Emotion: The missing learning style

According to conventional theories, there are three types of learning/learning styles/learning modalities:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Kinesthetic
According to other more modern theories, the list is longer than three.  This website lists seven learning styles:
  1. Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

The above group gets closer to the missing emotional learning style but fails ultimately because it is still looking at styles as something that we present TO our students as we differentiate, personalize and individualize our lessons and pedagogical approaches.  Working with a student’s emotional response and interest in a subject requires us to flip teaching and learning on its head.

There are quizzes, assessment tools and theories abound to help educators make learning more accessible to students.  When I began teaching in 2006, I became friends with a veteran teacher and had a powerful conversation with her about approaches to teaching and learning styles that would help my students connect with the often foreign and emotionally challenging content involved in teaching a curriculum centered on life lessons.  Since I taught in Ms. Manning’s classroom (yup, traveling teacher in a small school building), she observed many of my classes and knew the foreign but valuable lessons I was teaching.


My rapidly developing curriculum (I developed it personally) involved teaching students entrepreneurship (Ms. Carrier, you want us to write a business plan?), financial literacy (what?  I can make more money with my money if I don’t spend it?), professionalism, standard business English (ask any of my students what SBE stands for, I dare you), interviewing, professional phone calls (this is where trauma, anxiety and emotional trigger responses that result in rebellion surfaces) and deep personal reflection on a student’s career path, dreams, hopes and fears for the future (there were lots of tears in my class, happily most were tears of joy when a student broke through barriers).



As you can imagine, there was a deep, personal and very EMOTIONAL response to learning in my classes. Another veteran teacher recognized the challenges my students faced and offered her own support for me and my work.  She knew that some students were being profoundly challenged and the questions my classes asked touched deeply on personal issues faced by students who grow up in communities of disadvantage and poverty.  The question then for my colleagues (and God bless them for their support) was “How can we support the students learning these lessons?”


The missing learning style I proposed to Ms. Manning, the math teacher whose classroom I occupied several times each week, was that of an EMOTIONAL response and buy-in learning style.  I used this approach to improve my instruction, my lessons and classroom discussion.  My colleagues recognized the challenges my students faced (in very individual and unpredictable ways) to lessons around money, selling themselves as professionals, dressing and speaking professionally and interacting with members of the larger community.  I believed that my students could be whatever they wanted to be.  Rather than delivering a soft “I believe in you” message, I guided them each through a year and a half long curriculum which challenged the most basic parts of their false beliefs – beliefs that had been imposed on them by society.  My students saw and believed that they were growing up in a world that is run by the white man and that money is scarce. They weren’t wrong.  But I was determined to give them every bit of information and experience I possibly could so that they could go out and change the way things are.


I recommend to everyone that time be spent on identifying the emotional learning needs, styles and responses of students.  I am a passionate advocate for change in education and humanitarian work of all kinds.  What fuels me is an emotional seed.  What makes me effective is a skill-set learned from years of navigating the work world.  We must acknowledge that the large majority (if not all) of our learners also have such “emotional seeds” and we would be wise to focus on them in our pedagogical approach.  What they need is a safe place for those seeds to grow and a full set of opportunities to learn the skills they will need to make that “emotional seed” blossom and flower into a dream come true.


It’s time to change the game and include emotion – and love – as a non-cognitive learning methodology in our educational reform efforts. We all seek love and respond with emotion in most corners of our lives – why then do we exclude these from a child’s learning experience?
Hugging Jeanny, a former student and now Brandeis student.