How to identify and adapt to your student’s learning style

Learning style models

Any teacher knows that it is important to adapt the material to the student. Knowing about different learning styles can be very helpful to that process. There are several different learning style models that can be useful to us as teachers. I’ve outlined some of them below.


The Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic model is possibly the best known model of learning styles. This model suggest that we learn by either seeing (visual), hearing (auditory) or doing (kinaesthetic). The advantage of the VAK approach is that it is easy to remember and relatively easy to identify a particular student’s learning style. We can get an insight into a new student’s learning style by developing warmer activities that utilise all three learning styles and observing how the student responds.

Learning style

Learning method

Focus on


Learns by seeing

Images and actions


Learns by hearing

Reading and speaking


Learns by doing

Actions and speaking

Gregorc’s model

Developed by Antony Gregorc and Kathleen Butler, this model is based on the idea that we first learn and then process new information. The way we learn information is either concrete, using the senses, or abstract, using the imagination. The way we process this information is either sequential, step-by-step, or random, looking at the bigger picture.

Learning style

Learning method

Focus on

Concrete sequential

Learns by following instructions, being given information and then completing practice activities

Structure, teaching and applying theory

Abstract sequential

Learns by analysing, discussing and applying logic

Discussing the vocabulary or language point

Abstract random

Learns by listening and through interactions with others

Group work and creative projects

Concrete random

Learns by experimenting and taking risks

Experimenting, competition, letting them work things out for themselves

You can find more on how to apply this theory in TEFL classes here:

Kolb’s experimental learning style

This model is relevant to practical learning described by Kolb as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience.” This makes it especially relevant to language learning, where we learn by speaking.

Originally used as part of a learning cycle described here, Kolb’s ideas later become a learning style model because each stage of the cycle will come more naturally to some students than to others. There are two aspects to a person’s learning style. Perception is either concrete or abstract. Processing is either active, learning by doing, or reflective, learning by observing.

Learning style

Learning method

Focus on

Convergers (abstract and active)

Learns by applying theory and experimenting

Teach the grammar point or theory first, then apply it to the relevant language. Experiment to see which language it can be applied to

Divergers (concrete and reflective)

Learns through discussion and uses their imagination

Discussion and exploring ideas

Assimilators (abstract and reflective)

Learns by analysing

Discussion and analysing why a word or grammar point works the way it does

Accomodators (concrete and active)

Learns by doing

Give the student lots of time to practice the target language. Let them work things out for themselves as much as possible

Honey and Mumford

Based on Kolb’s model, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed their four learning styles. Activists learn by doing while pragmatists need to experiment with the new information. Reflectors learn through observation, and theorists understand concepts by relating them to things they already understand.

These are thought to be flexible instead of fixed characteristics. Like Kolb’s model, this theory suggests that an effective lesson will incorporate all of these learning styles. However, some people identify strongly with one more than the others and many teachers say that it’s helpful to focus on the type of learning that best suits their student.

Learning style

Learning method

Focus on


learns by doing

Giving lots of practice time


uses their imagination and experiments with ideas



observes and reflects

Modelling the correct use of language


fits new information in with what they already know

Reviewing relevant previous topics, teaching vocabulary through synonyms

Grasha and Riechmann

This model comes from a study of how adults learn, making it good option for teachers with older students. Unlike the other styles, this model focuses on what motivates students to learn. It incorporates three learning characteristics existing on a spectrum. The avoidant-participative spectrum shows how structured and goal-oriented the student likes their courses to be. The competitive-collaborative continuum shows the role of teachers and classmates in the student’s learning. The dependent-independent spectrum focuses on whether the student likes to be told things or to work things out for themselves.

Learning style

Motivated by

Focus on


A more relaxed learning environment

Engaging with the student to keep them interested and focused


Structure, discussion and teamwork

Clear expectations, discussion and group work



Acknowledging their contributions and abilities



Creating a calm environment with clarity and shared goals, group work


Clear instructions and goals

Structured classes working towards an established goal


The freedom to explore their interests

Giving the student responsibility for their own learning, the ability to go off on tangents in accordance with their interests


There are several more models of learning styles, but these are the ones I find most useful.

Which learning style models do you find most helpful? Or do you believe that the concept of learning styles is outdated?

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