How Do You Learn?

Do you know how you learn? Do you think others learn the same way?  They don’t!  Felder (2008) divides learning styles into four continuums of preferences:

  • More Sensorial Or More Intuitive: the former values more concrete, practical facts and the latter more conceptual, innovative theory and meaning.
  • More Visual Or More Verbal: the former values more graphs, pictures and diagrams and the latter more words written, read or heard.
  • More Action Or More Reflective: the former values more learning in groups and by trial and error, and the latter analyzing and thinking things through alone.
  • More Sequential Or More Global:  the former prefers information presented in a linear and orderly fashion, and the latter a holistic, systemic approach.

Once you know where your preferences lie on each of these dimensions, you can both recognize the strengths they give you, and begin to stretch beyond those preferences and develop a more balanced approach to learning. This will improve your own learning effectiveness by opening yourself up to different ways of perceiving the world and understanding other ways of learning.  Balance is the key: when we get too far on either side of the learning dimensions, we limit our ability to take in new information and make sense of it quickly, accurately, and effectively.

BRINGING LEARNING STYLES INTO BALANCE:  Here are some tips:

  • Strong Sensorial Learners: tend to prefer what is familiar and concentrate on known facts instead of being innovative and adapting to new situations. They should seek out more opportunities to learn theoretical information and then bring in facts to support or modify these theories.
  • Strong Intuitive Learners: tend to rely too much on intuition and hunches,  missing important details and leading to poor decision-making and problem solving. They should learn to seek data that will help them defend or modify their preferred theory or procedure, and should slow down and look at detail they would otherwise typically skim.
  • Strong Visual Learners: tend to concentrate too much on pictorial or graphical information,  putting them at a disadvantage because verbal and written information is still necessary to create dialogue and co-create meaning. They should practice note-taking and seek out opportunities to explain information to others using words.
  • Strong Verbal Learners: tend to talk too much and not synthesize the information as well as they could with diagrams and charts. They should use  audio-visual presentations, take notes with mind-maps and create diagrams when they can.
  • Strong Action Learners: tend to act before they think things through and are apt to make hasty or ill-informed judgments. They need to concentrate on summarizing situations and take time to sit alone to digest information before jumping in and discussing it with others.
  • Strong Reflective Learners: tend to fall into paralysis by analysis and doing nothing. There comes a time when a decision has to be made and acted upon. They should get involved in more group decision-making processes and apply the information they have in as practical a manner as possible.
  • Strong Sequential Learners: tend to concentrate on small components and dive right into solutions which can often be unproductive in the big picture. They should slow down and understand why they are doing what they are doing and how it is connected to the overall purpose or objective. They need reality checks against the organizational vision.
  • Strong Global Learners: tend to stay so focused upon the big picture that they are at risk of wanting to run before they can walk. They should see what is needed and  take the time to learn how best to accomplish it, as well as ask for explanations and complete all the steps of problem-solving before coming to a conclusion or making a decision.

When you are training or communicating with others, you want to learn and you have information and ideas that you want them to learn.  Unfortunately, your preferred teaching and communication styles are probably reflections of your own learning preferences.  You can provide a balanced learning experience for yourself and others by:

  • Providing both hard facts and general concepts (Sensorial and Intuitive).
  • Incorporate both visual and verbal cues (Visual and Verbal).
  • Allow both experiential learning and time for evaluation and analysis (Action and Reflective).
  • Provide detail in a structured way, within a clear global vision (Sequential and Global).

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