How to Accommodate Different Learning Styles in Higher Education

university students engaged in the lecture hall

Published: September 13th, 2023

Ensuring different learning styles are catered to is crucial to the success of your students, regardless of their age. 

In higher education and at university, the majority of students are in their last phase of education before entering the world of work. This makes it crucial that they are adequately equipped for their careers. 

With teaching time at a premium in higher education, planning lectures and seminars that appeal to each learning style can be hugely beneficial. But how do you do it? 

In this guide, we explore how to accommodate learners who fit into each of the four learning styles in the VARK model and how you can use interactive displays to enrich students’ learning. Enabling you to maximise the time you have with your students, ensure they have a deeper understanding of the theories you’re teaching, and better equip them for life outside of the lecture hall. 

Before we get into that, here’s a quick recap of the VARK model. 

Types of learning styles – a quick recap

The learning style theory is a concept by Neil Fleming, that states that everyone, not just students, has a preferred learning style.These learning styles fit into one of the following four categories: 

  1. Visual learners – these people will retain information best when it’s presented visually, i.e. through maps, pictures and watching videos. 
  2. Auditory learners – activities like listening to podcasts, reading out loud and participating in discussions will help these people maximise their learning
  3. Reading and writing learners – these learners process information best when taking notes and reading from textbooks etc. 
  4. Kinaesthetic learners – students with a kinaesthetic learning style like to get active and move around, so they’ll learn things better by recreating or practising a skill. 

Flemings’s learning styles theory also acknowledges that people may fit into more than one category, so when you’re planning lectures and seminars, it is best to use multiple teaching methods, to ensure everyone is catered to.

Discover our complete guide to the VARK learning model for an overarching view of the four learning styles and how they apply to students.  

How to accommodate visual learners in higher education

Visual learners will find it easier to remember things and grasp new concepts when they’re presented with visual aids. So, to accommodate visual learners, you should look to incorporate the following visual aids: 

  • Diagrams, charts and graphs: These can help students visualise and interpret data.
  • Visual presentations: Use different forms of media, like videos, animations and illustrations to help explain your points
  • Mind maps: Students can use these as revision aids. Visual learners can also get creative and use colours to help them remember information
  • Visual demonstrations: Seeing how an experiment works can benefit both visual and kinaesthetic learners. 
  • Make use of technology: Interactive displays can create an immersive experience that can appeal to all types of learners. 

How to accommodate auditory learners in higher education

Auditory learners will benefit from participating in speaking and listening exercises. Here are a few ways you can help auditory learners: 

  • Deliver clear instructions: Hearing your explanation of information or tasks can really help auditory learners understand exactly what they need to remember. Sometimes reading instructions can cause students to misinterpret the text, so speaking clearly in your lectures can help clarify any doubts. 
  • Talk to your students – Use storytelling techniques, incorporate humour and employ a conversational tone when explaining things.
  • Encourage discussions and debates – Exercises like these help auditory learners articulate what they have learnt and process new information. This can also be a great opportunity to learn from other students who may have different interpretations on the subject matter. 
  • Recommend audio recordings and podcasts – These can be useful revision tools that you can listen to whilst commuting, exercising or doing chores. It can also be nice to hear someone explain or read a text to you, as it can feel like you’re part of the conversation and might keep you more engaged.
  • Use verbal reinforcement – Repeat and summarise key concepts during tasks to highlight important information.

How to accommodate reading and writing learners in higher education

Students with these learning preferences should be encouraged to participate in reading-writing exercises, such as: 

  • Note-taking – encourage students to take notes throughout your seminars and lectures, they can refer back to these as part of their revision.
  • Recommend books or blogs for students to read – these can ensure a deeper understanding of the topics and theories presented during lectures.
  • Encourage students to journal and make written reflections – this will help them to articulate their thoughts and apply concepts to real-life situations. 
  • Offer handouts of presentations for reading and writing learners to revise from, you could even share the notes you present with. 
  • Organise writing workshops – give constructive feedback on essays, help students to build their vocabularies and support them to develop their writing skills. 

How to accommodate kinaesthetic learners in higher education

A kinaesthetic learner will benefit from hands-on activities. So, to boost their engagement and make learning easier for them, you could: 

  • Set role-playing exercises – enabling kinaesthetic learners to participate actively and act out scenarios will give them a better understanding of characters’ experiences in books and plays. 
  • Organise trips – visiting historical places, for example, enables kinaesthetic learners to physically interact with what they are learning about. 
  • Utilise technologyinteractive learning platforms enable kinaesthetic learners to have hands-on experiences. 
  • Have walking meetings – offering feedback via a walking meeting, can benefit creativity and feel more relaxed, as well as encouraging movement and exercise. 
  • Engage with hands-on activities – getting kinaesthetic learners involved with experiments or simulations that promote physically interacting with a subject will help students retain information.  

