Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information. Perception, memory, and sensation comprise the concept of modality. The modalities or senses include visual, auditory, tactile/kinesthetic, smell, and taste. Researchers, including Reiff, Eisler, Barbe, and Stronck have concluded that in a classroom, the students would be approximately:

  • 25-30% visual
  • 25-30% auditory
  • 15% tactile/kinesthetic
  • 25-30% mixed modalities

Therefore, only 30% of the students will remember most of what is said in a classroom lecture and another 30% will remember primarily what is seen.

Visual learners are those who learn by seeing. They need to see overheads, diagrams, and read text books, etc. to understand a concept.

Auditory learners must hear what they are learning to really understand it. They enjoy listening, but cannot wait to have a chance to talk themselves. These students respond well to lecture and discussion.

Tactile/kinesthetic learners need to feel and touch to learn…these learners also learn better if movement is involved. They may be those students who are not doing well in school. Instruction geared to the auditory learner can be a hindrance to these learns, causing them to fall behind. One key reason at-risk children have trouble with school is that they tend to be these types of learners. About one-third of students do not process auditorially and are educationally deaf. Students with a tactile strength learn with manipulatives such as games, the internet, and labs.

An effective means to reach all learners is modality-based instruction; this consists of organizing around the different modalities to accommodate the needs of all learners. Most students learn with all their modalities, but some students may have unusual strengths and weaknesses in particular modalities. For example, students strong in the visual modality will be frustrated or confused with just verbal explanations.

The following chart describes each modality and can help you determine your learning style; read the word in the left column and then answer the questions in the successive three columns to see how you respond to each situation. Your answers may fall into all three columns, but one column will likely contain the most answers. The dominant column indicates your primary learning style.

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