Saturday, March 31, 2012

Learning Styles

Whenever the subject of learning styles comes up, there is inevitably some argument about visual learners and books vs. DVDs. This is unfortunately something of a fallacy and both sides usually end up doing more harm to themselves than good. In the interest of trying to clear it up for some of you, my readers, I thought now would be a good time to explain how learning styles actually work.

Learning styles are commonly perceived as what media gets us the most effective gains. People who say they're visual learners claim to learn better from DVDs, but then the question becomes, what kind of person learns better from books? What other senses besides vision are books perceived through? By this definition, learning from everything except CDs is visual learning.

In reality, there are three learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. These are not simply a matter of dominant senses in a physical manner, but rather which sense we use as a lens to contextualize the information we take in. It's how we filter and describe our experiences. Sound complicated? It's really not. Let me give you an example. If you were given a choice of movies to go see, there are three ways you might describe your choice. A visual person would pick the one that they say looks really good. An auditory person would pick the one that sounds the best. And a kinesthetic person would pick the one that they have a really good feeling about. If that sounds arbitrary or superficial, keep in mind that this is all about how your brain contextualizes information.

A visual learner is someone who creates visuals in order to organize the information in their brains. They create elaborate maps and webs of interconnected ideas and info in their heads. They associate images with one another in order to create a tapestry of knowledge and understanding. This is why they will say things like, "That looks good," when describing something.

An auditory learner classifies everything by structure. I ask you, what is more structured than music? Meter, tempo, key, chord progression, cadence, etc. Music is the ultimate expression of order. Auditory learners are drawn toward list-based information or that which is presented in a clear and simple structure or hierarchy. Rather than create a map of information, their brain keeps an inventory. They are the ones who will say they, "like the sound of that."

A kinesthetic learner is unique in that they filter everything through a lens of action and feeling. It doesn't matter if you present it in a list-based format or something else entirely. The information won't stick until they've actually done it. The kinesthetic learner endeavors more than the other styles to commit actions to muscle memory. While the visual learner says the situation doesn't look good and the auditory learner says it sounds like trouble, the kinesthetic learner will tell you that they "have a bad feeling about it."

It is not uncommon for people to have a dominant and secondary learning style. For example, I'm primarily a visual learner but also inclined toward kinesthetic. This simply adds an extra dimension to how you contextualize information. I create a map of information in my head, but that map won't be clear until I've acted on that information.

I tell you all this so that you can understand not to thumb your nose at a specific medium for learning materials. The medium is not important. What is important is that you know how your brain is going to take in and catalog this information. Once you understand that, the source becomes irrelevant. Book or DVD is unimportant compared to what you do with the content.

So which of the three are you?

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