Learning With All Our Senses


There are certain traits of adult learners that instructors would do well to understand in order to better reach their students.

Though some believe individuals are usually better at processing one type of input over the others, most people simultaneously process information through multiple senses. While a lot of teachers use only auditory or visual input, some people have a preference for kinesthetic learning, that is, learning that involves movement. The three main sensory preferences may be seen in the following ways:

Visual learners prefer, enjoy or require:

  • Graphic illustrations such as bar graphs or crosstabs to explain data
  • Color codes to highlight salient information
  • Maps to pinpoint places
  • Written content explaining new concepts
  • Wall charts that display points to be remembered
  • Outlines
  • Drawings or designs
  • Sitting up close during presentations in order to see the presenter's face
  • The use of gestures
  • Taking notes during lectures
  • Having instructors repeat verbal directions.

Auditory learners prefer, enjoy or require:

  • The verbal presentation of new information
  • Group discussions to hear other points of view or practices
  • Fast-paced verbal exchanges of ideas
  • Hearing a good joke or story that they can repeat to others
  • Being given verbal cues or pneumonic devices to help them remember information
  • Hearing music at the beginning of or during transitions in a training setting
  • Having words accompany illustrations
  • Being given oral reports of working groups.

Kinesthetic learners prefer, enjoy or require:

  • Movement – their own as an audience member or that of the instructor
  • Hands-on experience while learning
  • Using or seeing gestures while talking
  • Role-play exercises over discussion groups
  • Shaking hands when meeting or greeting people
  • Trying new things without a lengthy explanation of the activity
  • Taking frequent breaks
  • Having regular opportunities to change seating or room arrangement
  • “Just doing it” rather than talking about it.

The retention of learned material is enhanced if the learner is asked to process information using more than one sense. Creating a presentation that delivers information visually and through sound and movement is a good way to keep adult learners’ attention and ensure that they retain the information.

Cheryl Williams