Training and teaching have become such a big part of work. Every time there is something new, people need training. In many respects, we are in the learning business. But, have you ever had a moment when you are learning something new and you just don’t get it? As you look at your instructor’s face, you can see them struggle to find the right words that will make the concept become clear. If the concept doesn’t become clear, many times the student is held responsible – and assumptions are made about how smart, or committed, the student is to learning. I prefer to first look at the instructor – are they teaching? Or, are they teaching to the student in front of them?
People are not widgets and they learn in different ways. By knowing the different learning styles, training can be adapted so that all students can more easily learn. However, without knowing, and incorporating teaching to different learning styles, opportunities are missed and students get left behind. Teaching across all learning styles, or multi-modal, is critical to teaching to all students in front of you. There are some concrete steps you can take to transition to teaching to all students and their learning styles.
- Understand the different learning styles. There are 3 main learning styles – auditory, visual, kinesthetic. Auditory dominant means that you learn best by hearing the information. Visually dominant means that you learn best by seeing the information. Kinesthetic dominant means that you learn best by doing or by having movement a part of the teaching. And, while everyone has a dominant style, we are all combo-packs. Our preferred learning style may shift depending upon the environment and the lessons to be learned.
- Know your own dominant learning style. Really think about how you learn best. This is critical because we all default to teaching others in the way that we learn best. Then, think about your least dominant style. This is the area for you to push and expand. For example, if you are auditory dominant, you may tend to lecture by default. This isn’t bad but must be enhanced for the students who are visually or kinesthetically dominant.
- Identify your students. I teach both technical skills and human skills on a weekly basis. But, the first thing I do, no matter the topic, is to identify how my students learn best. In many cases you can just ask them – ‘how do you learn best’? You can also observe them. The auditory dominant learners will listen closely to what you say. The visually dominant learners will want pictures, tables, and charts. The kinesthetic dominant learners may shift in their seat, or get up and walk around the room. And of these styles may, or may not, take notes. Note taking can cover all of the styles – auditory dominant hears the notes in their head, visually dominant sees the notes on the page, kinesthetic dominant creates the notes by writing.
- Adapt your teaching for all learning styles. Since in any one group, there is always a mix of learning styles, it is essential that you teach in a multi-modal fashion. Adapting your style and materials can be a lot of fun and bring out your creativity. How do you make the learning more visual with drawings? How do you use metaphors and analogies for the auditory dominant? How do you incorporate movement like breaks or having them move their chairs or doing the actual skills for the kinesthetic dominant? The goal is to teach to all styles so no one gets left out!
You might think that this sounds like a lot of work, and that the learning process will take longer. It is actually the opposite – it takes less time. When you are trying to learn something against your dominant learning style, it can feel like you are driving with the brake on. Shifting to the dominant style removes the brake and lets you go faster. The best specific instance of this was when my daughter was a 6th grader. Her teacher invested the first 2 weeks of the year getting to know each of her 25 students and their dominant learning styles. As a class, they finished the district curriculum 6 weeks ahead of schedule. This teacher optimized her students’ learning by teaching to all learning styles and answering individual questions in their individual learning styles.
Anyone who teaches has this same opportunity to optimize the learning of the students. Know the learning styles and how you prefer to teach. Then, broaden out your range of teaching and discover the learning styles of your students. They will learn faster and more easily – without the brake on.
Let us know how we can support you in learning about, and adapting your learning, for different styles.