There is more to the media of teaching than meets the eye (or ear...). For present purposes let us look at two issues: preferred "modalities" of perception, and the social message of the medium. 

Preferred Forms of Perception

There is a lot of rubbish out there about "learning styles", which I don't believe. Learning is a very complex phenomenon; perceptual preferences are just one part of it, and it is far from clear just how important a part. Some people do seem to prefer to take in information visually, and some aurally. More specifically, some people (like me) like diagrammatic representations of material, and some find it difficult to make sense of them. To personalise even further, I like my own diagrams, but often find other people's incomprehensible.

The argument, stemming from the work of Bandler and Grinder in the late '70s (search for it if you are that interested: I find it too difficult to winnow the wheat from the chaff, but at least look at this site) is that we have preferred or privileged perceptual channels; some people are allegedly more visual, some more aural, some more kinaesthetic. The latter involves movement, and according to one "learning styles" site, is dominant for 40+% of the population. Of course it is, given their test items. OK; while this seems to make good sense, and used to seem, like the Earth, mostly harmless*, I can now deny that there is any rigorous research to suggest that it is actually matters much. Note that most of the material on the net, particularly that which makes naive connections to crude neuro-science, is both unreliable and self-serving.

The last word on the perceptual version of learning styles really must go to Daniel Willingham.

* ...but the latter part of Coffield, Moseley, Hall and Ecclestone (2004) argues that the political use made of the idea has been pernicious, as the failure of students to learn is blamed on the failure of teachers to pay attention to these spurious notions. So take it all with a dangerously large pinch of salt.

But, entertaining the idea for a moment: as a quick test, just think about reading the newspaper and listening to the news on the radio at the same time: which commands your attention? I block out the sound and concentrate on the text, unless I make a conscious effort to do otherwise, so I have some preference for the visual channel. (It is not as easy to demonstrate the "practical/kinaesthetic" channel.)

You can see where this argument is going. Proponents emphasise the need to provide something for everyone in your teaching. "Inclusivity" is the buzzword, and this is a minor aspect of it.

Most effective learners have a versatile approach, but that is not to say that they do not have preferences. Effective teachers, on this argument, make their point by using several channels of communication to reinforce them. OK, that is trite, but... If you do have preferences, you may well forget to pay attention to offer material through the other channels. I know I have to pay conscious attention to doing so. (And that is about as much as might be said for this argument.)

What you say by how you say it

Marshall McLuhan famously declared that "the medium is the message". In teaching, at least, the medium is certainly a message: the use of any adjunct to the voice sends a message to the students which will be received and understood at least out of consciousness, and perhaps explicitly.

This merely touches on the complex and sophisticated issue of hidden messages in teaching, but it is worth checking to ensure that your medium supports your message, rather than undermining it.

Media in Practice

"Media" is a term interpreted broadly, because not everything fits into neat categories!

Whiteboard Overhead- and data-projectors Handouts
Physical classroom layout Yourself Humour
Dialogue Concept- and mind-maps  

My position on learning styles and "I told you so" research.

To reference this page copy and paste the text below:

Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; [On-line: UK] retrieved from

Original material by James Atherton: last up-dated overall 10 February 2013

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