You can’t teach somebody something in English if all they speak is Spanish. Well, you can if you are showing them, rather than telling them. Likewise, if you want to teach effectively, you need to understand the student’s preferred learning style. Understanding learning styles is an important factor in just about any type of education. Some people do really well with wordy explanations, while others don’t and would prefer visual type education. Whether you are a parent, a coach, a teacher or a manger, you likely find yourself in a position of having to educate people in your environment. It behooves you to have some understanding of different learning styles.
There are typically four general learning styles:
Analytic. This type learner prefers to rely on what the experts already know about any given subject or topic. They may read, watch videos or online tutorials by those who are knowledgeable and experts in that respective field. These kind of learners won’t want to engage in the actual process of doing anything new until they are well versed in what the experts or authorities have already said about the topic at hand.
Factual. This type learner wants facts. Not opinions or anecdotal experience, but cold, hard facts. Unlike the person who prefers to defer to experts, this person relies more heavily on objective research. If the research indicates validity, then they are much more inclined to move ahead and learn the material.
Interactive. This type of learner wants information from those who have already engaged in some kind of direct experience. This is the person who values anecdotal experience from others. They will talk to others, listen to others, ask questions of and consult with others. Based on this kind of interaction, the person will determine the value and worthiness of learning the information and move ahead with it, or not, depending on what others say.
Dynamic. This is the kind of person that learns best by doing. They don’t care about the logic of analysis; they don’t care about cold, hard objective facts and they don’t really care about anecdotal experience from others. If they have any interest whatsoever, they will jump right in trying to figure it out by doing it. This approach often entails trial and error, but that is part of the appeal for these types of learners.
In addition to these four styles of learning, each person also has a dominant or preferred mode of learning.
Visual. This person learns best when they can see information. This is not to say that hearing information won’t work, but hearing alone would be much less effective than seeing and hearing. As a species, we are very visually oriented and some research indicates that about 80% of the information we receive from our environment is visual. We also live in a very visually dominant society. This is the type of learner who responds favorably to videos, movies or live demonstrations.
Auditory. This is a person who might be distracted by visual presentations and would much prefer to hear or read verbal instructions. This person would tend to choose something like audio books, tapes or having somebody read instructions to them.
Kinaesthetic This is a person who needs to feel it. As the saying goes, ‘those who feel it, know it’ and these are those kind of people. A kinaesthetic learner is one who would find the hands-on approach most appealing as it would allow them to touch, move and manipulate things.
Interactive. This is the person who needs to not only engage their visual, auditory and kinaesthetic modes, but needs to interact with others as well. This is the most inclusive form of learning, and teaching. It engages the whole person. It not only includes the mind and body, but encompasses the social environment. Some of our best learning experiences occur in this type of interactive setting. Ironically, these learnings are generally not in any kind of official educational setting, but rather simply a part of living.
Trying to determine which style and which mode is dominant and preferred in any given person can be a challenge, and time consuming. A much better approach is to go for the most inclusive form of teaching/learning and employ that as the general paradigm. In the case of both styles and modes, this would be labeled as dynamic-interactive. As such, if you want to be the most effective coach, parent, teacher or role model; if you want to make sure the information, ideas, concepts, skills and behaviors are being not only transmitted but internalized as effectively as possible, then you need to engage their looking and seeing, hearing and listening, handling and feeling and, most of all, when at all possible, doing with others. As the Chinese proverb states: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”