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Choosing Online Classes Based on Your Learning Style: What to Look For

Feb 4, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

There are many different types, formats, and delivery methods for online learning.   You have a lot of options, and before you choose a class, it can help to know your learning style. 

Your learning style is the way you learn best.  To determine yours, think about the ways you’ve learned in the past. Do you tend to understand something better after you’ve written it down, or you understand concepts better when someone explains them to you verbally?  Some people prefer to learn by physically doing something or seeing it done, while others learn by talking about ideas with a group.  Most people learn in a variety of ways, but some methods come easier for them than others.  Here are some common learning styles—and what to look for in choosing an online class for each.

Reading and writing

Some people learn best by reading a lot and writing it down.  If that’s you, it should be easy to find a class that caters to your learning style.   Most online classes involve at least some reading and written assignments.  You’ll also be writing when you participate in online discussions.  Look for a class that involves essay assignments, textbooks, articles, and a threaded discussion forum for talking about classroom topics with your peers and instructors.


women and computer

With online education,
you have more options than you think.


If you learn best by hearing information spoken aloud, you may be most comfortable in a lecture environment.  Most people associate these types of classes with traditional schools, but you can also get them in online learning.  Some online classes offer streaming video recordings that allow you to watch and listen to lectures on your computer.  Podcasts are also common; these are audio recordings of lectures and lessons.  Some classes include short sound bytes to explain concepts, so you can listen as you read.


Some people learn best by watching.  If you need to see it done before you can do it yourself, look for online classes with a strong emphasis on visual learning.  These might include streaming video so you can watch lectures on your computer; video and web conferences that allow you to interact directly with teachers; animated sequences that demonstrate the concepts you’re learning in class; and a heavy reliance on charts, graphs, and other graphics. 

Talking and interacting with others

Some students learn by talking things over with peers and instructors.  It’s a common misconception that you don’t get much peer or instructor interaction with an online class; in fact, it’s usually an important part of the curriculum.  If you learn best by working and discussing with others, look for a class with a strong discussion component.  The right class for you will have a threaded forum or chat room and will require or strongly encourage discussion as part of your grade; instructors who are easily accessible via email or chat; and group assignments that will allow you to work in partnership with your peers.

See Also: Online Colleges and Universities


If you learn best by doing, you can find online classes that cater to your style.  Look for online classes that involve hands-on assignments.  These may include designing your own website in a web design class; researching and creating your own business plan for a business course; or clinical hours at a local medical facility for a nursing course.  Some classes involve simulated environments where you can practice the skills you learn online, hands-on assignments that involve real-world application; or an in-person lab component. 

With online education, you have more options than you think.  While reading and writing is common in a distance education setting, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn material through video and web conferences, podcasts, chats and discussions, visuals, and hands-on assignments.   When choosing a class, do some research into the delivery methods the class uses to teach students the material.  If you know how you learn best, you’ll know which classes are right for you.


Autumn Bell Over a year ago

This is a good article to share with students who are in the process of choosing an online course, but it is also a great piece for instructors. How are we addressing all learning styles in our online courses? I think most of us our covered when it comes to "reading and writing" - but lacking in other domains. Instructors should consider adding some of the other elements mentioned in this article to improve learning outcomes.

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