What type of learner is your child?

Understand your child better by finding out whether she is a people oriented or task-oriented learner. By Dr Reda Davin

*Originally published in January 2008

A child learns a lot during the course of each day – mainly as the result of incidental learning. However, parents, caregivers and educators often teach children purposefully because they wish to impart the important information, skills and attitudes that children need. The best learning takes place when the way a child is taught corresponds with the way she learns best (her preferred learning style).

What is a learning style?

Parents know that each child is unique, but are often unaware that this uniqueness is also visible in the way a child learns. The child’s learning style is her preferred manner of acquiring, retaining and recalling new information. It includes not only the child’s intellectual ability, but also emotional and physiological aspects.

How do I identify my child’s learning style?

In order to identify your child’s learning style, look at her behaviour, reactions, persistence and preferences during normal daily activities. Remember, children are learning all the time.

Here’s an example to look at:
Johnny plays alone with his blocks in the television room. He is very quiet and seems to be concentrating deeply. He’s building a large castle. His mom asks him to bring his dirty cup to the kitchen. He seems to ignore her at first and then he becomes very irritated when she repeats her request. His mom loses her temper and his sister fetches the cup. After Johnny has finished his castle, he examines it carefully, makes a few changes and then puts all the blocks into the container.

Cathy, his sister, sits in the kitchen next to her mom. She’s colouring in pictures in a book and talking to her mom. Every now and again she also picks up her baby doll, because she pretends it is crying. She interrupts her play to fetch Johnny’s dirty cup. Her mother repeatedly tells her to complete at least one of the four pictures she has started colouring in.

Johnny is a task-oriented learner and Cathy is a people-oriented learner.

Use the guidelines below to determine whether your child is a task-oriented or people-oriented learner:

The learning activities of a task-oriented child are characterised by:

  • She asks you to show her what to do step by step. She needs clear direct instructions.
  • She sits and works/plays in a quiet place. Noise and other people easily distract her while she is busy with an activity.
  • She prefers not to eat or drink while she’s busy with an activity.
  • She concentrates only on one activity or task at a time.
  • She doesn’t want to be interrupted while playing and tends to feel irritated when she is interrupted.
  • She wants to complete an activity once she has started it.
  • She prefers to be left alone. She doesn’t need a lot of encouragement to finish a task.
  • She wants to play or work alone. She’s not a very sociable child.
  • She thinks carefully about an activity and plans before she starts with the activity.
  • She prefers to solve problems on her own. She considers all possibilities before she makes a decision.
  • She prefers toys that enable her to play on her own (blocks, puzzles and self-correcting toys).
  • She is usually well behaved, even without the direct supervision of an authoritive figure (parent).

The learning activities of a people-oriented child are characterised by:

  • She plays (or works) only for short periods. She needs frequent breaks while learning something new or completing a difficult task.
  • She is busy with more than one activity at the same time. She will work on something, stop, do something else and then return to the original task.
  • She wants to know what the end result (whole picture) will be before she starts with a new task.
  • She prefers activities that are not clearly structured and fixed. She dislikes tasks or activities that have very specific steps and rules.
  • She prefers sounds in the background and other people in the room while she is playing or completing a task. (During their school years, these children listen to music while they are studying.)
  • She prefers to work with someone to complete tasks and dislikes working alone.
  • She is influenced by other people (in a positive or negative way).
  • She needs a lot of encouragement. Her persistence and motivation to complete activities can be low.
  • She prefers to learn about things that are directly related to her. (This may cause problems at school.)
  • She wants to be actively involved in her learning. She wants to do things, not just think about them. She doesn’t want to sit still.
  • She bases her decisions on her feelings. She does things without thinking and can be very impulsive.
  • She prefers activities that involve other people.


  • Every child, whether she is a task-oriented or people-oriented learner can learn what she needs to and acquires the necessary skills if she is taught in a manner that suits her individual learning style.
  • Neither of the learning styles is better or worse than the other; they are merely different.
  • Most children learn better if the information is meaningful and relevant to them, but such information is essential for people-oriented learners, because it helps to keep them motivated.
  • Most children are poor listeners, therefore talking to them and explaining are inadequate teaching methods, especially when young children are taught. A young child learns best when she feels or experiences new information with her whole body.
  • Although most gifted children are people-oriented learners, so are most underachievers.
  • Very few children are exclusively task-oriented or people-oriented – most of us use a combination of the two. Use your child’s unique preferences to her learn as successfully as possible.
scroll to top

Send this to a friend