LBS Practitioner Training

Professional development support for Literacy and Basic Skills educators in Ontario

2.5 About Learning Styles

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As we further our understanding of adult learners and adult learning, we need to give some time and attention to the subjects of:

  • preferred learning styles
  • learning disabilities.

In this unit, we will:

  • get a brief introduction to learning disabilities,
  • look at a number of tools for identifying learners’ preferred learning styles,
  • consider what it means that learners have different learning styles,
  • identify instructional approaches that work best for three particular learning styles.

A bit about learning disabilities

A person with a learning disability doesn’t get over it; he doesn’t get better; there is no cure.

Learning disabilities don’t just turn up to create challenges when a person is at school working on his reading, writing, and math. If a person has a learning disability, it is something that affects that person’s life from the minute he wakes up in the morning until he goes to bed at night; it affects everything that is in any way related to receiving and processing information.

Click on 2.5LDintro This is a brief introduction to different kinds of learning disabilities and a list of steps that instructors and learners can take when faced with these challenges in the classroom.


Since there are so many adults with learning disabilities in our LBS programs, and since it is so crucial that instructors have sufficient background knowledge and some ability for working with LD, we have devoted an entire training module to this subject . Click on 2.5LDoutline if you would like to see the course outline.

The important thing to take from the introduction to learning disabilities is this: for people with learning disabilities, some pathways for receiving and processing information are so disabled, or so blocked, that learning cannot happen via those routes.  In order to learn, people with LD must find other ways that work for them, i.e. that will allow them to receive and process information.

About learning styles:

There is no one right way to learn. People learn new things in a variety of ways: 1) by seeing something and by reading about it; 2) by hearing it and by talking about it; and 3) by more active routes using objects that can be constructed, taken apart, tinkered with, and rebuilt. These particular pathways for learning are known as:

  • visual learning (learning by seeing)
  • auditory learning (learning by hearing)
  • kinesthetic learning (learning by doing)

Although different people learn in different ways, most people have one preferred way for how they like to take in and process new information. It’s preferred because it’s usually the one that works best for them and allows them to learn in the most efficient way.

Click on Learning Styles and read about visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners.

What is the connection between the learners’ preferred learning styles and their success in LBS?

…for people without learning disabilities:

Every person has a preferred way to receive and process information. Unlike people with learning disabilities, other people are usually able to make the adjustments they need in order to learn whether their preferred learning styles are being addressed or not. Research shows that while people who do not have LD are able to learn through a number of different avenues, they learn at a slower rate when they are not working with their preferred learning style. It naturally follows that if an instructor and a learner are able to identify and work with the learner’s preferred learning style, the learner will learn more easily and progress more quickly. 

…for people with learning disabilities:

People who have learning disabilities are in a totally different situation. Learning disabilities so disable particular ways of receiving and processing information that it becomes imperative to identify the preferred learning style if people with LD are to learn successfully. For those learners, identifying and working with their preferred learning style is not just helpful – it is critical.
When we consider that an estimated 50-60% of learners in LBS classes may have some sort of learning disability, we can see the high priority that we, as educators, must place on identifying the learners’ preferred learning styles and knowing how to respond appropriately in the training we develop.


We must point out that while it is invaluable for instructors to discover the preferred learning styles of LD learners, that, in itself, is not the magic key that will unlock learning. Working with learning disabilities is far more complicated than that. If you have particular concerns about LD learners, look at Module 3 for some fascinating information, good insights and practical help.

What’s the connection between preferred learning styles and multiple intelligences?

In the last few years, a lot of activity and excitement has been generated in the education field by Howard Gardener’s, Framework of the Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As a result of his work, our traditional view of intelligence has been challenged, and that has led us to question our traditional beliefs about teaching and to engage in ongoing discussions around how people learn.

SIDETRIP for experienced instructors

If you are looking for something to stretch and challenge you professionally, you might be interested in examining theories on the world of Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles.

Click on: Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles Side Trip

If you did not take the SIDETRIP, the important thing to know about the multiple intelligences theory is, it continues to support:

  • the need to consider individual differences when working with individual learners,
  • the need to continue the search for new and more effective ways to help people learn.

Identifying learning styles?  How do you do that?

Practitioners are always interested in learning more about how their learners learn. As instructors work with individual learners, they usually pick up clues, over time, and through trial and error, that give them a pretty clear understanding of what works well and what does not. A faster way to get at this information may be to uncover the learner’s preferred learning style by means of a learning style inventory. With this assessment tool, learners are asked to check descriptors which they feel best describe their preferences in a number of areas. When they score the results, their preferred learning style becomes clear.

