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Understanding the Different Modes/Styles of Learning


By Shari Harpaz, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist


As adults, we all have various strengths and weaknesses. The same is true when it comes to styles of learning – there are some styles that are very effective for us and some that don’t work as well. Sometimes we lose sight of this when it comes to our children. Once a child enters school, we often assume that they are going to learn all subjects with equal ease, not taking into account the method by which their teacher chooses to teach them. Since this is clearly not a fair assumption to make, it is important to understand how different learning cues can help your child throughout their school-aged years.


Children use a combination of modalities to help them learn and as they grow they may start favoring one learning style over another. For example, newborns will rely heavily on tactile (touch) input to relate to the world around them, but as they develop, they will begin to use visual, motor, and auditory (sounds) cues with greater frequency.


By the time they are toddlers tactile cues are used less frequently (e.g. they will no longer mouth objects) and they will more readily seek visual, motor, and/or auditory input. Children’s songs such as Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider are a great example of auditory, motor, tactile, and visual cues used in combination to sustain the toddler’s attention and interest.


As a child moves towards the pre-school and school-aged years, the majority of input will be through visual and auditory cues and less so through tactile and motor stimulation.


As children progress through their school years, they may have a stronger preference for one modality over another in helping them learn. For example: If your child has an easier time copying a design after you have demonstrated it, they may be more of a visual learner. However, if your child is able to listen to your directions and create the intended design on their own, they may be more of an auditory learner. Thus by understanding your child’s preferred cues, you can better assist them in their schoolwork and in achieving their highest potential.


Please keep in mind that for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers it is ideal to use cues from as many modalities as possible in helping them learn about the world around them. However, as your child progresses through the school age years, you may want to supplement what they are learning in school using the modes/strategies that favor your child’s strengths.

For further information regarding styles of learning, I recommend A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine, MD.


Below is a brief description of the different modalities and how they may impact learning:


  1. Tactile (touch): This includes all the ways that things in the environment feel: textures (silky, rough, hard, soft etc.), size, wet/dry, slippery to name a few. We can also feel motion (i.e. the direction an object rotates).
  2. Motor: Once a child begins moving around in their environment, their ability to explore increases infinitely. They obtain a better sense of themselves as related to the world around them and can now reach objects that were not available to them when stationary.
  3. Visual: Visual input includes everyday objects and images, pictures, facial expressions, gestures (i.e. waving hello). The visual cues may help add context and meaning to the spoken word and help us remember the information better. However, too much visual input (i.e. flying paper airplanes) may distract us from what is being said and cause us to miss portions of the spoken word.
  4. Auditory: The sounds we hear come in many different forms: melody, intonation, sounds, words, sentences, ‘white noise’, sirens etc. Our brain receives all of this input and sifts through what is relevant information vs. ambient noise. With ample background noise (children moving desks or whispering in a classroom) it may be more difficult to hone in on the salient information that we need (i.e. a teacher giving directions).


If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles:


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Guidelines for Summer Activities Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
Learning Through Movement… A Sensory-Rich Way to Help Children Barbara Greenspan, OT
Five Elements of Successfully Disciplining Your Toddler Andy Eig, PhD.
Preventing Family Headaches Andy Eig, PhD.

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Play is A Lot More Than Fun and Games Shari Harpaz, MS, CCC-SLP
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Nursemaid's Elbow Deanie Barth, MSPT
Torticollis – What Every Parent Should Know Deanie Barth, MSPT
Getting to Know Your Body Barbara Greenspan, OT
Learning to Read Starts Young Shari Harpaz, MS, CCC-SLP
It’s All In The Hands - Ways to Develop Fine Motor Skills Barbara Greenspan, OT
Understanding the Different Modes/Styles of Learning Shari Harpaz, MS, CCC-SLP
Achieving Gross Motor Milestones and Play Skills Through Summer Time Fun Deanie Barth, MSPT
Help With Grandparents Andy Eig, PhD.
Helicopter Parenting Barbara Greenspan, OT
Eye-Hand Coordination Barbara Greenspan, OT
Five Major Milestones for Early Physical Development Deanie Barth, MSPT
It's All About the Core Deanie Barth, MSPT
Using Time Outs Properly and Effectively Andy Eig, PhD.
Making Room for Two Andy Eig, PhD.
Giving is MORE than Toys Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
Using the  5  7 Senses Barbara Greenspan, OT
Have You Spanked Your Children? Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
What to Expect During the Sixth Year of Your Baby's Life Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
What to Expect During the Third Year of Your Baby's Life Gopi K. Patel, MSE.d
What to Expect During the Second Year of Your Baby's Life Barbara Greenspan, OT
What to Expect During the First Year of Your Baby's Life Deanie Barth, MSPT
Psychiatric Medication and Young Children: Is there too much pill popping? Andy Eig, PhD.
Exersaucers, Swings and Jumpers— A help or hindrance to development? Deanie Barth, MSPT
Technology — A Chief Culprit in Language Delays Shari Harpaz, MS, CCC-SLP
Great Indoor Winter Play Ideas Barbara Greenspan, OT