Haptic Learners

Aug 15, 2012 by

Haptic LearnersThe next group of people in our survey of learning styles are the haptic learners, sometimes called tactile or kinesthetic learners. Haptic learners absorb information most easily when they are physically engaged in the learning process in some way. Compared to people who learn best by hearing or seeing new information, people with a haptic learning style generally have a harder time sitting still and quiet during study or class time, and may have more difficulties in a traditional classroom setting for this reason.

How do you know if you’re a haptic learner? For one thing, are you reading this article while chewing gum, tapping your foot, and doing a dozen other things at once? Haptic learners tend to move large muscle groups or even their whole bodies to help themselves concentrate on absorbing new information. Background elements that other people would find distracting to their studies, such as having music or the TV on in the background, are often necessary filters for haptic learners to concentrate on the task at hand. In general, people with haptic learning tendencies are process-oriented rather than data-oriented: they may have emotional responses to what they read rather than remembering informational content, and may be in constant motion when reading, listening to a lecture, or participating in a conversation.

Whether in independent study or in the classroom, haptic learners may require frequent breaks and changes in pace to hold their attention. This is part of why white noise or background activity is a good study tool for a haptic learner. Often socially inclined and extroverted, haptic learners frequently volunteer for classroom activities and demonstrations. They may plunge into new tasks without waiting for instruction, preferring to learn by experimentation or trial and error—a trait that can be frustrating to teachers who are unfamiliar with the haptic learning style. Unfortunately, of the four main learning modalities, the traditional classroom system does a poor job of addressing haptic learning, and this may partially explain why so many children are being diagnosed with attention-deficit (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What the medical establishment pegs as a disorder might be more accurately described as mainstream education’s failure to accommodate haptic learning.

Overall, haptic learners tend to exhibit a higher dropout rate in school, and are also enrolled in remedial classes more frequently than visual or auditory learners. However, researchers in education have suggested that these statistics could be greatly improved by focusing on learning activities that benefit more action-oriented, kinesthetic learners. Sample activities that encourage learning through experimentation, physical movement and direct experience include classroom games, field trips, role-playing, science experiments, construction projects, cooking, and dancing. Small changes like introducing periodic stretch breaks into class time and incorporating standing desks that allow kids to move around could also greatly facilitate haptic learning.

Of course, this is all well and good if you’re a school administrator; but what if you suspect you might be a haptic learner and want to make class and study time more productive for yourself? Luckily, there are individual changes you can implement to make learning more effective and fun.

When sitting in class, try taking a seat near the professor: just being near the subject under discussion can be stimulating and help you to stave off boredom. As you listen, make copious notes to keep yourself engaged; every time you feel your attention slipping, make a new note. Rather than just writing everything in outline form, you could use the mapping or webbing style of notation, which is more creatively engaging and leaves room for you to go back later and add any information you may have missed in lecture, either from your textbook, the professor or another student. Add diagrams and other visual elements to your notes to vary them up. Finally, think of some non-disruptive movements you might make in class to blow off excess energy, like tapping your foot, squeezing a stress ball, doodling on a separate pad, or small stretches you can do at your desk.

When you study alone, set a specific goal before you begin in order keep yourself focused: for instance, you might say, “I’m going to outline pages 45-55 in the textbook and answer the first ten study questions in the chapter.” Then get out the materials you’ll need to accomplish this before you start reading. It can also help to outline notes and other things you want to remember using bright highlights and other colorful elements to create visual interest. Some haptic learners also use movements to encode something they’re trying to memorize: for instance, you might write new vocabulary in the air with your finger. Another technique is to associate a specific, unobtrusive motion—like tapping a finger on your desk—with a piece of new information. Then, when you have to remember it (during an exam for instance) you can access that information by making the same motion. Finally, it doesn’t hurt a haptic learner to move around while studying or reading. Sometimes just changing your position—from sitting in a chair to lying on your stomach or back, or even pacing around—can be enough to re-energize your mind.

Haptic learning is becoming better understood in the teaching community, and more educators are making strides to accommodate haptic learners in the classroom. However, in the meantime we hope you will find the strategies above useful for organizing your study and learning practices!

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