Learning style and school choice

Choosing a school for a conventional or unconventional learner

When choosing a school for your child, a vital factor to consider is academic fit: what are your child’s most salient academic traits and how might these inform your school search? Here, we’ll discuss one academic trait—learning style—and what role it might play in choosing a school for your child. 

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids’ step-by-step advice guide and our expert tips. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fitmore academic challengesocial strugglesacademic strugglesintensive learning interestsuniversity preparation, and special needs.).  

Learning styles and school fit: conventional and unconventional learners

Kids vary widely in their learning styles: while some are conventional learners, others are more unconventional learners. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s learning style on school choice: it can profoundly affect the kind of learning environment, and hence school, that’s right for them. Below, we discuss how conventional and unconventional learners fit in several school types.

Conventional learners

Conventional learners tend to prefer a traditional learning approach. This often includes whole-class lectures, teacher-led instruction, pre-planned units, plenty of structure, and objective modes of assessment (such as grades).

Conventional learners’ school fit: key take-homes

  • Big and small schools vary in the kind of learning environments they provide. Look for schools with teacher-directed instruction, whole-class lectures, preplanned units, plenty of structure, and clear criteria for assessment.
  • Many coed schools provide conventional learning environments and approaches. Since boys’ and girls’ schools vary in their approaches, ask specific questions to gauge whether your child is the right fit.
  • Boarding schools can be a nice fit for conventional learners, who tend to prefer whole-class lectures, direct instruction, textbook-based learning, and graded work.
  • Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools’ decentralized, individualized learning environments are sometimes a better fit for unconventional learners than conventional learners.
  • IB schools offer a standardized, prescribed curriculum, with clear criteria for assessment, which can be ideal for conventional learners.
  • Most language immersion schools cater to conventional learners, offering plenty of structure, teacher-led instruction, and clear criteria for assessment.

To access far more detailed information about conventional learners’ school fit, read our in-depth guide.

Unconventional learners

Unconventional learners tend to march to the beat of their own drum. They often prefer individualized and experiential learning, independent and small group work, and varied teaching and assessment approaches.

Unconventional learners’ school fit: key take-homes

  • Ensure a big school has some smaller classes with lots of independent learning opportunities for your unconventional learner. Big schools normally have more extracurriculars for kids to probe different areas of interest.
  • Coed schools vary widely in their learning and in how much they cater to unconventional learners. Many girls’ schools cater to unconventional learners, with a student-centred curriculum and plenty of independent and interactive learning opportunities.
  • Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on areas of interest (with teacher guidance), which most unconventional learners love. 
  • IB Programmes can sometimes be a struggle for students who resist a traditional curriculum. Since they follow standardized course syllabi and use prescribed evaluation schemes, IB schools leave less room for the kind of flexibility unconventional students normally crave.
  • “Many unconventional learners prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their own interests both in and out of school.”

To access far more detailed information about unconventional learners’ school fit, read our in-depth guide.

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