It is a simple truth that not all individuals learn the same way. Our education system is in the middle of a complete overhaul in order to accommodate the various learning styles, but once you leave school, the rest of the world won’t be so kind.
As you embark on your journey of career discovery, your skills and interests will nudge you in the appropriate direction. However, if you are still weighing your career options, you should take time to consider your learning style. Matching your job to your learning style can help keep you engaged and interested in growing your skills and knowledge within your profession, which will improve your prospects for career advancement.
Careers for Auditory Learners
Auditory learners are most effective when they receive information out loud. They may have been the only kids in class that didn’t groan with discontent when their teacher proclaimed “take out your notebooks” as the preface to a lecture. However, they were the first to complain when the English teacher handed out the next novel to read. Auditory learners prefer discussion to essays and craft projects.
As a result, auditory learners tend to have stronger communication and social skills. If you identify as an auditory learner, you should consider a career that requires interaction and conversation. It is estimated that auditory learners make up about 30% of the population. Take a look at these careers for auditory learners:
- Speech pathologist. Speech pathologists help kids and adults identify and manage speech and communication disorders. Speech pathologists must be able to process and analyze what they are hearing from their clients to create a diagnosis and treatment plan, which sums up the strengths of the auditory learner pretty well.
- Teacher. Despite the importance of differentiated instruction in the modern classroom, a teacher still spends a vast majority of their day talking and listening to students and colleagues. The ability to speak to your students and process their feedback is essential for effective instruction.
- Lawyer. Auditory learners have a good grasp of language, and therefore, they often possess superior communication skills. A lawyer must have exceptional communication skills. Writing contracts, arguing cases, and negotiating deals and agreements all require the ability to say exactly what you mean — and mean what you say.
- Translator. With modern translation software managing a pretty impressive portion in the world of written language translation, professional human translators spend most of their time with verbal translation. As the economy stretches to all the corners of the globe, translators can make a good living with a wide variety of languages.
- Journalist. As with lawyers, exceptional communication skills are an absolute necessity in the world of journalism. Listening and oral comprehension skills are also invaluable — the subject of your interview or press conference won’t always repeat what they said just because you missed something.
- Engineer. The term “engineer” is extremely broad, but in some circles, your job will involve taking customer input and requirements and putting them on paper (or the computer screen). Engineers often spend just as much time decoding and interpreting customer requests as they do on their actual engineering tasks.
- Nurse/doctor. When it comes to diagnosing a patient’s illness, visual evidence isn’t always available. Making an accurate determination requires asking the right questions and interpreting the patient’s answers. Studies have shown time and time again that a medical professional’s bedside manner is more important than their knowledge and diagnostic abilities in a patient’s perception of their effectiveness. So for doctors and nurses, the conversation with the patient is as important as the outcome.
- Therapist/psychiatrist. Therapists earn a living by listening to their patients and parsing language, stories, and questions to find meaning and, hopefully, advice or treatment suggestions. We may do much of our communicating with on-screen keyboards on a daily basis, but in this environment, it’s all about what you say and hear that matters. Perceiving the inflection and subtext of the conversation with your patient requires the skills that auditory learners have developed all their lives.
- Disc jockey/TV personality. To finish the verbal communication skills theme, DJs and TV personalities literally talk for a living. To be successful, you will have to lean on your listening and speaking abilities. Auditory learners tend to be more talkative than visual and kinesthetic learners, so what better career can you have than one where having nothing to say is actually a bad thing?
Careers for Visual Learners
Did your eyes glaze over when your history teacher reached page three of his lecture notes? Did you dread your foreign language class because you just couldn’t get the hang of the gender pronouns? On the other hand, were you always the first person done with your physics problems? Did you wish you could take shop or art class year round?
If your head started nodding at any point in the previous paragraph, that’s a pretty good indication you are a visual learner. Visual learners tended to earn the label of “self-directed” in the classroom simply for preferring to acquire knowledge through reading rather than direct instruction. If you are a visual learner, you are probably pretty good at solving puzzles, too. You also sit in the majority, as it is estimated that 65% of the population falls into this category. Let’s take a look at some careers for the visual learner:
- Editor/copyeditor. The most important trait for an editor is an eye for detail. Editors spend their entire work day sweating the small stuff in print media. There’s no room for eye fatigue in the world of an editor, but it is an extremely attractive job for the individual who loves to read — and who is a visual learner. Strong written communication skills are also required, as your efforts in the editing process don’t mean much if you don’t provide feedback for your writers.
