Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Warning! This post is seriously introspective.

As an ex-teacher I am interested in the way people learn. On the Total Karate blog site this week there is an informative post about learning styles. This got me interested in finding out what my preferred learning style was, so I did one of the online learning style tests. This produced some rather unexpected results and led me on a journey of introspection!

Essentially, people generally have a preference for one of three basic learning styles:

Visual learner – this person processes visual information best so responds to learning stimuli such as demonstrations, diagrams, written words, pictures etc. They may respond with phrases such as ‘I see what you are getting at’.

Auditory learner – prefers to listen to the spoken word. Understands and can follow spoken instructions and likes to discuss the details of things in conversation or debate. They may respond with phrases such as ‘I hear what you are saying’.

Kinaesthetic learner – this person learns by doing. They prefer to learn through experimentation rather than instruction – picking things up through trial and error. They may respond with phrases such as ‘This feels right’.

Before doing the test I had come to the conclusion that I was essentially a kinaesthetic learner. However, the test revealed that I am very strongly a visual learner. Out of thirty marks I scored 19 for visual learning, 11 for kinaesthetic learning and 0 for auditory learning!

So for two-thirds of the time I am relying on visual cues to learn and one-third I’m learning by doing. But I learn absolutely nothing by listening to instruction! How on earth did I get this far in life without listening?

When I think back over my school career and analyse my personality this distribution of learning styles probably makes sense. I never enjoyed having stories read to me – particularly at school. I’d either fall asleep at the desk or my mind would wander off and I’d study all the artwork and stuff pinned on the classroom walls. It wasn’t that I didn’t like stories – I just followed them better if I could read them myself. My main interests at school were art and science (mainly biology). I spent much of my spare time throughout my whole childhood painting, drawing and making things. Clearly this fulfilled my need for visual stimuli and doing practical things. I liked science because that is also very visual and kinaesthetic – all those diagrams to look at and experiments to do! I also enjoyed dancing during the whole of my childhood, the usual stuff – ballet, tap and modern. Again, this is visual and very kinaesthetic.

My aversion to auditory stimuli is more interesting. As a child I was frightened of the telephone. I don’t think I ever answered the phone until I was about 12 or 13. If I was at home alone I would ignore it. The phone was positioned on a table at the bottom of the stairs; I had to pass it every time I went up or down stairs so I would run past it in case it rang! I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t see the person I was speaking to. I still don’t like the phone but obviously I answer it and use it like any normal person now. I much prefer to meet people in person than speak to them on the phone.

At school I disliked subjects that required lots of discussion or debate or required the teacher to do a lot of talking. I found fast moving discussions hard to follow and I couldn’t think what to say (until afterwards) so I tended to be one of the quiet ones that didn’t join in. I just couldn’t process information quickly enough by this auditory route! However, I excelled at subjects that required problem solving skills or logical thinking, so I was good at maths and computer science. Visual learning requires not just external visual cues but the ability to visualise things in your head. Visual learners have a need to use imagery. You need strong imagery to understand science, to grasp concepts and think through scenarios.

Does learning style shape your personality or does your personality dictate which learning style you develop a preference for? I’m not sure. All I can say is that if you met me you would find me fairly shy and quiet! I am not a big talker and I’m sure this is due to my relative inability to process auditory information. I’m friendly and approachable enough but our conversations would involve relatively short exchanges of information, opinions or anecdotes rather than long meandering or convoluted accounts of things. I don’t ‘chatter’ and I don’t ‘gossip’. Even though I don’t talk a lot there is still plenty of stuff going on in my head! If you do get me engaged in conversation (try talking martial arts) you will find that I am a big ‘hand talker’. I tend to express what I am saying through my hand movements and facial expressions – is this part of being a visual or kinaesthetic learner? I suspect it is – I think using non-verbal communication is an important part of ‘talking’ for someone like me and probably helps to explain my aversion to the phone.

So where is all this naval gazing leading us? Now that I’ve established that I am wholly a visual or kinaesthetic learner who likes practical things that involve a degree of problem solving and visual imagery and doesn’t cope well with lots of talking and listening, are martial arts a good thing for me to be doing?

Well, it’s something you learn through lots of demonstration and mimicry. It requires you to watch others, practice and experiment. Re-enforcement of learning comes from using strong visual imagery i.e. imagining oneself doing it and from reading and thinking about it. Long winded explanations are not required – questions and short succinct answers are better. It is an activity that can be enjoyed by people who are sociable but prefer to socialise whilst doing an activity rather than just ‘talking’. I think it is the perfect activity for me - it suits me down to the ground! And if I do want to discuss it or debate it – I’ll just blog.

Do martial arts suit your personality or learning style?

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Pete said...

I'm pretty much the same. I do not learn by listening. I've always hated being lectured at, so I never liked taking classes. I can't remember things that I hear, but I can if I see them.

My martial arts learning is very visual and kinesthetic -- I have to see it and then do it. If I can't visualize something, I don't feel like I know it.

Sue C said...

Hi Pete - hope the shoulder's holding up! It's interesting how the way we learn subconsciously influences the paths we take in life.

Ariel said...

That's a really interesting concept. I took the test and scored 12 for Visual, 3 for Auditory, and 13 for Kinesthetic.

I can really relate to your experiences. I've always had a huge aversion to phones, and am very quiet. I like talking, but I tend to be on the outside of several person conversations, and I'm not a very chatty person when I do talk.

As far as martial arts, I think all three blend pretty well, but now that I think of it, when my instructors go into lecture mode, I tend to be thinking "Can't you just give me a shorter explanation and then let me TRY it for myself?"

Sue C said...

Hi Ariel, sounds like we're two of a kind!


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