Incorporating Learning Models into Childbirth Education

What are learning styles?

There are different opinions about the types and validity of “learning styles” adults use (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic; impulsive and reflective; right brain and left brain, etc.), but most agree that not everyone learns the same way and that a variety of teaching strategies should be used to foster engagement within a group of students. With this in mind, this blog series explores several different types of learning models and provides ideas for how you can incorporate them into your classes. We begin with three main learning styles that engage almost all students in some way: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. 

As childbirth educators, it is wise for us to learn about strategies that appeal to these three areas and effectively differentiate our instruction to incorporate them into our classes. Here is a breakdown of each style and some ideas for integrating them into your classes to best meet the needs of all students.

How can you incorporate these styles into your instruction?

Visual -- “See it”

You’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is especially true for visual learning. To most effectively incorporate visual learning in your classes, you’ll want to present information in ways that students can see, such as charts, diagrams, images, symbols and models.

PowerPoint slides or posters with images, illustrations and infographics are useful tools for visual learning. Show dilation using an illustration or model uterus. Have posters hung up throughout the room. Ensure your PowerPoint slides are well designed and contain appealing images. Provide activities that allow for visual expression, such as drawing or creating a visual draft of parents’ birth preferences. This can be art students create of their ideal birth or a chart that divides labor, birth, and postpartum into separate columns so they can visualize and categorize information learned during class. 

Auditory -- “Hear it”

Auditory learning involves actively listening, processing information aloud and hearing it repeated from others. This learning approach may include having group discussions or playing audio or video clips. Another way to engage auditory learning is to ask students questions and keep them actively involved in the class. For example, when teaching about the stages of labor, you can engage auditory learners by asking them what comes to mind when they hear the word “labor” and where those impressions came from. Once they are engaged in the discussion, you can begin talking about stages of labor. Ask the students how learning about the stages either confirms or perhaps makes them rethink their expectations about birth. Similarly, it can be helpful for auditory learners to have information in handouts explained aloud after they’ve had time to read them. 

For auditory learning, it is important to minimize distractions and peripheral noise during class. This may include sending small groups into different rooms during break out activities or avoiding any background music or sound while having a discussion. 

Kinesthetic/Tactile -- “Do it”

Active movement and experience are how kinesthetic/tactile learning occurs. This includes introducing new concepts in a hands-on way and encouraging students to take notes or draw during class. You’ll want to incorporate activities that include minimal instruction and give students to opportunity to “figure it out.” It is important to provide freedom of movement, hands-on activities and opportunities to write or construct during class. Interacting with physical models (pelvis, uterus, newborn doll, etc.) and engaging in visual activities, such as drawing or modeling with clay, will also be useful kinesthetic exercises. 

Having students practice labor positions in class (such as those illustrated in our Preparing for Birth or Labor Coping Pocket Guide) is a perfect way to help students make the mind-body connection that will help them remember what they’ve learned when it’s time to put the methods into practice. If you have a model pelvis and baby that can be passed around, these can also be effective tools to help them better understand the birth process. 

Why is this important for your classes?

Author and learning expert Annie Murphy Paul explains the benefits of differentiated instruction this way: “First, students benefit from encountering information in multiple forms. They learn more, for example, from flashcards that incorporate both text and images -- charts, graphs, etc. -- than from cards that display text alone.” If you can help your students retain the information by presenting it in different ways, then you increase the chances that they’ll be able to recall and implement it during their labor and birth. 

Murphy Paul goes on to explain that, “students' interest is kept alive by novelty and variety, so regularly turning away from textbooks and blackboards is key. As long as the new activity genuinely informs the students about the academic subject at hand, clapping a math lesson -- or sketching in science class, or acting during story time -- can help every student to learn better.” In other words, it’s good to change things up to keep your students engaged and help them make the most of your classes.

Want to learn more?

We include activities, discussion prompts and more in our teaching curriculums for childbirth and breastfeeding. In addition, here are some resources to find out more about learning styles and how to incorporate them into your classes.

Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say?

How Do I Learn Best?

An Overview of Adult Learning Processes

Ice Breaker Activities to Identify Learning Styles

Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer

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