Many new online tutors have taught in a brick-and-mortar classroom or have other in-person teaching experience but do not have experience teaching English online. Transferring these real-world skills and knowledge to the virtual classroom can be challenging and requires a new set of techniques.

One necessary modification to make when we teach English online is to identify our students’ different learning styles and prepare for classes accordingly. What does “learning styles” mean? According to Teach.com, “the term ‘learning styles’ speaks to the understanding that every student learns differently. Technically, an individual’s learning style refers to the preferential way in which the student absorbs, processes, comprehends, and retains information.”1

There are many different styles and combinations of learning styles. For this article, I’m going to focus on the three main learning styles which I find most prevalent among ESL learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile.

While reviewing these three basic learning styles, pay close attention to how these learning styles compare to your teaching style. More often than not, how a person teaches closely follows their specific learning style. For example, a teacher who uses lots of drawings and images in their class is most likely a visual learner themselves. As we identify our own leanings, that helps us to develop lesson plans and teaching habits that can also meet the needs of the other learning types.

The visual learner is apt to recall what they have seen or read. They prefer written instructions and enjoy seeing pictures and visuals. When we are teaching these ESL students online, it is helpful to prepare pictures or props to accompany the new vocabulary words. These students also enjoy seeing graphs or written sentences while learning grammatical structures. Videos or puppet demonstrations are also beneficial for the visual learner to connect what their eyes see to what their brain is processing.

The auditory learner can recall what they have heard. These particular pupils benefit from oral instruction. They enjoy reading aloud and repeating what they hear from their teachers. Phonetic reading is helpful as they sound out the letters that form the words. They also enjoy singing songs, listening to videos and shows, and participating in group discussions.

The kinesthetic/tactile learner learns best by touch and/or movement. It is practically impossible for us to introduce touch in a virtual classroom, but a little creativity goes a long way in helping these types of learners get the most out of class. We can have the students move about, mimic/use TPR, and even provide their own props and supplies to satisfy their need for touch and movements. These students benefit from songs with accompanying actions, acting out vocabulary words and sentences, and playing games with their whole body.

Typically, time in the online classroom with students is limited due to multiple factors. How do we plan a lesson and activities that will benefit all varieties of learning styles?

One helpful thing to do after your first lesson with a student or group of students is to review your video after the class. Try to identify the students’ learning styles and write that down for future use. If a student is very wiggly or has a toy that they insist on moving about and playing with, they could be a kinesthetic learner. If one of your learners comments about items in your background or pictures in your lesson, it is a reasonable assumption that they may be a visual learner. The students who mimic your intonations and cadences as you go through a vocabulary list may well be auditory learners.

At times, the learning styles are glaringly obvious, but not always. Take your time and plan for all types of learning styles by combining activities and working hard to address all the needs.

When we put into practice teaching English online to the different learning styles, it really does become second nature. We can rely on our developed teacher instincts and quickly realize that we need to get a particular student moving, speaking, or reading. If you struggle with this, maybe start small by choosing one student to focus on during a day. Watch videos from former classes with them, write down your observations, and plan activities with a focus towards their learning style. After trying those activities in your next class, reflect on your student’s behavior to evaluate if they seemed to learn more quickly and retain the information with more ease.

What about you? Have you identified your learning style? Do you have some ideas for teaching English online to the different types of learners? Share your ideas below in the comments!

Citations for How to Teach English Online to Students with Different Learning Styles:
1 “Learning Styles.” Teach. Accessed July 29, 2019. https://teach.com/what/teachers-know/learning-styles/.

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kyle smithers

I appreciate the clear and concise tips. It shows that it’s easy to reach students with different learning styles easily, even over the internet!