I never let my students talk about their “bad side”. I’ve worked hard to get that type of negative terminology out of their vocabulary. There will always be a side that needs a bit more work, and may not be their favorite, but approaching it already in a negative way will inevitably set them up for failure. We can look similarly at the way we all learn. The more prepared we are to be adaptable will only open doors and help dissipate potential frustration. That being said, we all certainly have the ways we like to learn best, and as natural creatures of habit, we tend to continue to do things that work well; Makes sense. So, what happens when you come across an instructor that doesn’t directly teach to your learning type? How do you handle the way you learn when circumstances force you into learning online?

I recently polled a number of students regarding their learning types, and how their online learning has been affected. The short survey included the following questions:

  • What type of learner do you consider yourself to be: Auditory learner, visual learner, kinesthetic learner, or a combination?
  • Has this changed since transitioning to online learning?
  • Do you feel that transitioning to online classes has forced a change in the way you learn?
  • How would you describe your success in taking online dance classes?

I then asked for specific examples of the biggest challenges, as well as positive outcomes. The data wasn’t necessarily surprising, but there were some interesting self-reflections and realizations.

The majority of the students considered their learning type to be a combination of more than one, and they also agreed that their learning type has not changed since moving to online. They did, however, agree that the transition has forced them to use other learning types in order to be successful. Some of the comments regarding the biggest challenges taking dance online included difficulty to see smaller detailed movements, not enough space to execute larger technique, missing hands-on corrections from the instructor, and committing to regular practice outside of class. Some of the positive takeaways included a sense of privacy that allows more vulnerability to occur, re-examining time management and ramping up work ethic, ease to focus, and simply getting to stay connected to instructors and other students.

Be okay with identifying the type of learner that you are, and then challenge yourself to open your other senses.

So, what type of learner are you? Looking at 3 of the main learning types, Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic, let’s go through some tips on how to be more successful in class based on the way that you learn.

Auditory (or aural) Learner

Learns through listening, speaking, and vocal cues.

  • If you’re taking a pre-recorded class, take advantage of pausing and rewinding the parts you need to hear again. Utilize the ability for repetition in a pre-recorded class in a way that you can’t when it is live.
  • If you’re in a live online class, speak up if you can’t hear the music or the instructor (obviously this will only apply when you are in smaller more familiar classes and you have the opportunity to ask). If there’s a delay, see if you can play the music from your own device at the same time. Remember that once you’re out of class, you have control over the music when you rehearse.
  • Enjoy the fact that you are only hearing yourself without other distractions. Enjoy the ability to just focus on you and the instructor.
  • Talk through the movement when you’re rehearsing, in your head or aloud. Because you probably don’t benefit much from writing choreography down, try memorizing it while reciting the steps, counts, or phrasing.
  • If you’re learning choreography to music, pay close attention to details in the song. If there’s lyrics, try to connect the movements to them. 
  • Try to open up your other senses, and not rely on this one type of learning.

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Visual Learner

Learns by seeing and watching the material presented.

  • If you’re used to one familiar studio, try to set up your brain to think spatially within your own home. Where is the mirror? Where is the stereo? Where is the door?
  • Alternatively, if you’re guilty of always standing in the same spot (in the back on the left is where I lived!) challenge yourself to change up your “front”. We all know when you’re pulled from that comfort zone, it completely changes the way we learn and remember movement. Try to continue this in the studio as well. The stronger your spatial awareness is, the better you’ll be at transferring to the stage or any other space.
  • Try to access a larger screen to watch the instructor, as well as purchase a full-length mirror to use at home for yourself. Filming yourself to go back and watch later is also an incredible tool. Remember that the playback of your work isn’t to over criticize yourself, but to be your own teacher. This experience is to help you improve, not to be hard on yourself.
  • Aside from filming, close your eyes and visualize yourself going through the movement. See yourself doing it correctly, then take that confidence into your body.
  • Try to open up your other senses, and not rely on this one type of learning.

Kinesthetic Learner

Learns by a hands-on, whole body movement connectivity.

  • Dig deep with your own kinesthetic awareness, study the body more and how you can connect anatomy and kinesiology within you as a dancer.
  • In some circumstances with pre-recorded classes, you may be able to reach out to the instructor and check with them if you can send a video of your work for feedback. If provided with corrections, make sure to have an understanding of how they would help you fix things hands-on if they could (teaching you how to do it for yourself).
  • Even if you don’t have a ton of space, still try to do the choreography as full out as possible. Focus more on proprioception while building muscle memory. If you can’t get the whole body full out, at least do the arms as full out as possible (which is a great rule to remember even when marking!). The closer you can get to full out, the easier it will be when you get the opportunity to do so. I miss across-the-floor so much that I never let a good grocery store aisle go to waste!
  • Take as many classes as you can. The more you get used to taking class digitally, the better you will get at it.
  • As always, try to open up your other senses, and not rely on this one type of learning.

The more prepared we are to be adaptable will only open doors and help dissipate potential frustration.

I recently attended a conference where Dr. Bonni Stachowiak gave a fascinating lecture on teaching online in Higher Education. Dr. Stachowiak is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University in Southern California, as well as the Producer of the podcast “Teaching in Higher Ed”. Addressing the topic of learning types within this lecture particularly piqued my interest. As I reflected on the way that I teach, she discussed many myths about learning. The first one that she addressed was the myth that there are 3 rigid types of learners. This began to really resonate with me, and I dove deep into my own way of learning, and how I approach the many different learning types within my students. She discussed that instead of there being 3 types of learners, people simply have learning preferences. So, instead of separating the approaches to teaching and learning, we should all be using a combination of them all.

Tap class is the best example I can give when I think about my many approaches to teaching. I discuss the fact that there are multiple facets to be addressed at one time. So, they get used to me explaining things primarily three ways: the counts, the steps, and the rhythmic accents. Tap class seems to be the one class that very specific types of learners are evident and vocal about their needs. After things have been explained separately, I begin to fluidly move between all of the different approaches verbally. This way, after having a clear understanding of the movement in the specific way that makes sense to each student, they begin to consistently hear the other ways of interpreting it. All of the descriptions are important, but we must start where things make sense to us. Then we can build on that after.

As educators, we can facilitate challenging and changing the way we approach our own teaching. If we only teach one way, that means the students are only learning one way. Which, depending on your preferred learning type, will either be very successful or extremely frustrating. As we empower our students not to put themselves in a box, perhaps the way we teach will help them also not be stuck in one learning type. As students, you can help your training by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. Now, more than ever, classes are available to you from all over the world. The more instructors and choreographers you can work with, the better. This will not only help your overall versatility, but will greatly improve your ability to pick up choreography faster, and enhance your overall vocabulary. Be okay with identifying the type of learner that you are, and then challenge yourself to open your other senses to keep you adaptable, well-rounded, and rich with knowledge.