Thinking & Learning Styles

Thinking Styles

People think in both words and pictures. Just like right-left handedness, people have a primary thinking style, either with words (verbal-sequential) or with pictures (visual-spatial). Both ways of thinking have advantages.

Table 1 lists characteristics of verbal-sequential and visual-spatial thinkers that lead to labels of Gifted and/or learning disabled. The differences indicate teaching and parenting styles need to be adjusted for different thinking styles.

Table 1 Characteristics of strong verbal-sequential and visual-spatial thinkers (adapted from
Verbal-Sequential Thinker Visual-Spatial Thinker
Is academically talented Is creatively, technologically, mechanically, emotionally or spiritually gifted
Thinks primarily in words Thinks primarily in pictures
Has good verbal short-term memory Has good long-term visual memory
Is a step-by-step learner Is a whole-part learner
Follows oral directions well Reads maps well
Learns well from instructions Develops own methods of problem solving
Excels at rote memorization Learns best by seeing relationships
May need some repetition to reinforce learning Learns concepts permanently; does not learn by drill and repetition
Learns by trial and error Learns concepts all at once
Can show steps of work easily Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
Is an early bloomer Is a late bloomer
Develops fairly evenly Develops quite asynchronously (unevenly)
Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material Learns complex concepts easily; Struggles with easy skills
Learns in spite of emotional reactions Is very sensitive to teachers' attitudes
Learns phonics easily Learns whole words easily
Can sound out spelling words Must visualize words to spell them


Verbal-sequential thinking happens at about the same speed as speech, about 150 words per minute, or 2.5 words per second. The speed of visual-spatial or multi-dimensional thinking (using all the senses) increases as a person’s mental concepts become richer. Visual-spatial thinking can be a thousand times faster than verbal-sequential. Some words are hard to visualize, such as “a” and “the”, and become obstacles to visual-spatial thinkers reading and writing.
Handedness is not a discrete variable (right or left), but a continuous one. People vary from strong right-handedness or left-handedness to mixed-handedness and ambidexterity. Thinking style is also a continuum. The brain hemisphere for handedness is the same hemisphere for language, so handedness reflects differences in brain architecture. So does thinking style.
Left-handed people face challenges in the right handed world and at one time schools attempted to teach all children to be right handed. The primary teaching mechanisms for formal education in the US today are oriented to verbal-sequential thinking. So academic success leads to stronger verbal-sequential thinking at the expense of visual-spatial. Visual-spatial thinkers can be learning challenged by traditional teaching approaches, but excel with multisensory approaches. Approximately 30% of people remain strong visual-spatial thinkers and are labeled learning disabled. Learning disability labels are based on symptoms of education challenges, not neurobiology. Strong visual learners and thinkers can be education system challenged, and be labeled as ADD, ADHD, Asperger, Autistic, Dyslexic, or a sufferer of Dyscalculia. Because the labels are based observed symptoms, they can be misapplied, overlapping, and change as the person develops. The damage to the person’s self-esteem can be long-lasting.
Many factors are involved in shaping the brain architecture, so understanding the diversity of how the brain learns or is challenged involves considerable understanding of neurobiology. There is a growing consensus that teacher’s who understand how brains learn are better educators.
Life is more limited when people only use one hand. Likewise, people benefit from developing to the fullest and using both types of thinking styles according to context and need. A person’s primary way of thinking is determined by their brain architecture. Brain architecture is shaped by both genetics and experiences.
People learn with all of their senses, but have preferred senses for learning. The preferred sense for learning is visual for 65% of people. Most people learn best by seeing and manipulating. Multisensory education, such as 4myLearn is most effective for all people.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are how novel or difficult information is retained. People learn information using a variety of senses and learning styles. Each person learns information more easily through any combination of the following styles:

Seeing and illustration.
Direct experience.

Sometimes a person can not learn from specific styles, and may get labeled learning disabled for one teaching style and excell in another. That is why multi-sensory teaching approaches are so effective.