‘Learning styles’ are a myth (part 2) — characteristics of an auditory learner.

There’s no evidence to confirm the validity of these popular labels. But here’s how auditory learning strategies can benefit everyone.

Prisma Staff
• 
November 29, 2022

We all have our preferred way of learning, from our choice of study material to the environment that helps us do our best thinking. Some people gravitate towards silent libraries to pour over flashcards, and others thrive when background noises keep them company while they’re deep in thought. The same goes for assessments: one student might jump at the chance to give an oral exam, another might get excited by an essay test, and another might relish completing a hands-on project to show off what they know.

There’s no question we develop preferences in terms of how we absorb information, build critical thinking skills, and demonstrate mastery of concepts. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling comfortable with a certain style of learning.

The problem comes when we allow these ‘preferences’ to crystallize into specific types of learners, which makes us believe that we can only learn according to one of the following different learning styles:

  • Associated with all things aural, the auditory learning style prioritizes listening and speaking: lectures, podcasts and even study groups.
  • Those who prefer to learn by doing are kinesthetic learners: from high-tech virtual reality to no-tech nature walks, kinesthetic activities incorporate movement and real-world applications of concepts.
  • Those who embrace a visual learning style like to use flashcards, graphs and other visual aids.

All of these techniques bring something to the table. But here’s the problem: no studies confirm that sticking to a certain type of learning actually benefits students. Worse, when we hold onto fixed labels, we lose out on valuable opportunities to try diverse techniques that, in fact, are the key to improving learning outcomes and growing as a learner.

The second in a series of three, this post will explore the traditional characteristics of an auditory learner that can be applied to any classroom or homeschool situation. (See our posts on characteristics of visual learners and kinesthetic learning.)


How auditory learning benefits everyone


1. It supports literacy skills

In a traditional classroom, literacy is a visual activity by definition: You open a book, put it in front of your eyes, and voilà: reading.

But adding an auditory component can be helpful, practical and fun.

With the virtual explosion of audiobooks, radio dramas and podcasts,  there’s no shortage of material to engage a kid who is struggling with reading — either because of a learning difference such as dyslexia or because they haven’t yet found their literary passion.

Audiobooks are a great way to support literacy skills, by building vocabulary, developing the imagination and even laying the groundwork for healthy reading habits.

As a bonus, you can incorporate audiobooks into family time, as part of after-dinner relaxation or road trip entertainment.

However, if your child is using audiobooks because they are struggling with decoding, just make sure to have your child read along with a physical copy of the book (at least sometimes); by reading along with a narrator, they’ll work on building the needed connections between how the word sounds and what it looks like on the page.


2. It prepares students to hold their own outside the classroom

Verbal communication is a huge part of everyday life, so all students should be encouraged to build speaking and listening skills, whether it’s through informal group discussions, structured role play or even the Socratic Method adapted for kids. At Prisma we hold class discussions where kids learn to think on their feet and respect others while defending their opinions with facts.

But not everyone feels comfortable jumping into the deep end. That’s where technology can be a big help in incorporating listening activities into lesson plans. Whereas a traditional lecture will disappear into thin air, recordings make it possible for students to re-listen on their own time. When we give students auditory material, we encourage them to listen at their own pace, as they absorb new concepts or dive deep into detail.

3. It strengthens ideas and relationships

We call it “auditory learning,” but don’t forget what it boils down to: talking and listening. Brainstorming with a peer, strategizing one-on-one with a coach or getting audience feedback during the end-of-cycle Expo Day are all part of the learning process at Prisma. We find that these kinds of personal interactions not only help deepen the learning experience, they strengthen the community which, in turn, makes students more open to taking risks the next time.


How to support all students, across disciplines

In a traditional classroom, it’s common for certain disciplines to rely on set approaches. As Yale researchers note, geometry tends to be more visual and science more experiential. There are reasons for this, of course: It’s more logical to show students a triangle than to describe it in words. But that doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.

If a student is struggling in a certain subject (or simply not engaged), consider trying a different approach to provide complementary tools and experiment with the way you present the material.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of sequencing: For example, one student might benefit from memorizing relevant vocabulary words before doing a science experiment, while another might be more primed to learn the terminology after they have the experience under their belt. When developing a writing assignment, one student might benefit from brainstorming out loud and then penning a draft, while another might want to start by scribbling down their thoughts and then working out the nuances with a classmate.

At Prisma, we introduce peer and family feedback midway through a project, when learners are deep enough into the work to be able to explain their thought process and also have plenty of time to decide which feedback to incorporate in the iteration phase.

Along the way, we have students reflect on their learning process, so they understand — and buy into — when they feel they should use a certain technique and why. That knowledge will help them adapt to whatever circumstance, which is the real measure of future success.

If your child says they can’t learn from a lecturer who drones monotonously, that doesn’t mean they don’t meet the characteristics of an auditory learner; it means they’re bored. (There may be people who can learn that way, but we’re not sure who would want to!)  There’s a big difference between trying to learn from a speaker who lulls you to sleep and a presenter who talks, incorporates visuals and gets the audience engaged through active participation.

Real-world learning is inherently interdisciplinary, so that’s what we advocate. Multiple modalities — visual, auditory and kinesthetic — will always be in play, no online “learning style” assessment needed.

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