Background: I'm familiar with the more common learning styles of hearing, seeing and doing. For lack of a better word I consider myself a 'vicarious' learner which is something similar to a Bodhisattva from Buddhism only without the enlightenment part. I learn best by helping other people learn it, or through explaining it successfully to someone else. Case in point algebra never made a lick of sense to me as a kid until I was able to get my mom to understand it (she's not math minded in the least).


  • Is there a term for someone who learns best by helping others learn?
  • Are there only the three theoretical learning styles at present?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See the wikipedia page on "Peer learning", specifically "peer instruction". $\endgroup$
    – user4549
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 23:58

2 Answers 2


Learning Styles

There is a large literature on learning styles particularly in educational psychology. See for example, the wikipedia page on learning styles.

You will soon discover that there are many different taxonomies of learning styles. Thus, there are certainly more than three "theorised" learning styles.

However, more importantly, there have been some serious critiques of the assumptions of learning styles. In particular, I would question whether people really have important domain general learning styles, and whether pedagogy should be adapted to such a domain general learning style.

I agree that instruction should be tailored to the individual. However, I think that generally it is more effective to consider what the individual already knows (and in some cases, think about their motivations) and tailor the format with regards to pre-existing knowledge and skills.

Furthermore, I think it is generally more useful to think about what makes for effective learning in general, as opposed to thinking about how people learn in different ways.

Learning by teaching

In the case, of learning by teaching, I imagine that this could be a relatively effective learning methodology in general. From personal experience, I know that I learn a lot about a subject by teaching it. It forces you to understand the material. Students can ask you questions which forces you to learn more. Consideration of how to teach the material can encourage a deeper understanding in order to provide a structured teaching experience. The mere fact of spending time on a subject should also foster further learning.

I imagine there are many articles on the topic of learning through teaching. I found one article by Cortese (2005) who wrote:

The great learning potential inherent in teaching would appear to be generated as the result of a particular aspect of the teaching process itself: the encounter with diversity, which on the one hand tends to increase reflexivity while on the other hand tends to break down resistance to change. ... Teaching also proved to be an important opportunity for recognizing one’s own ignorance and thereby rendering oneself open to the possibility of learning.


  • Cortese, C. G. (2005). Learning through teaching. Management Learning, 36(1), 87-115. PDF
  • $\begingroup$ +1 definitely agreed about considering what people already know and sometimes their motivations. Thank you for the article, and thank you for the edit to my question. $\endgroup$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ No problems. I hope you enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 7:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This might have to do with retention effectiveness - people retain more if they see, say and do something versus any one of these in isolation. Teaching others incorporates seeing, saying, doing and remembering, thus the teacher understands the material better $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 3:52

I personally like Michelene Chi's taxonomy of instructional methods, which is related to your question although it's not specifically about learning styles. Chi distinguishes passive, active, constructive, and interactive learning activities. Passive means you're just receiving info from the instructor (or textbook, or whatever). Active means you're doing something in response to the info, e.g. highlighting. Constructive means you are MAKING something NEW in response to the info, e.g. you are writing an evaluation or commentary on what you read or heard. Interactive means you are talking with someone else about it, e.g. explaining it or asking questions about it. Each includes the previous one, i.e. constructive learning activities include active activities as part of them, interactive is a type of instructive, etc. Chi argues that the best learning occurs from interactive, followed by constructive, then active, and last passive.

Thus, to answer the original question, according to Chi it is generally true that you will learn best when you explain things to others - that should be true of everyone, not only people with a certain learning style.

Chi (2009) Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Trends in Cognitive Science.


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