LBS practitioners in the field conduct preferred learning style assessments at different times and in a number of different ways depending on their individual programs. Here is how four different programs handle it:

Site 1
At our site, assessors conduct a preferred learning style assessment during the intake and assessment process.

Site 2
In our program, instructors ask new learners to complete a learning style inventory soon after they start coming to the class.

Site 3
We provide a two-week assessment and orientation program for all incoming learners before they are placed into classes. That’s when we do some preliminary testing in a number of areas and learners are able to identify their preferred learning styles.

Site 4
Our instructors wait for some time before introducing the subject of learning styles. When they feel the time is right, the instructors work on activities with the whole class together, or with learners in small groups in order to identify and understand preferred learning styles.

Learning style inventories

There are many reliable learning style inventories that are appropriate to use with LBS learners. They vary in length and sophistication, but a quick comparison will show you they are very much alike in the kinds of things they ask. This suggests that they are likely comparable in their results, so you could choose any one of them and feel fairly confident in what the results reveal. Here are some sample inventories at various levels of difficulty. You may want to copy and paste a couple of these into a Word document so that you can have hard copies on hand. Skim through each link and note the similarities in the kinds of questions that are used for each particular learning style.

NWT Literacy Council Adult Literacy

Preferred Learning Style Questionnaire, Assessment & Interpretation

Learning Style Checklist 1

Learning Style Checklist 2

How do you choose an inventory that’s right for your learners?

Choosing an inventory that will work well for your learners will depend on these kinds of factors:

  • whether you want to lead the learner through the exercise or have the learner complete it independently. Some inventories are more difficult than others in terms of vocabulary and methods of scoring.
  • what level the learner is at. Some inventories are geared for lower level learners. They use a larger font size, and there are fewer choices for the learner to make.
  • how much time you want to devote to this assessment.  If learners are with you for only a few hours a week, you may wish to use a “quick and dirty” version.
  • whether you are working with individual learners or with learners in a group. Some inventories easily lend themselves to small group work. They provide good springboards to discussion activities and to discovering commonalities with other learners.
  • whether or not the learner has access to the Internet. Some learners enjoy working online with an interactive inventory tool that will tally the responses and give immediate assessment results.

With these ideas in mind, take some time to go back now and decide which inventory tool would work best for your purposes.

JOURNAL REFLECTIONS: What do you think?
When it comes to understanding how to work with learners, it’s important to know not only what will work, but also what won’t. As you looked at the various learning style inventories, what did you learn about what will not work for visual learners, auditory learners
and kinesthetic learners?

What happens next?

Once you have identified the learners’ preferred learning styles, you have valuable information that can guide you as you work with learners in the daily program. In each of the following links, you will find a chart that:

  • describes what is easy and what is difficult for each type of learner,
  • gives you a number of specific strategies that are effective for that particular learning style,
  • gives examples to show how those strategies can be applied in reading, writing and math.

Visual Learners

Kinesthetic Learners

Auditory Learners

When you work with learners in groups, how can you address all three preferred learning styles at the same time?

This question points to another professional challenge for instructors working with learners in groups: i.e. how do you meet all the various learning needs of learners who are at different levels and who have different styles of  learning? Read the next link that gives a few practical tips for addressing three style of learning in a classroom setting. If you don’t yet know what your learners’ preferred learning styles are, then you should follow tips like these for addressing all three. If you consider all three in how you teach, the learners will naturally gravitate and respond to the approaches and cues that work best for them.

Click on Tips and Techniques for Groups

What do you say to the argument that we should teach people in the areas of their weaker styles of learning in order to better prepare them to work with information they receive in those ways later on?

That is a really good question because there are people who feel we should be teaching to the area of weakness and not to the area of strength in order to bring learners into better balance. For the most part, however, instructors in LBS do not take that view. Their thinking is based on a number of LBS realities. Here are two:

Learners are not usually in our programs for very long, so it is essential that we help them move towards their goals in the quickest, most efficient way possible. That means we need to focus on what skills and knowledge are missing for them and utilize the learner’s most effective way of acquiring new learning.

The large proportion of LD learners in our LBS classes does not support an approach that teaches to the learner’s weakest way of learning. For LD learners, those are closed doors that will not work. The only way an LD learner will experience continued success will be if she can receive new information through the doors that are open to her (including her preferred learning style) and learn good ways of coping with the doors of entry that are closed.

The Learning Environment

Self-directed Learning

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