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Kinesthetic learning (also known as tactile learning) is a learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. People with a preference for kinesthetic learning are also commonly known as "do-ers". Tactile-kinesthetic learners make up about five percent of the population. The Fleming VAK/VARK model (one of the most common and widely used categorizations of the various types of learning styles) categorized learning styles as follows:
Kinesthetic intelligence was originally coupled with tactile abilities, and was defined and discussed in Howard Gardner's Frames Of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In his book, Gardner describes activities (such as dancing and performing surgery) as requiring great kinesthetic intelligence: using the body to create (or do) something.
Margaret H'Doubler wrote and spoke about kinesthetic learning during the 1940s, defining kinesthetic learning as the human body's ability to express itself through movement and dance.
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According to the theory of learning styles, students who have a predominantly kinesthetic style are thought to be discovery learners: they have realization through doing, rather than thinking before initiating action. They may struggle to learn by reading or listening.
When learning, it helps for these students to move around; this increases the students' understanding, with learners generally getting better marks in exams when they can do so. Kinesthetic learners usually succeed in activities such as chemistry experiments, sporting activities, art and acting; they also may listen to music while learning or studying. It is common for kinesthetic learners to focus on two different things at the same time, remembering things in relation to what they were doing. They possess good eye-hand coordination. In kinesthetic learning, learning occurs by the learner using their body to express a thought, an idea or a concept (in any field).
In an elementary classroom setting, these students may stand out because of their need to move; their high energy levels may cause them to be agitated, restless or impatient. Kinesthetic learners' short- and long-term memories are strengthened by their use of movement.
Rita Dunn contends that kinesthetic and tactile learning are the same style. Galeet BenZion asserts that kinesthetic and tactile learning are separate learning styles, with different characteristics. She defined kinesthetic learning as the process that results in new knowledge (or understanding) with the involvement of the learner's body movement. This movement is performed to establish new (or extending existing) knowledge. Kinesthetic learning at its best, BenZion found, is established when the learner uses language (their own words) in order to define, explain, resolve and sort out how his or her body's movement reflects the concept explored. One example is a student using movement to find out the sum of 1/2 plus 3/4 via movement, then explaining how their motions in space reflect the mathematical process leading to the correct answer.
Although the concept of learning styles is popular among educators in some countries (and children and adults express preferences for particular modes of learning), there is no evidence that identifying a student's learning style produces better outcomes; on the contrary, there is substantial evidence that the meshing hypothesis (that a student will learn best if taught in a method deemed appropriate for the student's learning style) is invalid. Well-designed studies "flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis".
Proponents state that the evidence related to kinesthetic learners benefiting from specialized instruction (or targeted materials) appears mixed at best; the diagnosis of kinesthetic and tactile learning is coupled (rather than isolated), and teachers are likely to misdiagnose students' learning styles.
On the other hand, studies do show that mixed-modality presentations (for instance, using auditory and visual techniques) improve results in a variety of subjects. Instruction that stimulates more than auditory learning (for example, kinesthetic learning) is more likely to enhance learning in a heterogeneous student population.