Learning Styles for the Beginner
Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before, but there are many approaches that people use to learn new information. In fact, there are dozens of tactics for categorizing learning styles. Some suggest that there are only three: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Others propose seven distinct styles: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary.
I could go on and on, but the most important point here is the ultimate goal of knowing about learning styles: to design a more effective training program and improve the learner’s experience. While it’s usually impossible to write training that will accommodate all styles equally, a fundamental understanding will help the teacher/designer branch out, and incorporate more activities and perspectives than he or she might otherwise have used. This, in turn, will help more people learn more effectively. I subscribe to four styles of learning, which I will describe below.
The Team Player
I will start with my own learning style, which I will call the Team Player. If you are familiar with David Keirsey’s temperaments (based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), this would be based on the “SJ” or Guardian type. These learners follow the rules, and approach learning in an orderly, practical, and planned way. Predominantly left brain, they want a logical structure, and predictable outcomes. Teachers generally love team players. They make steady progress on the materials, read and follow instructions, and will even tend to help out other learners if they have time.
To put these learners at ease, you need a syllabus or participant guide that spells out the objectives, and stated criteria upon which they will be evaluated. Don’t give them too many surprises. And be sure to show the practical value behind what is being trained. They will actively participate in exercises and labs, as long as they see the application to their real world problems.
These learners are also left brain, and usually take the direct approach to learning. Keirsey would classify them as “SP” or Artisans. They are stimulated by their senses, good with their hands, and like to be physically involved with learning. They like to build things. While they are down-to-earth and realistic, they can also be bold, risk-takers.
To appeal to these learners, you need to incorporate activities that will involve their senses, and get them moving. They will eagerly participate in any instructional “games” that you may design, but don’t count on them to follow the rules. They will get bored with too much of any one thing, so be sure to switch up your activities.
These predominantly right-brain learners are always looking for meaning and self-understanding. They are idealistic, and empathetic to the needs of others. They will interact with and support others in the class, and can be very insightful. Keirsey called this type of learner an Idealist, or “NF.” They are dreamers, and usually have lofty plans, that sometimes need to be grounded in reality.
They can be excellent learners. They may try to take on too much, so you need to help them set boundaries. Help them calibrate expectations. Give them exercises and labs that will allow them to express their creative side. Find a way for them to “improvise” around the structure, and find their own meaning.
This final type of learner is complex and analytical in their approach toward education and training. Keirsey call them Rationals, or “NT” for short. They appear to be quite intellectual, and tend to go into depth when learning something. They want to examine all angles, and enjoy exploring theoretical possibilities. Being predominantly right brained, they are constantly working to generate new theories and build new systems of understanding.
To engage the Thinker, you must make sure all of your facts are correct and logically presented. Nothing will “turn off” a Thinker faster than errors or omissions. Or gaps in your logic. So be prepared to defend your rationale, and have additional resources available, so they can do follow-up research on their own.
In this short article, you have been given a “taste” of learning styles, and introduced to a few alternatives to help with training and instructional design. I encourage you to do your own research (especially if you are a Thinker), and incorporate this information in your next class.