Recently I was thinking about the way we learn after being forcefully reminded about my own inclinations and limitations. There are four identified preferential learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. It is believed that most people favor one or two of these learning styles when tackling a new subject or even performing day-to-day tasks.
Several weeks ago, Oregon experienced unusually heavy snowfall, which meant that I had to put chains on my vehicle to get in and out of the neighborhood. Usually a need to chain-up comes up only once a year and I was out of practice. As a result, I got the chains hopelessly tangled and was reminded once again that I am not a tactile giant. No amount of writing or lecturing could get it undone. The only saving grace to my ego was the fact that I spotted a young man in the exact same boat as myself. At least there are two of us in this world!
How do we learn?
The question I pondered was this: do we know our preferred learning style and do we work from that strength? How do we compensate for our weakest inclinations? A visual learner prefers demonstrations and graphic descriptions of a problem. An auditory learner understands best through verbal instructions and listening. A kinesthetic learner grasps the concepts through motion, particularly when he/she can participate. A tactile type learns by feel and manipulation. Most people can learn through all four methods but they prefer one or two. My style is mostly auditory and visual, whereas my son is the complete opposite of me and prefers anything tactile or kinesthetic. This has been reflected even in our chosen vocations.
We all have the opportunity to be teachers, even though it may not be our chosen or current occupation. We have formal and informal moments each day where we can teach those around us; it is important that we understand what their preferential learning style is and try to cater to that style. I believe that such an approach is the key to effective teaching, because if the students can learn using their preferential style it will increase understanding. I challenge you to take a moment and reflect on your own learning style and then observe and reflect on the learning style of those you teach. Mix up your teaching style to try and reach all types of learners.
My question is this: can understanding your own preferred learning style help you be more successful in your career and life? Can you find alternative ways to learn a concept so that you learn it faster and more thoroughly?
What is your learning style and how does it present itself in your daily activities? Do you apply your personal preferred learning style to your teaching or do you explore different methods for reaching all learners in your group? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.