- Teacher. Any educator will tell you that lecturing is but a small fraction of a teacher’s job. Corralling the attention and energy of a room full of kids requires listening and observation skills that rival Sherlock Holmes. Classroom management is 99% prevention and 1% intervention. Visual learners possess the skillset required to keep a finger on the proverbial pulse of the classroom. Of course, all of this doesn’t even address the mounds of homework to grade, lesson plans to write, curriculum maps to decipher, and teaching materials to evaluate — other tasks that are also often right up the alley of the visual learner as far as skill set.
- Visual artists/graphic design. It’s all too obvious to connect the skills of the visual learner with the requirements of a successful professional in the visual arts. Whether you are handy with a brush or with a mouse, many opportunities exist for you to apply your creativity to create original art or graphics. It all depends on whether you want to go the art-for-art’s-sake route or the art-for-a-paycheck route.
- Architect. While developing plans for a new building can sometimes tap into the creative vein, architects spend much of their time reviewing plans. This not only requires an eye for detail, but it also needs the knowledge, skills and ability to read these plans. This does require formal education, but the type of instruction will be well suited to the visual learner.
- Nurse/doctor. In the previous section, we mentioned the listening skills that are critical to a medical professional’s effectiveness, but you also need to be able to recognize the external indicators of a patient’s condition. When performing an examination, a doctor’s eyes are valuable diagnostic tools. Additionally, nurses and doctors who see dozens of patients per day must be able to read and decipher a patient’s chart quickly and accurately.
- Medical lab technician. Medical lab techs spend their entire work day looking at things. Whether they are samples, machines, screens, or result printouts, this is another job where “eye fatigue” is not really an option. Decoding and recording information accurately and quickly is essential in the laboratory.
- Interior designers. Similar to visual artists and graphic designers, interior designers trade on their ability to realize a creative vision. While the ability to listen to a customer’s requirements and factor them into the design is certainly important, the visualization and spatial reasoning skills that most visual learners possess will be far more important in this career.
- Mechanic. A mechanic’s daily job is to figure out what’s wrong. Equally important, though, might be figuring out what’s not wrong. If you are repairing a vehicle, it is important to know how much work will be enough to fix the problem. This assessment relies on the mechanic’s ability to visually inspect a situation and parse out the difference between operational and broken. The problem might only have audible evidence, but a mechanic must then rely on their ability to visualize the internal components of an engine or chasses that aren’t easily visible. Any way you break it down, a mechanic relies on their eyes first and their tools second.
- Engineer. In the previous section, we discussed the engineer’s ability to listen to a customer and translate requirements into plans, but the ability to read, create, and refine those plans requires the skills common to most visual learners. An engineer must able to see a design from all angles, and then visualize how that part would fit together with the other parts of the system. Engineers must be able to read and integrate specifications and tolerances into their design, and they must also read and understand complex standards written in a language only engineers understand.
- Photographer/videographer. As with the visual arts, the connection between photography and a visual learner’s skillset is obvious. A photographer must be able to visually assess a situation and get a good shot. There isn’t much to listen to, nor is there usually much to do beyond clicking the shutter button.
Careers for Kinesthetic Learners
If you had a hard time sitting still for 45 minutes at a time, or if gym class was your favorite subject, you are likely a kinesthetic learner. You learn best by doing. Where the other two learning styles emphasize intellectual skills, kinesthetic learning emphasizes using your hands and body — literally going through the motions.
If this describes you, it is likely you need action and engagement with the world around you. You also might thrive in a task-oriented environment. You also find yourself in a small, but no less significant, minority, as only 5% of the population identifies with this category of learning style. Let’s take a look at some careers for the kinesthetic learner:
- Athlete. This may not be the most accessible career, but it is about the most kinesthetically-intensive occupation we can think of. For the individual who learns best by doing, what better way to make a living than to be evaluated by how well you do what you have learned?
Of course, individuals who have a realistic future as a professional athlete probably aren’t reading this article for career advice, but there isn’t a more direct connection between learning style and profession anywhere else in this list.
