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Identifying Learning Modalities: Characteristics of Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners

By Keren Perles

Many of your students may learn differently from each other, and it is important to identify how each student learns best. Understanding the characteristics of learning modalities - visual, auditory, or kinesthetic - can help you reach your students more effectively.


Different people learn in different ways, and these ways are called “learning modalities.” The most common learning modalities are visual (or through sight), auditory (or through hearing), and kinesthetic (or through action). The characteristics of learning modalities may vary from student to student, but understanding some of the most common ones can help you identify a student as a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner and enable you to discover ways to teach each student most effectively.

Visual Learners

Visual learners share most of the same learning characteristics, although not every visual learner has all of these characteristics. For example, a visual learner often notices visual details easily, and is less able to take note of details during a verbal discussion. They may find verbal instructions difficult to remember and follow. Visual learners often enjoy reading, and may be especially talented at remembering the proper spelling of words. Teachers can help visual learners succeed by providing them with graphic organizers, illustrations, or tables, which are easier for them to understand than a string of words.

In addition, many visual learners have very neat handwriting, impressive organizational skills, and a meticulous appearance. They may remember faces easily, and some visual learners are artistic as well.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners often enjoy class discussions, and they learn the best through listening and speaking. They may enjoy books on tape or read alouds more than individual reading, and they may talk to themselves while reading. In fact, an auditory learning may gain from speaking through a thought process in order to make a decision or come to a conclusion. Many auditory learners excel in public speaking or in persuasion, and they benefit from a teacher who speaks a lot, rather than simply writing information on the board. Some auditory learners find it difficult to focus on written instructions or details, but they will remember information if it is put to a tune. They may also enjoy singing and music in general.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn through their sense of touch, as well as through physically doing things. Because of this, kinesthetic learners may struggle with reading, which is primarily a visual skill. They may seem anxious or fidgety in many learning situations, tapping their feet, pencils, or anything else around. Kinesthetic learners often learn best through doing hands-on experiments and activities, doing demonstrations, and physically moving as they study. Many kinesthetic learners “talk with their hands,” using gestures or motions to get their point across. They enjoy being in motion, and may excel in sports or other physical activities. Rewards for a kinesthetic learner should be physical whenever possible.

These characteristics of learning modalities do not apply across the board, but they can helpful in identifying a student as having a certain modality. The next article in this series will give you some tips you can use once you know which modality each of your students most strongly identifies with.