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October 15, 2010

Learning Styles: Time for an Overview

A broad look at what Learning Styles are and the model we will be exploring


I meant to get to this a little earlier this week, but late is better than never, right? In any case, we are beginning an in-depth exploration of Learning Styles and how they impact both small-group leaders and small-group members.

I'd like to start with a broad overview of Learning Styles in general.

Learning styles refer to how a person perceives and processes information.

  • "Perceive" refers to how data enters into a person's brain—meaning, sight, smell, sound, or touch.

  • "Process" refers to what the brain does with that information after it has been perceived. It's how the brain interprets, organizes, stores, and uses data.

When it comes to categorizing and understanding the learning styles of human beings, there are dozens of different models that have been developed over the years (many of which are very scholarly and the opposite of user friendly). But I prefer to focus on the VARK model because it makes a lot of sense and, frankly, is easy to both understand and apply.

Gimme a V-A-R-K!
The VARK model of learning styles was developed by Neil Fleming, who is a professor and educational theorist currently living in New Zealand. It focuses on four distinct learning styles:

  1. Visual learners
  2. Auditory learners
  3. Reading/writing learners
  4. Kinesthetic learners

We will discuss each of the different styles in depth over the next several weeks, although you can guess a lot about each style based on the name. Also, I should have mentioned this earlier, but VARK is just the first letter of each of the four learning styles. (You already figured that out, I know.)

In addition to the four VARK styles, we will also be talking about Social Learners and Solitary Learners—a distinction that makes a big difference when it comes to attendance and participation in small groups.

Dominant and Secondary
It's important to note that just about everyone is able to operate in all four of the different learning styles. Chances are good that all of your small-group members will be able to perceive and process information through site (visual), sound (auditory), reading/writing, and touch (kinesthetic).

But each of us has a dominant learning style—a primary method that we prefer to use when we learn. This is the way that we unconsciously approach and interpret the world. And, as small-group leaders, this is the way that we primarily attempt to lead and teach others.

Most people have a secondary learning style, as well. They are not as comfortable with their secondary style as they are with their dominant style, but they can learn and interact well just the same.

Okay, I think that's enough for this session. Come back early next week where we will take an in-depth look at what it means to be a Visual Learner.

posted by Sam O'Neal on October 15, 2010 3:20 PM

Related Tags: Learning, Learning Styles


I am a strong visual learner. It makes it extremely difficult for me to process sermons because they are purely auditory. Without some kind of visual tool, I am lost. I imagine this is the case with kinetic learners and "social" learners as well. I think that more churches need to take these learning "styles" into account in the corporate worship service.

I hate to be a party pooper, but an extensive review of the literature done in 2009 found that while people do have preferred learning styles, there's no evidence that learning in your preferred style helps you learn any better.

"Given the lack of scientific evidence, the authors argue that the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources."

Of course if a teacher or a class enjoys using certain learning styles, there's no evidence that it hurts.

Hang the 'scientific' evidence, I'll go with the anecdotal! :))

I regularly try to cater for as many different learning styles as possible in my Sunday services. I myself am definitely an R, and it's hard work moving out of my comfort zone, but the positive feedback from those who don't learn the way I do is great as they tell me how they are able to understand and engage with scripture in a way that is meaningful for them, and to grow spiritually.

Having served in a mission setting where one cultural group had a very strong orally rather rather literary based learning tradition, it became very clear to me that, just as I had to adapt there, I also needed to adjust my teaching style when I returned to my home culture in order to minister effectively to my new congregation and those I wanted to become part of it.

Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Hi Contessa,

I am actually familiar with that study, and it's not really a "debunk" of learning styles themselves, or whether they help people learn better. It's a critique on the literature (books and articles) that support learning styles.

As I understand it, the major articles and books written on learning styles have been more concerned with identifying the styles and pointing out how they work -- not with creating objective scientific tests that seek to prove that people learn better within their preferred styles.

Someone will eventually take a shot at those neutral, observation-based tests, and then we should have something else to talk about.

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