- Farmer. Modern farming involves a tremendous amount of planning, business sense, and mechanical know-how. Whether you are operating a commercial farm or a smaller, independent operation, the only work that gets done is the work you do with your own two hands. Whether you are operating large machinery or you’re out in the field tending to the crops, farming requires more labor than about any job out there. The success of your crop depends on what you do to improve the yield, and you can only learn and improve your method by doing it for a few seasons.
- Carpenter. While carpentry requires the visual-learner skills to create plans to work from, the task of turning those plans into a finished product is entirely in your hands. Only on a large industrial scale do we have machines where you can put in a piece of wood and get out a finished cut. Additionally, the process of learning the carpentry trade is not really classroom-friendly. Like other trades, everything from the introductory trade school courses to the day-to-day work of a master carpenter is entirely kinesthetically-based.
- Physical education teacher. If you have a passion for education and want to help mold young minds, but the classroom isn’t your favorite place, then the gymnasium might offer a much friendlier environment. If you are a kinesthetic learner, wouldn’t it make sense to teach a curriculum that is tailored to other kinesthetic learners?
- Physical therapist. Physical therapy involves manipulating the body to help your patients rehabilitate an injury or regain strength and movement. A successful physical therapist must be knowledgeable in kinesiology, which is the science of how the body moves. There is a fair amount of classroom work involved in learning how the human body works, but once you obtain your degree, your day-to-day work will be entirely hands-on.
- Mechanic. We mentioned the visual-learner skills a good mechanic must have in order to properly diagnose an issue. On the other side of the coin, actually fixing the problem is a hands-on task. Knowing how to manipulate the parts and systems is knowledge acquired only by doing. And once you finish your education and start working in a garage, it’s the hands-on work that will fill your days.
- Coach. Similar to a physical education teacher, as a coach, you are responsible for teaching physical skills. Strategy and game-planning is required in the upper levels of the athletic spectrum, but when you’re a coach, you improve through experience. This is one career where you would likely start off as a volunteer, but if you are passionate about it and you are good at what you do, you can make a living with it.
- Machinist. Like other trades, a machinist is judged by the quality of their handiwork. In the case of a machinist, you will be working to create parts within strict tolerances, which requires experience and strong muscle memory. As with the rest of the jobs in this section, you certainly won’t be spending your days chained to a desk staring at a computer screen. If you had trouble managing 45 minutes in a seat during history class, this could be a nice change of direction for your career.
Determining Your Learning Style
There are several online resources to help you identify your learning style, and who doesn’t love to fill out a survey? We might also suggest a bit of self-reflection and assessment to help you figure out how you learn. Which were your favorite subjects and assignments? Which were your least favorite? You might not have thought of your school experiences in terms of how they match your learning style, but your learning style is an important factor to consider if you are still trying to decide on a career path.
by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director
What are Learning Styles? | Caution! | Why Are They So Popular? | Now What?
What are Learning Styles?
The term learning styles is widely used to describe how learners gather, sift through, interpret, organize, come to conclusions about, and “store” information for further use. As spelled out in VARK (one of the most popular learning styles inventories), these styles are often categorized by sensory approaches: visual, aural, verbal [reading/writing], and kinesthetic. Many of the models that don’t resemble the VARK’s sensory focus are reminiscent of Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles, with a continuum of descriptors for how learners process and organize information: active-reflective, sensing-intuitive, verbal-visual, and sequential-global.
There are well over 70 different learning styles schemes (Coffield, 2004), most of which are supported by “a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks” and “professional development workshops for teachers and educators” (Pashler, et al., 2009, p. 105).
Despite the variation in categories, the fundamental idea behind learning styles is the same: that each of us has a specific learning style (sometimes called a “preference”), and we learn best when information is presented to us in this style. For example, visual learners would learn any subject matter best if given graphically or through other kinds of visual images, kinesthetic learners would learn more effectively if they could involve bodily movements in the learning process, and so on. The message thus given to instructors is that “optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals’ learning style[s] and tailoring instruction accordingly” (Pashler, et al., 2009, p. 105).
Despite the popularity of learning styles and inventories such as the VARK, it’s important to know that there isno evidence to support the idea that matching activities to one’s learning style improves learning. It’s not simply a matter of “the absence of evidence doesn’t mean the evidence of absence.” On the contrary, for years researchers have tried to make this connection through hundreds of studies.
