Learning Styles and NLP Representational Systems

Perhaps one of the most obvious activities where an individuals preferred representational system really comes in to play is the field of education and learning. Our personal learning approach is often dictated to us by our preference in using a particular Representational System and to be able to learn and teach effectively an understanding of learning styles is essential.

The Visual Learner – Pictures, videos and demonstrations are the best way to engage the visual learner. They learn skills through watching how things are done before they do them, they prefer to see the ‘big picture’ for doing something and are less likely to be detail oriented than the Auditory learner. Show them the how and why of something and let them work out the instructions themselves. The visual learner will often day-dream in a classroom and when asked a question may stare up in the air or out the window as they try to create or recall image based memories. For these people the answers may be ‘out the window’ or ‘up in the air’.

The Auditory Learner – The learning is in the detail for the Auditory learner, they often want to know all of the intricacies of a subject. Names, dates, facts and figures are the lifeblood of the Auditory Learner, where the Visual Learner will just want an overview the Auditory learner wants to know every last detail. They are often good with language and verbal skills, and will listen intently to instruction. However when bored or when they have enough details they will begin talking, to themselves, their neighbour, to anyone. They prefer a richness of language and enjoy written instructions and are often voracious readers.

The Kinesthetic Learner – Modern teaching techniques put the Kinesthetic Learner at a disadvantage as they prefer to learn by doing. Unlike the Visual Learner who can pick knowledge up by watching, or the Auditory Learner who can read the instructions the Kinesthetic is a hands-on learner and needs to do things by practical example. In fact the more hands-on the better. Kinesthetic learners will often be slower paced than the other types and will not be interested in overviews or facts but in the personalities and emotions involved. They want to know how it ‘fits together’ and will try to fit the subject into their way of feeling through the world. Teaching the Kinesthetic learner is difficult as few subjects naturally lend themselves to internal representations of the Kinesthetic, for purely academic subjects it is important to build emotion, feeling and tactile feedback into the subject.

Blended Learning

Although people have a preference it is rare to find someone who is totally Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic and realistically students are a mix of all three. However, because people do have a strong preference it is important to ensure that when developing a training course, presentation or teaching in the classroom that you take the preferences in to account and produce materials that appeal to the three major representation systems.

In a presentation ensure that you have clear graphics to capture the Visual, enough detail to interest the Auditory and have the right level of hands-on involvement to ensure that the the Kinesthetics remain engaged.

Remember that the person preparing the materials will also have a preferred representational system which will deeply influence what they prepare and present. If you find yourself losing your audience or are one of the lost it may well be because only 1/3 of the audience is being catered for. A blended and balanced approach is often difficult to create but will produce dividends if applied correctly.

Technology and the Classroom

Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the use of technology, such as tablets and laptops, unfortunately the use of technology seems to favour the visual and auditory learners and the kinaesthetic student is being left behind.

Due to the fact that students with a kinaesthetic style of learning prefer to take a more active role in their own learning the trend of sitting in front of a screen is detrimental to their educational experience. It is important to ensure that the education process includes all types of student, even those who have a more practical bias.

Teaching through technology is great for both student and educator, it gives the pupil access to a greater wealth of information and it allows the teacher the freedom to support students in a more flexible way. Although the use of technology as an educational tool is ideal for the visual representational system unless the software is particularly well developed and there is sufficient  real-world tutoring them the use of technology can only be a boon.

Technology aids the teacher in so many ways that we cannot do without it support in the classroom, however let us make sure that we are not replacing good, multi sensory teaching with static, computer-driven learning. This will only benefit us in the short term, but will not give our students the best start in their education.


Leave a Comment