What exactly is a learning style? Why do some students respond differently to one learning style than they do to another? And what is it that makes one style produce a different outcome than another style when the information to be learned is the same?
We can describe our learning style as our preferred method of perceiving, organizing and retaining information. There are many competing schools of thought on describing and classifying learning styles, and there is also debate about whether learning styles are a thing at all. Learning is impacted by so many variables that the classification of a leaner into a learning style may actually be made based on unseen factors, such as social, cultural or experiential factors.
At the neurological level a learning style is how we make the synaptic connections that allow us to make sense of the world. The brain is a wonderfully adaptive organ that can take the input from the five senses and combine it with existing synaptic connections to make new connections. And although the underlying processes are the same, each brain is unique in it’s ability to make the connections.
There are differences in the amount of sensory input required for our brains to make the connections that are being “taught.” Some brains are able to make the connections with limited contribution from a single sense, while others might require most or even all the senses to make the connections. A blind person can learn by hearing the words. Helen Keller learned without sight or sound. Einstein didn’t need sensory input at all, he could simply use the existing connections to create new connections, as in his famous “thought experiments.”
An individual’s learning style can also be plastic, it can change over time. This is particularly true in children. A child requires a great deal of sensory input early in life but later in life may require only limited input. As we age our preferred method of perception and classification and retention can also change.
Finally, the information or concept that is being taught may also impact what style is most effective in learning. It’s hard to learn a yoga pose by reading about it. Teaching a cosmological concept is difficult to demonstrate. The information may drive the learning style as well as the individuals preferred methods.
As for me, I find that now my learning style is one of individual study. I can usually read about something and understand it.