You may not have realized it, but everyone has different ways they process information. We have different sensory preferences, and different ways of approaching new topics. If we ignore our own built-in learning strengths, our learning experience will be much more difficult than necessary.
Our preferred learning styles are a result of the way we process information about the world. You will understand a subject best when the mode of teaching being used is very compatible with your most powerful mode of learning.
Researchers have discovered that some people learn best when material is presented to them aurally. That means that these people are great listeners, and listening is the best way for them to absorb new information.
Others learn best when material is presented visually. These visually oriented people learn best from slides, videos, and graphic presentations, as well as by reading.
And some people learn best when they actively participate and have a chance to do things, feel things and move things. They need to take part in hands-on activities, and they learn by doing. These people are called kinesthetic learners.
Once you know which learning methods work best for you, you can choose classes and seminars that best suit your learning style.
Let’s say you want to learn more about how to handle conflict effectively. You have a choice of listening to a lecture, reading a book, watching a video, or taking part in group role-playing. Which style do you think would work best for you?
Successful teachers and presenters use a mixture of styles, partly to reach every personality type, and partly because using a variety of teaching modalities can reinforce the impact of the lessons learned.
As an adult learner you will be able to learn much better if you know as much as possible about your own personal learning style.
Which of your senses do you rely on the most to take in information about the world? Do you know which of your senses is most dominant when you call up a memory?
Test out several memories from your own past, and notice whether your memories are most intense when you access your visual, your auditory, or your body memories. Do any one of your sense memories feel stronger than others? Which sensory mode do you tend to use most often? Are there any senses that you never use at all when you remember things?
Another way to find out which of your senses is most dominant is to note which types of sensory words you use most often in conversation. Perhaps you have never noticed which of your senses you refer to most often when you talk, but if you start to pay attention, you may detect a strong preference.
If you are particularly strong in your visual sense, you may frequently use phrases like “I see,” or “The way I picture it” or “Let’s shed some light on this.” If you are a person whose visual sense dominates over the other senses, you probably love looking at beautiful paintings, beautiful objects and scenery. Lights, colors and shapes entrance you.
If you are primarily a hearing person, you pay a lot of attention to sound. You may love listening to music, or you may crave complete silence. You would rather take in information by listening to a lecture than by reading a book. Your conversation may be filled with phrases like, “I hear what you’re saying” or “That rings a bell”.
People who are primarily kinesthetic pay a lot of attention to their bodily sensations and emotions. Their conversation may be filled with references to their feelings, even when they are discussing facts or opinions. They may say something like, “I feel the reason the stock market has declined is …”.
People with a very strong kinesthetic sense prefer comfort over style when choosing their clothing or furnishing their house. They prefer to participate in an activity instead of reading about it. People with a strong kinesthetic sense tend to enjoy playing sports, dancing and engaging in hands-on physical activity.
Why does any of this matter? The reason is that the more you know about your own particular learning style, the more you will be able to choose the sorts of learning experiences that work best for you, and avoid those methods of instruction that you will find frustrating.
In primary school and high school, most of the educational instruction is presented in the visual or auditory modes. Students are required to do a lot of listening and a lot of reading. This method works very well for those of us who have a mix of strong visual and auditory styles.
But this style of instruction is a disaster for people with the sensory mix of being very strong in kinesthetic processing while very weak in visual and auditory learning.
Students who are primarily kinesthetic learners while weak in visual and auditory learning often feel lost in school. They may grow up convinced they are stupid, not realizing that they did not receive instruction in a sensory language they could easily understand. These students disproportionately drop out of school early, because of their frustration with traditional types of learning.
Have you identified which means of taking in sensory information is strongest in you? Are any of your sensory systems particularly weak? Or do all three of your systems seem to be equally effective?
Can you see now how your own sensory learning style affected your experience of school? How should you go about choosing classes as an adult?
People who are strongly kinesthetic learn best from educational experiences that are “hands-on”, such as apprenticeship programs, or programs that have a high degree of active participation.
If you are very strongly visual, you will do best in classes that emphasize films, videos, visual presentations, and reading. If you are very strong in auditory learning, you will enjoy classes that teach through lectures, tapes, discussions and debates.
Whenever it’s extremely important that you do well in a particular subject, try to choose educational classes that use a method of instruction compatible with your strongest senses.
If you have one sensory system that seems extremely weak, try to avoid taking classes that use that form of instruction whenever it is really important that you get a good mark in that subject.