What Is Kinesthetic Learning? 4 Unique Characteristics!

Are you also curious whether you prefer a kinesthetic 1learning style or not? Then this article is for you!

In this article, I will take you through everything you need to know about kinesthetic learning (also spelled out as kinaesthetic learning). You will also unequivocally be certain if you belong in the kinesthetic learner category or not.

Furthermore, I will briefly discuss the various other preferences of learning styles in addition to kinesthetic learning, and their traits and characteristics.

What is the Kinesthetic Learning Style?

To easily explain the idea of kinesthetic learning, I would like to use real-life examples:

Imagine, when learning about a new sport, would you find it easier to learn it through reading and listening to theoretical explanations about it in a traditional classroom, or would you prefer a more hands-on learning experience?

Or let us say, you like learning about nuances of Shakespearean drama by enacting it through role plays.

STEPS: Kinesthetic Learners!

This hands-on experience approach of tactile learning, where the student is physically engaged and is an active participant instead of a passive observer, is basically what is called kinesthetic learning, and the people who prefer this style are called kinesthetic learners.

In simple terms, kinesthetic learning is a type of active learning wherein the learners understand information and knowledge better with the help of hands-on activities and heavily involve the use of their whole-body movement.

Kinesthetic learners absorb information a whole lot better through physical activity and practical experiences.

Characteristics and Traits of a Kinesthetic Learner

Now that we have glossed over the definition of kinesthetic learning, let us look at the attributes kinesthetic learners constitute of.

Aversion to the traditional classroom:

“Learn through doing rather than mugging up” can be considered an unofficial motto of kinesthetic learners.

The traditional setup study strategies like the usual monotonous theoretical reading and writing without practically understanding can make it difficult for kinesthetic learners to stay focused and understand a new concept.

Instead, these students are able to focus better when the teachers employ kinesthetic strategies such as small movements incorporated with physical activities, and hands-on projects.

Such kinesthetic techniques also help the students retain information much better, develop a new skill, and most importantly inculcate a deep learning culture in them through this style.

Excellent hand-eye coordination:

It is said that kinesthetic learners have excellent hand-eye coordination which enables them to perform various activities which require body movements, quick reactions, and a hands-on approach.

These activities can include but are not limited to, solving puzzles, modeling clay, completing mazes, throwing and catching a ball, playing video games, conducting experiments in the lab, etc.

Energetic and curious:

Kinesthetic learners are a very curious bunch who like to tear things down and explore what is underneath, they show interest in building sets from scratch. In short, they are not afraid of getting their hands muddy.

What’s more, is that kinesthetic learners do not miss an opportunity for an excursion, an expedition, or field trips in general. Basically, anything that involves breaking away from the usual monotonous classroom pattern.

This is because a kinesthetic learner finds it difficult to remain stationary in a place. Kinesthetic learners tend to be rather restless; they are always on the lookout for participating and learning activities that involve movement.

Enjoy sports and physical activities:

From the above characteristics and traits, it must be pretty evident that kinesthetic learners are very compatible with activities that are physically demanding and requires good hand-eye coordination, reflexes, etc.

It should not come as a surprise that most athletes and professional sports players tend to be kinesthetic learners.

Or better put. most kinesthetic learners are good athletes and professional sports players.

Also, check out the 5 amazing benefits of Learning Bodily Kinesthetic Intelligence

Learning and teaching strategies for kinesthetic learners

The needs of kinesthetic learners might be different from others. The traditional teaching methods might not be of much help to the kinesthetic students. The teaching methods must be formulated in such a way that even kinesthetic learners learn without any difficulty and barriers.

Let us discuss the different kinesthetic learning strategies that can prove beneficial for kinesthetic learners:

  • Since they are a hands-on learner, give them application-based questions and problems.
  • When explaining/learning a new concept, make use of an analogy that is not only simple but also relatable in some sense to the learner.
  • During a class period, conduct activities such as role-play, debate, puzzle solving, etc, to engage kinesthetic learners without getting bored.
  • To watch videos of a volcano to understand its functioning may not be as useful as building a miniature model. This can also be a fun experience for both the learner and the teacher.
  • Kinesthetic learners tend to require much more frequent study breaks than the non-kinesthetic learner.
  • To avoid zoning out too frequently, making use of a highlighter, pointers, and sticky notes can result in improved learning focus.

For many teachers or any other professional trainer for that matter, it is important to incorporate and cater to the needs and wants of different types of learning styles.

We have looked at the kinesthetic learning preference, but which are the other types of learning styles? Let us briefly look at the VARK model2 designed by Neil D. Fleming.

What is the VARK model?

The VARK model suggests that there are four types of preferences of learning styles, and all students and learners learn best when taught through their preferred mode of learning styles.

These learning styles that the learners fall into are, namely- Visual learners, Auditory learners3, Read/Write learners, and the one we have extensively discussed so far, Kinesthetic learners.

About Neil D. Fleming:

Neil D. Fleming 4was a teacher from New Zealand, who taught at various universities and schools there.

When working for nine years as a senior inspector for the education system of New Zealand, for more than a hundred schools, he noticed that the learning needs of some students were not being properly catered to.

The surprising part he found was that the poor teachers were able to cater to the needs of these students better than the great teachers. He could not understand what was causing this divide between the teaching methods.

When he left for Lincoln University, where he would spend eleven years in faculty development, he decided to look into this divide.

With the help of the students and faculties of Lincoln University, he was able to formulate and design the VARK test.

