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Why are some people visual learners and some people auditory learners? How can you test them to find out which one they are? Thank you!
Question Date: 2012-10-18
Answer 1:

I´m very happy to see this question! The short answer is this: there really isn´t any scientific evidence that some people are "visual learners" and some people are "auditory learners." Whether people score as more visual or more auditory on a test, everyone probably learns in about the same way!

To understand where this evidence comes from, let´s talk about the scientific method. First, a scientist asks a question. In the case of learning styles, the question is, "Do some people learn better from a visual lesson, while others learn better from an auditory lesson?" Next, the scientist forms a hypothesis, which is what they think the answer to their question will be. Our scientist´s hypothesis could be, "People who score as visual learners will do better on a test if they learn with a visual lesson. People who score as auditory learners will do better on a test if they learn with an auditory lesson." Great! Now the scientist can design a study to test this. A good study would look like this:

1. Give students a test to determine if they are visual or auditory learners. The test could include questions like, "I follow written instructions better than oral instructions."

2. Randomly mix the students into two groups. Give one group an auditory lesson, and give the other group a visual lesson.

3. Give all of the students a test of the material presented in the lesson.

According to the scientist´s prediction, the visual learners who get a visual lesson and the auditory learners who get an auditory lesson should learn the best, whereas the students who get a lesson that doesn´t match their learning style should perform very poorly.

As it turns out studies like this have been done, and our scientist´s hypothesis was incorrect. According to these studies, students all learn about the same with either lesson, whether they initially score as a visual or an auditory learner! People score differently on tests of learning styles because they might prefer one type of lesson over the other, but that doesn't actually predict anything about learning.

If it´s not learning styles, then what helps people learn? People learn well when they elaborate on information in their heads, and when they generate connections with their prior knowledge. There are lots of important things that make us unique as students, but whether we learn better with visual or auditory information probably isn´t one of them.

For a review of this research, see Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.


Answer 2:

Jenna, this is a fantastic question! While I don't think this concept is really understood at a fundamental level, I think that part of it is because of how our brains "allocate" information.

What I mean by "allocate" is: how much space, or how many brain cells, we have available for each type of information we want to store. It turns out that our brains are divided into different "parts" called "lobes" and "cortices" according to the kind of information we're dealing with.

So for your question, the kinds of information we're dealing with are visual versus audio information. It turns out that some people have a larger "visual cortex" and a smaller "auditory cortex," whereas other people might have the exact opposite. The visual and auditory cortices are the regions of the brain where we deal with visual or auditory information, respectively. In fact, your visual cortex is located in the back, top part of your head, and your auditory cortex is located more on the sides, near your temples!

In terms of testing people to see whether they learn better through sight or hearing, you could try performing an experiment like this:

1. show someone a bunch of numbers, shapes, or items. For example, "5, 2, circle (draw this), 73, banana (draw this), chair, 61, triangle, 98, 46, star"

2. ask them to write down as much as they can remember, or give them a piece of paper with some of them as multiple choice answers.

3. now, verbally list a new set of numbers, shapes, or items: For instance: "18, diamond, 35, 11, muffin, 24, desk, 56, tree"

4. ask them to write down as much as they can remember, or give them a piece of paper with some of them as multiple choice answers.

Now compare how many they got correct! I hope this helps. Have fun!


Answer 3:

The three most common types of learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. To learn, we depend on our senses to process the information around us. Most people tend to use one of their senses more than the others.

Visual learners learn through seeing. These learners need to see the teacher's body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They tend to prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions (e.g. people's heads). They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, illustrated textbooks, videos, hand-outs, etc. During a lecture or classroom discussion, visual learners often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb the information.

Auditory learners learn through listening. They learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.

Kinesthetic learners learn through moving, doing, and touching. They learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.

Everyone is different and therefore we all naturally have different learning styles. But typically our learning style is forced upon us through life like this: In grades kindergarten to third, new information is presented to us kinesthetically; grades 4 to 8 are visually presented; while grades 9 to college and on into the business environment, information is presented to us mostly through auditory means, such as lectures. Many people would argue that throughout schooling and beyond information should be presented in all three ways: visually, through auditory means, and kinesthetically.

You can take a test to see which learning style you have here:

learning style


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