Are They All Visual Learners?
Learning Styles and our
Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Kids


By Katherine Baldwin, Colorado Families for Hands & Voices

[ Click for Spanish Version ]

Recently several of us parents were sitting around chatting about the imminent arrival of another school year. We began to explore the notion of learning styles and how important it is for us to know what kind of learners our kids are so we can better support their educational experience. Some might say, "That's easy. Deaf kids must be visual learners. Their sense of hearing is compromised, so their sense of sight must be enhanced."

While that line of thought might make sense (no pun intended), our discussion was leading us in another direction. Sure, several in the group have deaf or hard of hearing kids who seem to be visual learners, but there were also those who talked about their child learning things best when it was a hands-on activity. There were even some who were convinced that our children-our deaf and hard-of hearing children-were auditory learners. We decided it was worth learning more about learning styles, so we can better understand how to help our kids maximize their strengths in the classroom and beyond.

So, what is a learning style? A learning style is the way in which a person processes, comprehends and integrates new information. Four learning styles have been widely discussed-these are auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic.

An auditory learner: Learns best by listening.

A visual learner: Learns best by seeing.

A tactile learner: Learns best by touching, feeling, and manipulating objects.

A kinesthetic learner: Learns best with frequent opportunities for physical activity.

A person's preferred learning style is not usually limited to one of these types, but rather, is some combination of them. However, when given a choice between being presented with new information in one way or another, most of us would have a preference. In their book called The Learning Differences Sourcebook (1998), Nancy Boyles, M. Ed. and Darlene Contadino, MSW, identify some characteristics that typically describe students with a particular learning style. Perhaps you will recognize yourself or your child in these descriptions.

The Visual Learner

If a child is a visual learner, it's not that she only learns when information is presented visually; it just means that in general, she learns new things easier when they are presented in a visual format, such as books, diagrams, charts and demonstrations.

Examples of characteristics of a visual learner are:

  • Often asks for things to be repeated. Overuses, "Huh?"
  • Will often look at what the other children are doing rather than ask the teacher to repeat the instructions.
  • May appear distracted when overwhelmed by too much information.
  • Unless directions or assignments are in writing, may have difficulty remembering them.
  • Often completes difficult tasks, but has a hard time explaining in words how it is done.

The Auditory Learner

An auditory learner generally prefers to take in new information by listening to spoken instruction, books on tape, and discussions, and by reading out-loud. These might be the children who always carry an extra battery. Some characteristics of an auditory learner are:

  • Very verbal, but has illegible handwriting.
  • Spells out loud better than on paper. May test better orally.
  • Usually benefits from a phonics approach to reading.
  • Uses bookmarks, line markers or fingers to mark place.

The Tactile Learner

Tactile learners prefer learning through hands-on experiences such as building, making posters, and doing experiments. Tactile learners may have some of the following characteristics:

  • Needs to touch, feel and manipulate objects.
  • Enjoys tinkering and designing.
  • Benefits from math manipulatives (counters, coins, etc).
  • Wants to take equipment from you and figure it out without instruction.

The Kinesthetic Learner

Finally, a child described as a kinesthetic learner will learn best when physical activity is incorporated into the lesson. Some of the characteristics of a kinesthetic learner are:

  • Has exceptional fine and gross motor coordination.
  • Uses bodily control and movement to express himself or herself. May be very good at dance, sports, gymnastics, martial arts, etc.
  • Is energetic and physical. Has difficulty sitting for long periods of time.

Although it might be tempting to assume that all deaf and hard of hearing children are visual, tactile, or kinesthetic learners, this is not necessarily true. However, it is probably to their advantage if they are. Think about how frustrating it could be for deaf and hard of hearing kids who are "wired" to be auditory learners! It doesn't mean they can't learn, but it will be more challenging for them because they will have to rely more on a secondary learning style.

It is important to note here that there are many other factors that affect a child's learning process. Life experiences, heredity, environment, personality, temperament, culture, and family context are just a few of these contributing factors (Boyles and Contadino, 1998). However, it can be helpful to identify your child's learning style. There are a number of tools available that can help you learn more about your child's learning style. A quick questionnaire can be found at this website:

The questions take about five minutes to fill out, and the results are instant. The site also provides strategies to consider based on your learning style. There is no charge for completing the questionnaire. Below are links to other learning style questionnaires in addition to the link above:

So, once you zero in on your child's learning style, what next? Most teachers use a variety of teaching techniques, which incorporate the various learning styles. Once you know more about where your child's learning strengths are, take some time to observe the teacher in the classroom. If a new lesson is presented using several different techniques, then your child is probably accessing the information adequately. But if the teacher's techniques seem to be biased toward one style, you may want to talk with the teacher about it. If your child has an IEP, this is a perfect place to include language about your child's preferred learning style, and the specific strategies that will be used to optimize your child's learning experience.

Note: The Learning Differences Sourcebook (1998) includes a chapter that addresses hearing loss and deafness.

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