Now that we have understood its origins let us have a look at each of the learning styles preferences in the VARK model.

Visual learning style

A visual learner absorbs and retains information better through visual aids such as pictures, graphics, charts, diagrams, etc.

When visual learners see a diagram or a chart, they are able to comprehend the concepts better in their heads.

Let us take an example to understand this:

In biology, when the process of the water cycle, or the life cycle for that matter, is taught, it would be easier for the teacher to reach out to the visual learners to learn the process of the water cycle or the life cycle better through a flowchart than explaining it through plain theory.

The modern classroom setting is an ideal place for visual learners to grow and excel since it incorporates and utilizes tools such as the digital whiteboard, frequent use of PowerPoint presentations, animated videos5, and visuals on various topics.

Visual learner has a photographic memory and this photographic memory helps them do exceptionally well in class tests compared to their other peers.

Auditory learning style:

As the term suggests, auditory learners learn effectively through hearing a concept being taught out loud.

When auditory learners listen to someone teaching or even speaking in general, they are able to retain much of the information than if they were to read a book on their own.

Let us take a real-life example to understand this:

When learning about a philosophical idea, like stoicism or even mindfulness, an auditory learner would be better able to understand the philosophical idea if it was available in an audiobook version or even a podcast related to that concept than by reading a book about it.

Auditory learners have good speaking abilities and even excellent listening abilities, but they also tend to zone out more often than others, therefore to keep them engaged they also need a good conversationalist or a storyteller.

Read/Write learning style:

In the read/write learning style learners prefer to read a piece of information, process and understand its concept, and after comprehending it, write it down in their own words.

To write it down, read/write preference learners make use of jotting down techniques such as lists, bullet points, alphabets, and numbers to create a clear and understandable categorical structure.

The read/write learning style is also sometimes called the second visual learning style.

This is one of the most common learning styles found among educators and students, especially in the traditional classroom setup.

Kinesthetic learning style:

Kinesthetic learners, also known as tactile learners, as we saw earlier, learn through body movement and are completely hands-on by involving themselves in learning through physical activity.

Critical reception around VARK

This section of this whole article might seem contradictory to what see discussed so far but kindly bear with me on this one.

Before we dive further, let us understand that there are so many other different types of models of learning styles out there. 71 to be precise. Among these 71 modalities, the VARK modal is one of the most popular ones.

This popular learning style modal drew in a lot of backlash and criticism from various researchers and psychologists, essentially telling that the whole VARK was based on myths and errors.

People generally believe that they are born with an innate learning style, and several researchers and psychologists believe that this contagious myth can hinder the potential of a learner severely.

An article by Big Think addressing this very myth quotes psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who writes the following for Scientific America:

“[G]iving students the message that ‘It’s OK if you’re not good at <insert ‘intelligence’ or ‘learning style’ here>, you can still be good at <insert whatever here>’ can lead students to give up on cultivating key learning skills that can be developed, to an extent, in everyone.

Believe it or not, by promoting a dominant learning styles mentality, we are actually limiting students with self-fulfilling prophecies despite the best intentions.”

Another issue researchers state is that different learning style tests may suggest distinct and contrasting results from the previous test. The lack of reliability and inconsistency around these tests has made their authenticity questionable, to say the least.

The Biggest Myth In Education

Naturally, Neil D. Fleming did not stay quiet and had to answer the criticism around VARK.

In a published article titled “Facts, Fallacies and Myths: VARK and Learning Preferences”, he mentions that VARK does determine the learning style of the learner but simply their preferences.

He proclaims in the same article, “A learning style would indicate preferences for a wide range of learning behaviours such as preferences for learning at a particular time of day, or in a particular temperature or lighting as well as structural options such as learning with others or with adults or peers or alone or in mixed groups.

VARK is about people and their learning and it focuses on modalities that they might prefer when learning. The questions are framed with an emphasis on learning (and not teaching or relaxing).”

Neil D. Fleming concludes the article by basically saying that there is no way the teaching methods and strategies of an educator can match all the preferences of a learner else there would be the same curriculum universally and draws out this analogy to all restaurants having the same menu.

He states that matching the learner’s preferences is not the aim, because VARK is student-based and not teacher-based. VARK is simply a medium to help students understand their strongest mode of preferences in order to design a study strategy for themselves.

Wrapping up:

It is important to understand that while knowing your learning preference is helpful, it should not hinder your learning growth or use it as an excuse to limit yourself.

A combination of all these learning preferences helps people learn better without hindering and limiting themselves. If the same concept can be explained and understood in multiple different ways, it results in the best experience of learning.

  1. Shan, Liuting, et al. “Bioinspired kinesthetic system for human-machine interaction.” Nano Energy 88 (2021): 106283. ↩︎
  2. Amaniyan, Sara, et al. “Comparison of the conceptual map and traditional lecture methods on students’ learning based on the VARK learning style model: A randomized controlled trial.” SAGE open nursing 6 (2020): 2377960820940550. ↩︎
  3. Rogowsky, Beth A., Barbara M. Calhoun, and Paula Tallal. “Providing instruction based on students’ learning style preferences does not improve learning.” Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020): 164. ↩︎
  5. Puspaningtyas, Nicky Dwi, and Marchamah Ulfa. “Improving Students Learning Outcomes In Blended Learning Through The Use Of Animated Video.” Kalamatika: Jurnal Pendidikan Matematika 5.2 (2020): 133-142. ↩︎

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Gautham Parmar

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