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The 6 major learning styles: VAK, pragmatist, activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist

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Learning styles help us to learn and teach better. When we are students or teachers it can be helpful to understand the different learning styles that there are. Whilst it is very difficult to place each person into a pre-defined ‘box’, understanding the different learning styles can be a helpful tool when planning our learning. So, in this article I have provided you with a brief outline of the major types of learning styles covering VAK, pragmatist, activist, reflector, theorist and pragmatist. Ready to learn more? Read on…

What are learning styles?

Learning styles are exactly as it says on the tin really- it is our style of learning. We are all different and we all like to learn in different ways. Essentially, learning styles are general patterns that provide direction to teaching and learning.  It is the set of factors, behaviours, and attitudes that facilitate learning for an individual in a given situation.   

Learning styles: VAK, pragmatist, activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist

We all learn in different ways, which can make teaching lots of students difficult at times! But the key is to understand the students in our class, or if you are the student to understand how YOU learn best. Learning styles influence how we learn, how we teach, and how the two interact.  We are all born with certain tendencies toward particular learning styles- we may prefer to learn through reading and writing or we may learn better by physically doing something, such as a task or activity. Whilst some of this is down to biology and the way that we are made, it is also influenced by culture, personal experiences, maturity level, and development.  

We all have distinct and consistent preferred ways of how we perceive information, how we organise this information in our heads and how we retain this information. This is influenced by our cognitive, affective, and physiological behaviours and characteristics.

What is the VAK learning style?

The VAK learning styles model provides a very easy and quick guide to the three major learning styles that has been utilised within the education sector over the past couple of decades. Whilst many educational institutions are now referring to this model less than they previously did, it is still used in a range of educational contexts when examining learning styles. The VAK Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic model include three specific learning styles, as outlined below.

Visual learners

A visual learning style involves the use of seen or observed things. Visual teaching methods include using pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart paper, etc.

Auditory learners

An auditory learning style involves the transfer of information through listening. This can include the spoken word (your own or others) as well as sounds and noises.

Kinesthetic learners

Kinesthetic learning involves a physical learning experience. This includes touching, feeling, holding, doing and practical hands-on experiences.

If you want to learn more about what these learning styles mean in practice and which learning style bets fits you, you can take a short VAK test here.

What is an activist learning style?

Some learners can be described as activists. Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new.

virtual tourism. Learning styles: VAK, pragmatist, activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist

An activists’ philosophy is: “I’ll try anything once”. They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards.

Activists’ days are filled with activity. They tackle problems by brainstorming. As soon as the excitement from one activity has died down they are busy looking for the next. They tend to thrive on the challenge of new experiences but are bored with implementation and longer-term consolidation.

Activists are gregarious people constantly involving themselves with others but, in doing so, they seek to centre all activities around themselves.

What is a reflector learning style?

Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. These people collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to any conclusion. The thorough collection and analysis of data about experiences is what counts so they tend to postpone reaching definitive conclusions for as long as possible.

A reflectors’ philosophy is to be cautious. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing other people in action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them. When they act it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others’ observations as well as their own.

What is a theorist learning style?

Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step by step, logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won’t rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesise.

Theorists are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. “If it’s logical it feels good”. Questions they frequently ask are: “Does it make sense?” “How does this fit with that?” “What are the basic assumptions?”

Those who prefer this learning style tend to be detached, analytical, and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous. Their approach to problems is consistently logical. This is their ‘mental set’ and they rigidly reject anything which doesn’t fit with it. They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgments, lateral thinking and anything flippant.

What is a pragmatist learning style ?

Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. Those who prefer this learning style are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want try out in practice.

How to design a questionnaire. Learning styles: VAK, pragmatist, activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist

Pragmatists like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities ‘as a challenge’. Their philosophy is: “There is always a better way” and “If it works it’s good”.

Further reading- learning styles

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