Different learning styles affect classroom success


photo by Devesh Kumar

Nicole Schroeder

When going online to his website, students in James Meyer’s humanities class have access to much more than just a repetition of the day’s PowerPoint presentation. Knowing the wide variety of students and learners present in his class, Meyer makes sure his students can find an organized, bulleted outline of the main ideas of the lesson, followed by links to related YouTube videos on Khan Academy or photos related to the topic being discussed.
He is sure to provide a wide variety of resources to benefit every type of learning style, and yet he said he constantly searches for other online materials he can use to help teach or reiterate his lessons in as many ways as possible.
“I recognize first that I have certain biases that I teach the way that I learn and like to learn,” Meyer said. “I think recognizing that is the first step. Then, the second step is to think of the material that you want students to learn as an end point and, the longer you teach, be more and more imaginative with the different roads you can carve out to get to that end point.”
Learning styles are defined as “a set of factors, behaviors, and attitudes that facilitate learning for an individual in a given situation,” according to Margaret D. Anderson, an educational psychologist at Cortland College. Many students and teachers believe there to be three main learning styles, most commonly referred to as auditory, visual and kinetic.
However, Meyer said a student’s true learning style is rarely so clear cut.
“I think that term can also be used more generally to talk about the different types of environments that can be good for you. Are you the kind of person who learns better in a classroom, in discussion, or on your own? Are you the kind of person who learns better in a traditional school environment or do you really need to learn ‘on the job?’” Meyer said. “I think that the most important part of the topic is the idea that we have to at least build a sensitivity for the fact that people don’t necessarily learn best the way we learn best.”
For senior Kayla Glaser, who believes herself to be a predominantly visual learner, this means using graphic organizers and color-coded notes to help her remember important points easier when studying for a quiz or test.
“I’ll try to draw labelled pictures that I could use and diagrams that’ll help me. I also use brightly colored note cards because to me it’s just another visual cue that helps me learn the information,” Glaser said. “I learn better when I have a visual of something [rather] than when I am just told information.”
Even though Glaser believes herself to learn best visually, she said she still believes it is possible for someone to have multiple learning styles. Jill Dudley, the center director for Sylvan Learning Center, agrees.
“I think that everybody has elements of all three [learning styles],” Dudley said. “Nobody is purely hands-on or purely visual. You could be heavily one or the other or you could even be pretty close between the three, but what it just means is that you have to figure out yourself how you remember things better.”
Meyer understands some students have the ability to utilize more than one learning style and believes much of the responsibility in adjusting one’s studying or note-taking methods accordingly lie with the student. However, when students do struggle with learning a lesson in their class, he said teachers need to realize that it may be an issue of learning style rather than a question of intelligence.
“I think [differing learning styles] are something that we need to consider when we look around the classrooms that we’re in and we start categorizing people as being the smart ones, the not-smart ones,” Meyer said. “Maybe what we’re doing, in fact, is seeing people who are naturally acclimated to what is produced here and then others who would just thrive a lot more if this environment were different.”
Though she hasn’t ever struggled in a class specifically from the way her teacher taught, Glaser said she has had to adjust to the way she studies for certain classes in order to make sure she retained the important information from the lesson. In the same way, she said students should embrace the learning methods they know work for them and use them to their advantage in difficult classes.
“I believe your learning style is definitely important and that if you know it is and center your studies around it, it will help you learn,” Glaser said. “No matter what your learning style is you just have to manage to adjust the ways you study to fit it.”
Besides adjusting their own note-taking styles, Dudley said students who struggle with certain subjects and the ways they are taught have many places to turn for further help.
“In an ideal world, I think there are several things you’d want to do. You’d want to try to get as much information as you can about what you’re learning, and try to sit down and come up with creative ways to learn it and study it. You’d also want to talk with the teacher and let them know your concerns,” Dudley said. “Just always be proactive and never settling or resigning to the fact that ‘This teacher doesn’t teach to my learning style.’”
In the same respect, Meyer said simply keeping class notes organized can help motivate students and allow them to study information better without relying on lessons that must be taught a certain way. Rewriting notes and putting them down on paper in ways that make sense, he said, are going to be the most helpful habits a student can practice in order to learn and retain information.
“If you can organize what you’re learning and know why it is where it is, it’s sinking in,” Meyer said. “You’re no longer just memorizing something, you’re putting it somewhere and you’re knowing where to come back to it. You’re knowing why there is a place for everything … and I think that’s really big.”