Exploring learning with the honey bee

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In this post, we will learn about our different learning styles by exploring the Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinesthetic (VARK) learning preferences model developed by Neil Fleming. The VARK is one of the most widely used categorisations of learning styles, and explains how individuals differ in the ways we interact with, take in, and process information. In brief, it describes that:

  • Visual learners have a preference for seeing and thinking, e.g. with pictures, colours, patterns, and diagrams. 
  • Auditory learners learn better through listening, e.g. through lectures, discussions, sound, and talking it over.
  • Reading learners learn better through the written language, e.g. using lists, taking notes, and understanding definitions.
  • Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn via experience, e.g moving, touching, and doing. 

Understanding our VARK learning preferences will hopefully enable us to learn better. However, before we continue further, let’s again start with a story from nature – this time learning from the honey bee.

The sensory perception of honey bees is well studied. Just like humans, honey bees have been shown to receive information through the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities, amongst others. Depending upon the situation, bees will make use of different learning modalities.

Honey bees have the visual perception of colour. Vision is important to bees because they feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. While bees can also distinguish  flowers by their smell and taste, that only works when they are close enough to the plant. Vision is therefore better for the task of locating flowers from a distance away while in flight.

Moreover, it has been found that bees can see in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of light, which humans cannot. In the UV spectrum, flowers have patterns which are invisible to the naked human eye. It has been shown through UV photography that some of these patterns might actually function as ‘landing zones’ for the bees, directing them towards the centre of the flowers where the nectar is.


What we see (visible light)

What the bee sees (UV light)

Image of Potentilla anserina L. © Bjørn Rørslett

What happens after a forager bee locates a good source of nectar? These bees will return to the hive to recruit other worker bees to forage in the same area. One way that the forager bee communicates the location of a food source is through the use of dances. Bees will dance differently depending upon the direction and distance of the food from the hive. The ‘waggle dance’, for example, indicates that food is farther away, while the ’round dance’ indicates that food is nearby.

How then do the other bees receive the dance message? Some bees will gather around the dancing bee and closely follow its movement, perhaps even imitating the dance – we can call this the kinesthetic learning. Touch is important for the bees using their antennae. Not all learner bees need to be in contact with the dancing bee however. In fact, most other surrounding bees might only just receive the message through the sound vibrations that the dancing bees make. These sounds are picked up by the legs and antennae of the learner bees – perhaps we can call this the auditory learning.

Learning through sound is important since in the darkness of the bee hive, the learner bees which are farther away might not be able to visually see the dance. However, some of these bees have been observed to later move closer to also touch and follow the dance of the leader bee. Moreover, transfer of nectar odours has also been shown to be important to help the follower bees more accurately locate the flowers. It could be said that bees will utilise many different modes of learning in order to accurately pinpoint the location of the  food source. This is very important especially when the food is far away – even a miscommunication of a slight degree will result in the follower bees flying to the wrong location!

The language of communication of bees is of course much more complex than what can be briefly described above. However, a few key learning points relevant to our discussion can be summarised:

  • All bees have the capability of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning.
  • Not all bees need to receive the message in the same way. Some bees will follow the dance of the leader bee, other bees will just listen.
  • Different learning modalities are better used for different purposes. Visual recognition of flowers is more effective than taste or smell, especially from a distance when the bee is in flight.

What about people then? Relating back to the discussion of visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic learning preferences, we believe that:

  • Every person has the capability of visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic learning.
  • Different individuals have different preferred learning styles. Some might prefer visual input while others prefer auditory, reading, or kinesthetic learning.
  • Different learning modalities might be better used for different purposes. Moreover, in many situations, multimodal learning using more than one preference might help in better understanding.

Understanding our learning preferences will hopefully help us in our studies, work and life as we can try to utilise our preferred learning styles when learning new or difficult information. However, when the information is familiar or easy, it might be encouraged to try learning using a less preferred learning style in order to stretch and improve ourselves.

The VARK learning style is just one of the many success solutions tools used at MindLife Success to help you understand your preferences and skills. We are also excited to see our learning come alive as we continue to draw inspiration from the world of nature. Join us on an amazing journey of discovery and reflection with our Leadership of Nature™ series as we put into practice life changing applications for success in our lives!

Contact us for more information today.

(article by Ling Hua Loon: hualoon@mindlifesuccess.com)

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