How to Customize Your Online Content for Varied Learning Styles
Post Synopsis: Each of your readers or students learn differently. As an online instructor–whether through blog posts or eCourses–it’s your job to cater to their individual learning styles. This post explores the seven learning styles and how to create content customized for those styles.
If I were to teach you how to build a money-making business from home, which of the following would be your preferred way of learning?
- Text-based (eBook, physical book, etc.)
- Video lessons (eCourse, YouTube, webinar, etc.)
- Podcast or audio books
- Workshop with other students (classroom setting)
- Online workshop with other students (Facebook group, Slack community, etc.)
- A mix of some or all of the above
Everyone learns differently.
Each of your readers or students learns differently.
Some prefer to learn at their own pace, within the comfort of their homes. Others like to go out in a formal group setting and interact with the teacher and fellow students. Yet others, like to learn at their homes but also want interaction with the teacher and fellow students.
Some prefer going through loads of printed text while others want to meet real-life examples of the course outcome.
Howard Gardner, a renowned developmental psychologist, theorized that there are seven distinct intelligences, which guide how a person learns.
In this post, you will identify those seven major learning styles and how you–as an online educator–can create content that caters to each of these learning styles.
How to customize your online content for varied learning styles
What are the seven learning styles?
Think back to your school days.
Most of the learning was delivered primarily through either lectures or books (both linguistic techniques). And every student was expected to learn from these methods…
…which is strange because Howard Gardner identified SEVEN different learning styles:
- Verbal (linguistic): These learners learn best when using words, both written and spoken. This is the most common teaching technique traditional schools use.
- Visual (spatial): These learners prefer using visual props, such as pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
- Aural (auditory-musical): These learners learn better when using sound and music.
- Physical (kinesthetic): These learners use their sense of touch to learn concepts and skills.
- Logical (mathematical): These learners are gifted in understanding logic, reasoning, and systems.
- Solitary (intrapersonal): These learners absorb knowledge and learn skills at their own pace and especially well when they are in familiar surroundings, such as their homes. This is me, ya’ll!
- Social (interpersonal): These learners thrive when they are in touch with their fellow students and teaching staff.
Why should you care about the seven learning styles?
For the simple fact that you want all your readers and students to benefit equally from your content.
Think about it: you spend a reasonable amount of time creating your ideal customer persona but spare no time to think about her learning style.
In fact, this is something you probably didn’t even think of when you were creating on the persona.
I get it–because this isn’t something that’s discussed commonly.
And honestly, this is not high priority or a NEED unless you have an instructional blog and courses with in-depth tutorials. That’s when it gets tricky.
You create an in-depth blog post or a course with text and maybe throw in a few videos for fun.
Several people even buy your course but many abandon it midway (does your course platform allow you to access your students’ completion rates?
If not, ask them why and if they are planning to add this feature.)
As a business person, it may not matter to you whether or not your customer completes the course and benefits from it.
But as a teacher, it should absolutely matter to you.
Your course is rolled out to a heterogeneous group of students. And each of your students’ individual learning styles will determine how effective your teaching will be.
An abandoned course means your content did not speak to some of your students.
How can you customize your online content for varied learning styles?
Ok. Let’s get to the point.
It may seem like an impossible task to align your content with all learning styles.
Truth be told, it is rather difficult. Especially for an online course.
But, over the years, educators have identified what works better for a group of online learners.
The answer lies in combining the goodness of multiple learning styles to create the final learning material. This is also known as multimodal learning.
One of the most common multimodal learning models is called the VARK model.
According to the VARK model, online learners can fall into four major groups (hint: you have already learned about these groups):
- Visual learners: Use plenty of visuals-only or visual-dominant techniques in your course to help these learners learn. For example:
- Statistical diagrams, such as charts and graphs
- Process maps
- Aural learners: Also known as auditory learners, these people respond best to auditory techniques. For such learners, make your course sound-only or sound-dominant eCourses. For example:
- Audio narration – podcasts, audiobooks, recorded audio lectures
- One-to-one interactions or group discussions
- Video lectures with voiceovers
- Mnemonics, music, haiku rhymes, etc.
- Reading learners: The most traditional type of learners, these people require written words to understand information. Your course needs to be text-only or text-dominant to appeal to these learners. For example:
- PowerPoint presentations
- Case studies
- Kinaesthetic learners: Also known as physical learners, these learners are the “doers.” For such learners, your course needs to include a lot of physical and exploratory activities. For example:
- Role plays
- Actual physical activities that involve motor skills, such as building a model
- Simulated exploratory activities, such as 3D puzzles
Now, you may be thinking there is no way one course can cater to so many learning styles. You are right!
However, what you can EASILY do is incorporate elements of each of these four learning styles.
Identify the course goal.
Everything you do in a course should be driven by this.
What is that ONE learning outcome that your content will help accomplish?
Is it going to help your students learn new concepts, new processes, new skills, new facts…?
This is important because certain learning outcomes require a specific learning path.
For example, if your course goal is to teach trainee pilots to simply recall (remember) the switches in the cockpit, you know for sure that you need a visual medium (pictures, diagrams, animation, video walkthrough, etc.) and supplemented with reading (text) medium.
On the other hand, let’s say your course goal is to teach trainee pilots to not just identify (understand) the switches, their use, and the situations they are engaged in, but to also apply knowledge in predefined situations.
This course will require scenarios that require the students to perform actions (kinesthetic). This can be achieved through role plays at a minimum but could even mean creating simulated environments.
To supplement the delivery of knowledge and maintain interest, you may also need to use the other formats, such as industry reports, video lessons or stories, mnemonics to remember switch positions, etc. (reading, visual, and aural).
Alternatively, present your content in a tiered manner–begin with teaching, then include animation or video or image that shows the learner the the real action, and then enable the learner to replicate the steps using an on-demand tip/guide feature, and finally, ask the learner to complete the actions on their own.
What about the remaining learning groups?
You learned there are seven major learning groups but the VARK model only talks about four of these.
What about the remaining three learning groups then?
Every self-paced, online program offers the opportunity for solitary learning. For learners that are primarily solitary learners, online courses fit in perfectly in their scheme of things. Provide loads of activity sheets and assignments to your students to help them understand, practice, and apply their knowledge.
With the advent of social media and emails, it is easier than ever to create social environments for social learners. Make use of online communities and groups, live streams, chat messengers, etc. to create a social learning experience.
That leaves you with logical learners. Let’s face it–this is a very specialized group. Not every topic can be taught with logic, reasoning, and systems. Again, let your course goal be the guide for whether you need to include instruments of logic in your course or not.
So, the next time you create a course, remember your course goal determines the primary teaching format.
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