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Everything you need to know about auditory learning

By Michael Feder


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

This article was reviewed by Pamela M. Roggeman, EdD, Dean of the College of Education

At a glance

  • There are four primary learning styles: Visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic.
  • Auditory learners are more likely to absorb and retain information when it is presented orally (as opposed to visually or through hands-on activities).
  • Auditory learners often excel in group discussions and activities, while quiet, solitary work can present challenges for them.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, explore online degree programs at University of Phoenix to see how you can enhance your education.  

Every person has a different learning style. While this makes for a robust learning experience, it can also make education challenging if it is not presented in a person's preferred learning style. 

The VARK model, proposed in 1992, attempts to address these unique needs by identifying the four primary modalities people leverage to learn. These are:

1. Visual

2. Aural

3. Read/write

4. Kinesthetic


Your preferred learning modality can impact your educational experience. A visual learner, for instance, will thrive when information is presented in the form of maps, graphs and diagrams. A reader might retain that info better if it were presented in a book or manual.

The aural (or auditory) learner, meanwhile, best retains information when it is presented orally through words and sounds. Group discussions and lectures are the domain of auditory learners, compared to the quiet isolation of a library.

Of course, overlap among these styles is inevitable. You have only to think back on your own experience to determine that it’s possible to learn using multiple modalities, either interchangeably or simultaneously. Accordingly, the VARK model doesn’t assign one modality to each person but proposes that people generally prefer a certain type (or types) of learning to others.

It is also important to mention that this model does not replace the important process of defining and addressing each person’s needs outside their preferred method of learning.


The auditory learning style

If you find yourself working best with a bit of background music or through conversations with classmates, then you may be an auditory learner.

Auditory learners are likely to:

  • Listen to audiobooks and podcasts to pick up information
  • Participate in lectures and group discussions
  • Become inattentive during quiet work or study
  • Talk to themselves or mouth words while reading
  • Have trouble writing down information accurately
What do these traits have in common? The auditory learner operates best in words and sounds, sometimes at the cost of other modalities. Talking to other students during quiet reading times, for example, may not indicate poor behavior but rather suggest that the student is an auditory learner and might be more engaged in a different setting.

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Understanding the auditory style

Understanding different learning modalities is useful for comprehension and academic success, especially since many models of instruction do not take into account the needs of auditory learners. The distraction and boredom these students feel can come off as insubordinate.

Here are a few ways to understand if you're an auditory learner.

You observe carefully

A couple signs may indicate someone is an auditory learner. When reading, auditory learners might silently move their lips as they follow along. They might be very talkative, even to the point of distracting other students.

You like to get involved

Auditory learners work best when they can participate in the lesson. To that end, interacting in classroom discussion in addition to taking notes can play to the strengths of this learning style. Some students will even need more accommodation. If you think you might be an auditory learner, see if your teacher offers oral exams and projects. These can be useful for students who struggle with reading and writing.


5 auditory learning tips and strategies

If you think you’re an auditory learner, you can optimize your learning experience at work or school in several ways. Here’s how:

1. Join group discussions

When auditory learners participate in group discussions, it can help boost their concentration and productivity. While group discussions might be a natural part of classroom curriculum, the same can’t be said for the workplace. As a result, auditory learners might consider scheduling time with co-workers to orally work through a problem or brainstorm ideas.  

2. Make it oral

Whether in the classroom or the workplace, auditory learners excel when they work out loud. Email threads and text messages may not be as effective for these types of learners. Instead, this type of learner should connect one-on-one with their teacher or supervisor and communicate orally. Talking through a problem or idea may help make information stick.

3. Record meetings and classes

Auditory learners may find it helpful to keep audio recordings of lectures or important meetings, so that they can listen to them later. Auditory learners are often good at multitasking, such as listening to a podcast while folding their laundry. In fact, this is a big strength for auditory learners. So, if a student has trouble paying attention during class, it may be helpful for them to reinforce the information audibly in the background while they do other tasks.

4. Play background music

For some people, silence is exactly what they need to learn or concentrate. That’s not the case for auditory learners. In fact, silence can be more distracting than the chatter of a café or the sound of construction outside their window. A popular choice for auditory learners is playing music in the background of their study sessions. This can help them lock in to the task at hand.

Unfortunately, the things that help an auditory learner may be very counterproductive to a reader or visual learner. If a student needs background music to concentrate, it’s advisable for them to get together with other students who feel the same way. Connecting with other auditory learners can help play to their strengths without distracting other students.

5. Repeat, repeat, repeat

It can be hard to pick up on a lesson the first time through. That’s true of all types of learners, but auditory learners may have particular trouble with this. Sitting through a slideshow, for example, might not be enough for auditory learners. Instead, take notes and go over them multiple times to reinforce the learning

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Advantages of auditory learning

Auditory learners can be an important part of a dynamic and exciting classroom. Here are some areas where auditory learners are likely to excel:

  • Listening to others
  • Engaging in discussion
  • Speaking confidently in front of others
  • Remembering information they hear

In addition, auditory learners are often great multitaskers. Nowadays, there are tons of audio materials for learning purposes. They might be able to listen to an audiobook while doing other tasks and still follow the whole story. That can be a big strength in classrooms and workplaces that often split students’ attention.  


Disadvantages of auditory learning

Some disadvantages auditory learners need to counteract include:

  • A tendency to get distracted by others
  • Engaging others at inappropriate times
  • Difficulty with tasks that are written or visual
  • Difficulty working alone
  • Becoming bored or disengaged during quiet work times

For many students, those are frustrating barriers that stand between them and educational success. For many educators, such behaviors can be seen as signs of a bad student. In both cases, accommodating an auditory learning style may be the solution.

Although the auditory learning style (and the VARK model as a whole) does not have the scientific foundations of educational learning theories, it is still a helpful framework for students and educators alike. It can help teachers adapt lesson plans with innovative approaches and bring about better student outcomes.  


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