No One Is Just An Auditory, Kinesthetic, or Visual Learner; Best Teaching Practices


Leadership Lanes by Toni Armstrong (A Multi-Part Series Presented by Swimming World).

Teaching to one learning style handicaps the learner from fully comprehending their experience because no one is a single learning style.

All coaches are familiar with learning modalities—kinesthetic, auditory, and visual—and it is common practice to gear a lesson towards the dominant modality of the student.  If you were trying to teach a more efficient catch in freestyle, you would describe the catch to the auditory learner, demonstrate it to the visual learner, and manually manipulate the arm of the kinesthetic swimmer.  It is quite unfortunate that this is a very common approach to teaching an athlete, because this approach is wrong. In fact, this approach will handicap a swimmer’s learning abilities in the future.

Modern brain-based research indicates that everyone possesses the abilities to learn kinesthetically, auditorily, and visually, and that our modalities exist together on a continuum.  We may identify a swimmer as dominantly kinesthetic, but that doesn’t mean that they are only a kinesthetic learner or that audio and visual won’t work as well.

Take a swimmer that is 75% kinesthetic, 15% visual, and 10% auditory. When you teach them solely through a kinesthetic process, you only reaching 75% of their learning capacity. Teaching them through all three modalities not only reaches 100% of their learning capacity, but it reaches the dominantly auditory and visual learners too. In essence, teaching to all modalities kills two birds with one gigantic bazooka.

Learning strengths change based on experiences, needs, and age.  We have all heard of critical windows; they exist based on our physiological development.  Dr. Maria Montessori’s early discoveries of teaching windows drove her creation of the Montessori Method.  She argued that ages 0-6 were critical windows for developing language, while 6-12 were windows for moral, social and mental independence.

These theories were written in the early 1900’s and still hold true to today’s research; they support the argument that learning strengths change along with our physiological development.  If we only use one way to connect with the athlete, we are prohibiting their other strengths from developing. This could handicap future athletic development during future critical windows.

And here is the kicker: there are more than 3 learning modalities.

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, argues that we have the capacity to learn through at least 8 different methods he identifies as Multiple Intelligences:

  • Verbal / Linguistic – To think in words and to use language to express and understand complex meanings.  Sensitivity to the meaning and order of words, their sounds, rhythms, and inflections.  This athlete needs things explained to them specifically and concisely.
  • Logical / Mathematical – To think of cause and effect and to understand relationships among actions, objects, or ideas.  To be able to calculate, quantify, and perform complex mathematical or logical operations. This athlete needs to understand the numbers behind their skills, sets and practices as well as their splits and how they align with their goals.
  • Musical –  To think in sounds, rhythms, melodies, and rhymes.  This athlete needs to hear the sounds associated with their technique, the sounds of their skills, and will understand their lesson best through rhymes and rhythms.
  • Bodily / Kinesthetic – To think in movements and to use the body in skilled and complicated ways.  This athlete needs to feel the physical sense of timing and coordination.
  • Naturalist – To understand the natural world and scientific systems.  This athlete needs to know the science behind what they do and feel a connection with the aquatic and scientific world.
  • Interpersonal – To think and understand another person, to have empathy. This includes interacting effectively with one or more people among family, friends, or working relationships.  This athlete must connect emotionally with a group or individual to enable them to learn most efficiently. They need to know how their coach and team mates tick and feel emotionally safe within their community.
  • Intrapersonal –To think about and understand one’s self.  To be aware of one’s strength and weaknesses.  To reflect on and monitor one’s thoughts and feelings.  This athlete needs their coach to allow them to learn and process information independently.
  • Spatial/Visual – To think in pictures and to perceive the visual world accurately.  To think in three dimensions and to transform one’s perceptions. To work with objects.  This athlete needs a coach who shows them videos and diagrams in order to learn. They may need to manipulate an object in order to listen most effectively.

What does this all mean?

It means that no one is an auditory, kinesthetic, or visual learner.  Our athlete’s brains more closely resemble a rainbow-colored lava lamp: they are a beautiful blend of continual changing learning strengths.  The next time you are teaching a lesson to your athlete(s), ask yourself, “am I reaching all their intelligences?” Chances are you aren’t, and it isn’t because you aren’t teaching to their strength; it’s because you aren’t teaching to their full capacity.  Instead of teaching your lesson over and over, teach it in a variety of ways to reach all of your athletes’ diverse learning abilities. Teach to their full and future capacities.

To learn more about Toni Armstrong please visit – Leadership mentor and owner of a leadership development company centered out of Baltimore, MD

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.