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How Useful are 'Learning Style' Labels?

© Beverley Paine, 1997

There are many books written on “learning styles” and they all relate to traditional education. Schools need to “discover” and label how children best in the restricted learning environment of the classroom, but is their any real need to consider learning styles in our home based learning programs?
You know your children intimately; from their birth you have studied their likes, dislikes, emotions, indeed everything about them. You know them like the back of your hand. You are already an expert on their learning styles, and have structured their learning programs around them since birth! So why do you need labels now?

Consider these “learning styles” labels, taken from many educational books. If you had to apply one of these to yourself, which one best describes you?

dominant concrete sequential
interpersonal intelligence
intrapersonal intelligence
innovative learner
sensory specialist
explicitly structured
organised learner
musical intelligence
analytical learner
commonsense learner
sensory generalist
open ended structured
inventive learner
dominant abstract random
logical/mathematical intelligence
dynamic learner
dominant abstract
incremental learner
emotionally involved
damaged learner
sensitive learner
linguistic intelligence
dominant concrete random
spatial intelligence
global learner
intuitive learner
emotionally neutral
eclectic leaner

Perhaps it would be true to say you are a mixture of some, or maybe all of the above, with perhaps one or two of the descriptions appearing to dominate.

Is tracking down your dominant attributes, or learning about learning styles, really necessary to work out how to boost your ability to learn? And how much time, energy and effort will it take to do this?

Do we really need to have a label, a name for how we learn best - or do we simply need to know those things which make learning easier for us - for our individual children?

We can talk about how our brains do what they do all day. We can divide the brain up into hemispheres, learn lots of long words, look deeply into the theory of learning. Or we can ask some personal questions about ourselves, or our children, to discover very practical answers we can put to use right now!

What do you think you’d rather do?

Try this. On a scrap of paper draw a mind map (really just a sophisticated bubble diagram) as you go through the check-list overleaf. Using a variety of colours, begin from the centre, drawing and labelling each line out from the centre with the check-list headings. List those things you like/do in each heading and link them to the heading line. You’ll get a kind of tree emerging from a central point - a dendritic pattern. But the pattern isn’t important. What is important is the map of yourself you have just drawn, showing how and when learning happens best for you. All you need to do now to improve your concentration when you are learning, is to duplicate these conditions!

If only things were that simple!

There are other things you need to do, common sense things we often forget. They are also listed overleaf. Don’t underestimate their importance! Remember to ask yourself as you think about learning styles what type of learning is involved in what you want to learn. All to often we focus on “book” or “school” learning. Traditional education has always tended to value more left brain functioning than right. Most of the research in learning styles, “gifted”, “disabled” learners, and accelerated learning stems from the need to correct this imbalance.

In the home learning environment children are given more space, time, stimulation, love, consideration, access to materials, information, etc. Learning unfolds in a natural way, as it did in early childhood. However, there are always things you can do to enhance the learning environment - and should be doing, because they make sense. There will be things that work with one child and not another.

As an interested and dedicated home educating parent you would be finding these things out anyway - without the need to label your children. Sometimes, however, giving something a label can help you deal with a perceived problem, by allowing you to research and access information that can improve the learning environment or your own behaviour and attitudes, and can therefore be very useful.

See also An Introduction to Learning Styles, also by Beverley Paine, and Do You Realize You Have a 'Learning Style'? by Charlie Badenhop

and Learning Styles and Preferences.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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