The 4 Learning Modalities | Modality in Education (2020)

learning modalities

The 4 learning modalities are:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Kinesthetic
  4. Tactile

Some students learn best through one modality and worse through others.

Educators can use this learning theory to differentiate their teaching for their students.

A teacher might create a lesson with lots of graphics for visual learners, a physically active lesson for kinesthetic learners, and so on.

Definition of Learning Modalities

Learning modalities can be defined as the ways students use their senses to learn. A student may have strengths in one or more modalities of learning. Educators often aim to differentiate their instruction to ensure students can learn through their preferred modality. However, many scholars argue that there is no evidence that humans have in-built learning styles.

The 4 Learning Modalities

the four learning modalities

1. Visual

Visual learners prefer to learn through images and graphics. Students who are visual learners are great at visual presentations and learning through images.

Strengths of visual learners:

  • They are good at identifying patterns in images.
  • They can tell the differences between colors and shapes very well upon eyesight.
  • They are often very neat and organized with their bookwork because they appreciate balanced imagery.
  • They are very good at reading maps.

Weaknesses of visual learners:

  • They may struggle with big chunks of text. They would prefer to learn by watching a video or reading a graph.
  • They struggle with audio-only texts such as podcasts.
  • They may be easily distracted from their learning by movement or colors.

Teaching Ideas

  • Model learning through guided practice and demonstrations.
  • Provide graphs and images rather than articles to read.
  • Encourage students to take well-organized notes.
  • Provide graphic organizers such as mind maps for the student.

2. Auditory

Auditory learners prefer to learn through listening. Students who are auditory learners would do well learning through listening, but struggle with silence.

Strengths of auditory learners:

  • They are very good at hearing patterns in music.
  • They appreciate storytelling as a form of teaching.
  • They are skilled at explaining things in simple language.
  • They can follow verbal directions with ease.
  • Can quickly hear patterns in language, making them good at learning foreign languages.

Weaknesses of auditory learners:

  • Can be distracted by changes in sounds around them.
  • Struggle to learn in silence, such as through standardized tests.
  • May struggle reading books. Would benefit from audiobooks instead.

Teaching ideas:

  • Teach through storytelling.
  • Provide podcasts for homework.
  • Encourage conversation and social learning scenarios.
  • Ask the student to verbally repeat information or instructions to you.

3. Kinesthetic

Kinesthetic learning is learning that takes place through bodily movements. Students who are kinesthetic learners like to learn things by being physical.

Strengths of kinesthetic learners:

  • Can express themselves very well through dance and movement.
  • Are strong sportspeople.
  • Like to learn by moving about their learning space.
  • Are very good in forest school educational environments.

Weaknesses of kinesthetic learners:

  • Struggle to stay still during tests or quiet time.
  • Have trouble paying attention to books and in other passive learning scenarios.
  • Need physical rather than theoretical experiences to understand ideas.

Teaching ideas:

  • Encourage role playing during learning.
  • Allow your student to move around the classroom or go outside to let off extra steam.

4. Tactile

Tactile learners learn through touch. They understand things best when they can physically touch them. They like to use fine motor skills to feel textures, get an understanding of the size of things, and so on. They are different to kinesthetic learners because they aren’t focused on moving their bodies, but simply touching and manipulating the things they are working with.

Strengths of tactile learners:

  • They learn best through active learning strategies that are popular in approaches such as problem posing education.
  • They learn through play very well.
  • They can build and manipulate things with their hands very well.
  • They appreciate practical learning scenarios where they actually do something while learning.

Weaknesses of tactile learners:

  • They struggle with passive learning such as reading books or listening to their teacher such as through the banking model of education.
  • They can struggle with theoretical explanations until they actually get a chance to apply theoretical ideas in real life.

Teaching ideas:

  • Bring many props into the classroom and allow the student to touch and play with them.
  • Allow the student to doodle while they listen to you.

Strengths and Criticisms of the Theory

Strengths

  • Teachers can differentiate their teaching strategies to ensure all students learn through a modality that suits their preferences.
  • It helps teachers get to know their students better. Teachers should observe their students learning and try to identify which modalities work best for their students.
  • It shows how a one size fits all model is outdated, and provides justification for 21st Century teaching approaches.

Criticisms

  • Many scholars such as Coffield (2004) argue that there is no such thing as a learning style. They show that there is no clear evidence that people truly learn better through one style than another. Instead, Coffield thinks we simply prefer to learn in one way than another.
  • It’s not clear whether teachers should focus on helping students improve their weaker modalities or simply create learning materials that are catered to their strengths.

Difference Between Modalities of Learning and Learning Styles

Learning styles are the preferences or different ways in which a learner might learn. Not everyone learns in the same way.

Learning modalities theory is one of many ‘learning styles’ theories. There are many different ways we can categorize learning styles.

Learning styles theories include:

  • Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • Kolb’s experiential learning styles
  • Honey and Mumford’s learning styles questionnaire
  • Vermunt’s learning styles inventory
  • Allinson and Hayes’ cognitive style index
  • And many more!

When talking about modalities of learning, we are usually only referring to the four specific learning styles discussed in this article: visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile.

Other theories such as Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory also use several of the modalities outlined in this article.

Final Thoughts

Modality in education is an important consideration for teachers. They should be aware of the needs of their students and how their students use their senses when learning.

Educators would benefit from pausing to reflect upon the four modalities of learning: visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. By including all four modalities in their lesson plans, they give students a chance to learn through their preferred method.