’t learn by looking at photos, videos or powerpoints, rather, they like symbols and drawings that go beyond having words written out. They also prefer processing information as a whole than by getting snippets little by little (The Vark Modalities).
If you’re a teacher in Mathematics or Computer Science, then graphs and tables aren’t new to you and you probably have been using computers in class even before the pandemic. The added benefit of doing e-learning now, more than ever, is you can screen share and show students what is happening in your computer screen more easily. While they needed to squint at the white board where you flash your screen before, now, they can view your screen from their screen too. Wouldn’t they have an easier time following what you say when they can clearly see what you’re showing them?
Additionally, visual learners prefer to see the whole picture and looking at a diagram in its entirety in their screen is made even better when they can easily capture the screen before the teacher moves on to something else. This allows them time to look through the image and process things in their own time without the pressure of having the class wait on them. Not to mention, screenshots have way better photo quality than images taken by phone.
The Auditory Learner
People who are auditory learners learn best when they listen to information either through podcasts, lectures, discussions or even web calls. Oftentimes, they talk to themselves when they’re studying or talk to other people as a way to bounce their ideas around (The Vark Modalities).
Utilizing conference calls today for teachers and auditory learners is a great way to have more effective communication. While some teachers struggle to share their screens when their internet connectivity fluctuates, audio remains a feature for online calls that teachers and students alike can maximize even when their internet is not performing so well. While this can never replace face to face conversation, it’s definitely easier than yelling across the classroom to get yourself heard or strain to hear your teacher’s voice when there’s renovation going on outside.
On that note, you also don’t have to hear your clasmates chit-chatting while you’re concentrating on the lecture because one can simply mute them and have only one speaker at a time in a conference call. One mouth policy has never been easier to enforce!
The Read/ Write Learner
Contrary to the first two, these type of learners prefer to see words on a surface and process information in word form best. Unsurprisingly, most students and teachers fall under this category which may also be why this is the most widely used mode in formal education. Some examples of how these learners process information best is through articles, note-taking, and powerpoints (The Vark Modalities)!
Good thing that sharing files through cloud is so easy these days! Several people can even edit one document in real-time together! That aside, one of the easiest ways to appeal to these learners is to use powerpoints and flash texts! The perk here is for the teacher since they no longer need to write on a blackboard; typing things up and clicking a button to share it to students sounds a lot easier than constantly writing and erasing things on a board, don’t you agree?
The Kinesthetic Learner
Lastly, people who are kinesthetic learners are those who learn best by being in touch with their surroundings. These learners need to interact with their environment and experience things for themselves to learn; listening to others talk about their experiences or watching people do things just doesn’t have the same impact on them as they do to the previous learners (The Vark Modalities).
Unfortunately, because only a small percentage of the population are predominantly kinesthetic learners, they are some of the most overlooked in the traditional classroom set-up. Being trapped in a classroom and being made to understand concepts by looking at words and symbols while listening to people talk about concepts simply doesn’t work for them.
With e-learning, things are also a bit tricky. To explore the pros, one can easily pause lectures while he or she tries to figure things out. Before, in a classroom, you had to watch your teacher solve problems on the board for an hour or more without understanding what was going on and waiting till you got home before figuring things out... only to realize that you forgot how to do it because there’s no one there to guide you anymore. Now, however, you can stop each lecture, grab a paper and pen and test things out yourself before proceeding to the next step in the lecture. Sounds handy indeed!
But what if the lecture is live? Luckily, apps like Microsoft Office and Zoom have a record feature so one can easily replay lectures. Unlike before where one had to rely on his or her fallible memory, now one can easily go back to the lecture after trying things out for themselves!
But of course, this doesn’t really allow the student to explore things for themselves. What I would suggest with kinesthetic learner students is for teachers to give activities to be done outside of the lecture. You can tell students to try things out, for example, when explaining a concept like magnetism, you can tell the student to pause the video and go find a magnet in their house and try things out for themselves. You can also ask students to go to the mirror and take a look at their eyes closely when they flash a light close by (Don’t do this directly or you’ll harm your eyes) and they can watch as their pupils dilate.
There are also online games that are classroom friendly like Kahoot!, Quizziz, Quizzlet Live, or Gimkit (Game Show Classroom)”! These platforms allow us to gamify the learning experience thereby making it a lot more fun than listening to a lecture over a video call. These work not only for kinesthetic learners but also for everyone else who is feeling bored staring at a screen.
How To Make Online Learning Work For You
There are so many ways to make online learning work for you; one can opt for gamified experiences and get techy, some of them choose to go into a more personalized experience like online tutoring to be more attentive to the learning needs of just one student. Whatever you choose to go with this season when online learning is the new norm, just remember, there's so much room to get creative to achieve the results you want.
In conclusion, I’d like to remind people that we’re all likely combinations of these types of learners. While we can learn better with one mode or the other, we all have our preferences and we know ourselves best so we can use these tips to find what works best for us and learn with that. As for teachers, I hope these tips can help you make the best use of online learning as a method to make teaching easier and more enjoyable rather than stressful.
Remember, an obstacle is just a tool you have yet to realize.
Do you think these tips are helpful? We’d love to hear what you think!
“4 Different Learning Styles You Should Know: The VARK Model.” Online Teaching Degrees
from the University of Kansas, educationonline.ku.edu/community/ 4-different-learning-styles-to-know.
“Game Show Classroom: Comparing Kahoot!, Quizizz, Quizlet Live and Gimkit.” Ditch That
Textbook, 28 May 2020,ditchthattextbook.com/game-show-classroom-comparing- kahoot-quizizz-quizlet-live-and-quizalize/.
Romanelli, Frank, et al. “Learning Styles: a Review of Theory, Application, and Best Practices.”
American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 19 Feb. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690881/.
“The VARK Modalities.” VARK, vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/the-vark-modalities/.