Why is it important to accommodate different learning styles in higher education? 

There are many key reasons for accommodating different learning styles in your lectures and seminars, these are: 

1. Maximising your students’ potential 

As their teacher, it’s your responsibility to ensure each student can access a good education. By appealing to each of the four learning styles, you are enabling your students to fully engage with learning materials. Doing this maximises their learning potential and chances of achieving the best grades possible. 

2. Increasing student engagement 

Students are more likely to engage and be motivated when a lesson is catered for their learning style. This is particularly important given that engaging university students is notoriously difficult, and it can be tricky to measure student engagement in higher education environments.  Encouraging discussions, for example, will pique the interest of auditory learners and motivate them to participate more than a note-taking exercise. Students are also more likely to engage with a lesson when they feel it is catered to them and their learning style. Explore our tips for keeping students engaged in lectures in our blog. 

3. Fostering an inclusive environment

In lectures and seminars, you are bound to encounter students from diverse backgrounds, with varying needs and preferences. By accommodating the different learning styles, you are creating an environment that supports and encourages every student to participate and, ultimately, achieve the best results they can. 

4. Developing lifelong skills

While passing exams and getting good grades should be the predominant focus of your lectures and seminars, don’t forget you’re getting students ready for the next step in their careers too. By teaching students to work to their strengths and accommodating their individual learning styles, you are helping to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills too. 

The challenges of teaching in higher education

Although teaching in a higher education setting can be very rewarding, as you’re in charge of inspiring and shaping your students’ futures. With this being said, there are challenges, including…

1. Large classes 

Lectures and seminars can be much larger than classes in primary and secondary schools – making it difficult to give each student the attention they might need. 

2. Diverse backgrounds 

Having a diverse class is something to be celebrated, as students can be exposed to new ways of thinking and learning. With this in mind, catering to students from different cultural backgrounds can be challenging, especially if you are unfamiliar with the differences between your own experiences and upbringing and someone else’s. 

3. Busy schedules 

Both you and your students will likely be very busy, whether you’re marking work or they’re having to tend to other commitments. Either way, this can make attending lectures and making time for your students more challenging. 

4. Assessments

Standardised assessment and evaluation procedures can be quite daunting and challenging, especially for students with a kinaesthetic learning style who may find taking exams more challenging than reading and writing learners.

5. Maintaining levels of engagement

With a big group to teach and potentially inconsistent attendance due to scheduling conflicts, as well as outside distractions, ensuring your students are engaged can be challenging. 

How to plan lectures and seminars for all learning styles

To ensure each student in your lectures can engage with the material and theories you are presenting, you need to plan exercises that appeal to students’ preferred learning style. 

You should take a holistic approach to appeal to all learning styles, as opposed to just one at a time. Incorporating visual elements, like animations and film, for example, will help you to engage both visual and auditory learners. 

To appeal to reading and writing and auditory learners, deliver verbal explanations of tasks and theories and supplement this with handouts – ensuring both learning styles are catered to. 

Encouraging students to participate in discussions can benefit more than just auditory learners too – the performative act of debating will engage kinaesthetic learners too. 

Due to the larger class sizes in higher education, it will be difficult for you to identify which learning preference each student has. By offering students options for how they engage with materials, you are allowing them to find their own learning style. To do this, you should present different ways of working that suit each segment of the VARK model – allowing students to select from a range of materials and formats that they most prefer. 

Using technology to appeal to learners of all styles

Technology is an abundant resource when it comes to appealing to learning styles and it can be very useful in helping all students gain a deeper understanding of theories and concepts.

Interactive whiteboards, like the ActivPanel display, allow you to give visual representations of topics while explaining them – helping students learn more suitably for them. 

Additionally, this technology can be used to create immersive presentations that can cater to all student learning styles, incorporating visual, audio, written and interactive elements. 

You should encourage students to use personal devices, like tablets and smartphones too. Quiz apps like Kahoot can provide a fun way of testing students’ knowledge. Kinaesthetic students will thrive when information is presented in the form of a game, so research whether any interactive games might be suitable. 

Exploring the VARK model with Promethean

Discover more tips for engaging students with technology and how to use interactive whiteboards in higher education in our blog. 

Want to learn more about each learning style in the VARK model? Check out our specific guides using the links below: 

Explore the Promethean blog for guides on student engagement, along with how to monitor student engagement.