In 2009, Psychological Science in the Public Interest commissioned cognitive psychologists Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork to evaluate the research on learning styles to determine whether there is credible evidence to support using learning styles in instruction. They came to a startling but clear conclusion: “Although the literature on learning styles is enormous,” they “found virtually no evidence” supporting the idea that “instruction is best provided in a format that matches the preference of the learner.” Many of those studies suffered from weak research design, rendering them far from convincing. Others with an effective experimental design “found results that flatly contradict the popular” assumptions about learning styles (p. 105). In sum,
“The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing” (p. 117).
Why Are They So Popular?
Pashler and his colleagues point to some reasons to explain why learning styles have gained—and kept—such traction, aside from the enormous industry that supports the concept. First, people like to identify themselves and others by “type.” Such categories help order the social environment and offer quick ways of understanding each other. Also, this approach appeals to the idea that learners should be recognized as “unique individuals”—or, more precisely, that differences among students should be acknowledged—rather than treated as a number in a crowd or a faceless class of students (p. 107). Carried further, teaching to different learning styles suggests that “all people have the potential to learn effectively and easily if only instruction is tailored to their individual learning styles” (p. 107).
There may be another reason why this approach to learning styles is so widely accepted. They very loosely resemble the concept of metacognition, or the process of thinking about one’s thinking. For instance, having your students describe which study strategies and conditions for their last exam worked for them and which didn’t is likely to improve their studying on the next exam (Tanner, 2012). Integrating such metacognitive activities into the classroom—unlike learning styles—is supported by a wealth of research (e.g., Askell Williams, Lawson, & Murray-Harvey, 2007; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Butler & Winne, 1995; Isaacson & Fujita, 2006; Nelson & Dunlosky, 1991; Tobias & Everson, 2002).
Importantly, metacognition is focused on planning, monitoring, and evaluating any kind of thinking about thinking and does nothing to connect one’s identity or abilities to any singular approach to knowledge. (For more information about metacognition, see CFT Assistant Director Cynthia Brame’s “Thinking about Metacognition” blog post, and stay tuned for a Teaching Guide on metacognition this spring.)
There is, however, something you can take away from these different approaches to learning—not based on the learner, but instead on the content being learned. To explore the persistence of the belief in learning styles, CFT Assistant Director Nancy Chick interviewed Dr. Bill Cerbin, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and former Carnegie Scholar with the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. He points out that the differences identified by the labels “visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing” are more appropriately connected to the nature of the discipline:
“There may be evidence that indicates that there are some ways to teach some subjects that are just better than others, despite the learning styles of individuals…. If you’re thinking about teaching sculpture, I’m not sure that long tracts of verbal descriptions of statues or of sculptures would be a particularly effective way for individuals to learn about works of art. Naturally, these are physical objects and you need to take a look at them, you might even need to handle them.” (Cerbin, 2011, 7:45-8:30)
Pashler and his colleagues agree: “An obvious point is that the optimal instructional method is likely to vary across disciplines” (p. 116). In other words, it makes disciplinary sense to include kinesthetic activities in sculpture and anatomy courses, reading/writing activities in literature and history courses, visual activities in geography and engineering courses, and auditory activities in music, foreign language, and speech courses. Obvious or not, it aligns teaching and learning with the contours of the subject matter, without limiting the potential abilities of the learners.
- Askell-Williams, H., Lawson, M. & Murray, Harvey, R. (2007). ‘What happens in my university classes that helps me to learn?’: Teacher education students’ instructional metacognitive knowledge. International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1. 1-21.
- Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L. & Cocking, R. R., (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school(Expanded Edition). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995) Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.
- Cerbin, William. (2011). Understanding learning styles: A conversation with Dr. Bill Cerbin. Interview with Nancy Chick. UW Colleges Virtual Teaching and Learning Center.
- Cofﬁeld, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
- Isaacson, R. M. & Fujita, F. (2006). Metacognitive knowledge monitoring and self-regulated learning: Academic success and reflections on learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6, 39-55.
- Nelson, T.O. & Dunlosky, J. (1991). The delayed-JOL effect: When delaying your judgments of learning can improve the accuracy of your metacognitive monitoring. Psychological Science, 2, 267-270.
- Pashler, Harold, McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 9.3 103-119.
- Tobias, S., & Everson, H. (2002). Knowing what you know and what you don’t: Further research on metacognitive knowledge monitoring. College Board Report No. 2002-3. College Board, NY.