Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

Look, listen, touch and experience - it makes sense to me!

Despina Whitefield
Accountancy and Law
Victoria University of Technology


Students learn in a variety of different ways. Although research in this area is extensive, as practising tutors and lecturers we often do not have the opportunity to investigate the research findings, concentrating only on our specific subject materials. This paper aims to demonstrate techniques that are not new but perhaps may have been overlooked by university educators who sometimes favour and concentrate on content and perhaps minimal or limited design into the process of presenting lectures and tutorials. The Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic and Tactile approach is one that can help explain a topic or concept to students in a practical and useful way and consequently concrete a concept or idea in the students learning mode.

The concept of Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Tactile Approach to Teaching

When we teach using the students' sense of Seeing, Hearing, Movement and Touch, the class as a whole receives information in one or several channels. This multisensory approach can also reinforce a learner's use of their less developed senses. (Grinder, 1989). It should be pointed at this early stage that all learners have preferred ways of receiving new and sometimes difficult information. There is no necessity to pigeon hole learners into one of the above modalities. It is an awareness of modalities and as educators recognise and acknowledge individual differences and learning styles in student learning episodes.

The information given to our students' can be likened to a computer, whereby the stages of input, storage, process and output occur. The information is entered onto the computer which then allows the processing and desired output. An example is when purchasing goods at a supermarket which uses the bar code as price verification. If the bar code is obscured, ripped or not programmed into the computer system, the scanner will not pick up the correct markings and therefore not process the information to give a price. If a student is given information in such a way that cannot be recognised, then the processing of that information may not give the required result or output, namely the understanding of the teaching concept.

Some Behavioural Indicators of Modalities

(adapted from Grinder, 1989)

Visual - seeing

Usually remembers what they see, is organised and neat, memorises by pictures, has trouble remembering verbal instruction, observant, is less distracted by noise, would rather read than be read to

Auditory - hearing

Usually remembers what was discussed, talks to self and easily distracted, learns by listening, likes music, memorises by steps, procedures, sequence

Kinaesthetic - moving; Tactile - touching

Usually remembers an overall impression of what was experienced, responds to physical rewards and touches people and stands close, gestures a lot, memorises by walking, seeing, learns by doing

Teaching Style

Think about your teaching style. When lecturing and tutoring, what style do you use more frequently? Do you present information in a way which suits your preferences or do you present in such a way that suits most of your students? Consideration must be given on the impact your teaching style has on student motivation and learning. How do you as a lecturer present information to students in their preferred learning style mode? What do you do in the lecture? Are you a talker? This will benefit auditory students (only 30 per cent of students will remember 75 per cent of what you talk about in class). Do you write on the board, use overhead projectors, and have students read from the texts/handouts? Do you use colour when writing on the board? This will assist students with visual preferences (only 40 per cent of students will remember 75 per cent of what they read in class).

Learning Style

The research literature in this area is very extensive and the basic contention is that students learn in a variety of different ways. As practising lecturers, the opportunity to investigate research findings is at times minimum, concentrating only on specific subject materials. But the work of such people as Gregorc, Kolb, McCarthy, and Dunn and Dunn has opened up the world of educational research on learning styles and made it user friendly. Learning styles describes learner preferences for different types of learning and instructional activities. They are generally measured by self-report techniques that ask individuals how they think they prefer to learn. (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1989)

Dunn Model

The Dunn and Dunn model is one of a number on learning styles. It identifies five major stimuli to which students respond in learning situations - environmental, emotional, sociological, physical, and psychological. The Dunn model identifies conditions external to the learner, rather than factors that affect a persons ability to manipulate information. These factors affect the external instructional conditions rather than learning strategies internal to the learner (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993).

Using the Dunn and Dunn model, Buell and Buell (1987) found when studying adult continuing education that matching auditory, visual, and tactile perceptual preferences resulted in significant positive gains in achievement. The same results were found by Carbo, 1980; Jarsonbeck,1984; Weinberg, 1983; Urbschat, 1977; Wheeler, 1980, 1983; Martini, 1986; Kroon, 1985; and Ingham, 1989 in younger learners (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993).

The following is a very brief description of the elements under each stimuli adapted from Teaching Students To Read Through Their Individual Learning Styles, Carbo, Dunn and Dunn, 1991. Environmental Stimuli: student reactions to the stimuli are determined by their biological makeup and therefore cannot change their hearing, sight, temperature or body sensitivities. Emotional Stimuli: students emotional elements appear to be developmental ie. they emerge over time through experiences at home, school, playground, on trips etc. Sociological Stimuli: students sociological preferences relate to whether students like to learn alone or in a group and whether studying in a variety of ways helps them to learn the given information. Physical Stimuli: Students physical elements are biological in nature and relate to how people learn through their senses ie. auditory, visual, tactual and kinaesthetic preferences. Psychological Stimuli: The differences in brain functioning are what contribute to individual learning style differences among different people; it is suggested that learning is better accomplished for different people through different approaches.

Within the overall model the global/analytic element is the most extensively researched cognitive control, sometimes referred to as hemispherology. This model discusses modes of consciousness and skills of the left and right sides of the brain. Those with a global cognitive preference are highly influenced by the entire perceptual field. They see the forest rather than the trees. Those with an analytic cognitive preference try to understand the perceived field. They see the trees in the forest. Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993).


By developing an awareness of how individuals differ will clarify the process of learning and the act of teaching for educators and designers in a substantial way. Student learning outcomes may be fostered or taught in many ways through the use of different strategies. Different forms of instruction require different learning aptitudes, abilities, styles, or preferences. That is, individuals will respond to different forms of instruction in different ways and are affected by the form of instruction. Consequently, different instructional activities will differentially affect learning outcomes (Jonassen and Grabowski, 1993). What is new is knowing about how students learn and making them aware of how to learn and study more effectively.


Carbo, Marie, Dunn, Rita and Dunn, Kenneth, (1991). Teaching Students to Read Through Their Individual Learning Styles. Prentice Hall.

Grinder, Michael (1989). Righting The Educational Conveyor Belt. Metamorphous Press.

Jonassen, David and Grabowski, Barbara L. (1993). Handbook of Individual Differences. Learning and Instruction. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Please cite as: Whitefield, D. (1996). Look, listen, touch and experience - it makes sense to me! In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p161-164. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/whitefield.html

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