Understand different learning styles,
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
Have you ever tried to learn something fairly simple, yet failed to grasp the key ideas? Or tried to teach people and found that some were overwhelmed or confused by something quite basic?
If so, you may have experienced a clash of learning styles: your learning preferences and those of your instructor or audience may not have been aligned. When this occurs, not only is it frustrating for everyone, the communication process breaks down and learning fails.
Once you know your own natural learning preference, you can work on expanding the way you learn, so that you can learn in other ways, not just in your preferred style.
And, by understanding learning styles, you can learn to create an environment in which everyone can learn from you, not just those who use your preferred style.
One of the most widely used models of learning styles is the Index of Learning Styles developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman in the late 1980s.
According to this model (which Felder revised in 2002) there are four dimensions of learning styles. Think of these dimensions as a continuum with one learning preference on the far left and the other on the far right.
You can see these in figure 1, below.
Once you know where your preferences lie on each of these dimensions, you can begin to stretch beyond those preferences and develop a more balanced approach to learning. Not only will you improve your learning effectiveness, you will open yourself up to many different ways of perceiving the world.
Balance is key. You don't want to get too far on any one side of the learning dimensions. When you do that you limit your ability to take in new information and make sense of it quickly, accurately, and effectively.
This article describes one useful approach to learning styles. Other practitioners have different approaches.
See our article on 4MAT to find out about other useful approaches: those of David Kolb, and of Peter Honey and Alan Mumford.
You can use the learning styles index to develop your own learning skills and also to help you create a rounded learning experience for other people.
Identify your learning preferences for each learning dimension. Read through the explanations of each learning preference and choose the one that best reflects your style. Alternatively, use an Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire.
Analyze your results and identify those dimensions where you are "out of balance," meaning you have a very strong preference for one style and dislike the other.
For each out of balance area, use the information below to improve your skills in areas where you need development:
Whenever you are training or communicating with others, you have information and ideas that you want them to understand and learn effectively and efficiently. Your audience is likely to demonstrate a wide range of learning preferences, and your challenge is to provide variety that helps them learn quickly and well.
Your preferred teaching and communication methods may in fact be influenced by your own learning preferences. For example, if you prefer visual rather than verbal learning, you may in turn tend to provide a visual learning experience for your audience.
Be aware of your preferences and the range of preference of your audiences. Provide a balanced learning experience by:
Learning styles and preferences vary for each of us and in different situations.
By understanding this, and developing the skills that help you learn in a variety of ways, you make the most of your learning potential. And because you're better able to learn and gather information, you'll make better decisions and choose better courses of action.
And by understanding that other people can have quite different learning preferences, you can learn to communicate your message effectively in a way that many more people can understand. This is fundamentally important, particularly if you're a professional for whom communication is an important part of your job.
Take time to identify how you prefer to learn and then force yourself to break out of your comfort zone. Once you start learning in new ways you'll be amazed at how much more you catch and how much easier it is to assimilate information and make sense of what is going on.
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