Learning styles may be a myth, but in my experience, people have preferred ways of processing information. As parents and teachers it is helpful to understand these patterns so we can support the learning process.
Think about your own experience
Are you the sort of person who likes to journal and write down your thoughts or do you need to hear them aloud before they make sense?
Some people enjoy writing, it allows them to reflect deeply, ponder slowly and tease out ideas. On the page, thoughts become tangible. However, other people prefer talking, it allows them to listen to their ideas, see the reactions of people around them and take action. In this way, thoughts become corporeal. A third group prefer to draw ideas, they create sketch notes and build thoughts into concrete manifestations.
What causes these differences?
A myriad of factors contribute to these differences and for the purposes of this article, knowing them isn’t important. What is important is understanding, people are different and learners are individuals. Research by Gallup suggests when we work (and learn) within our strengths zone, we’re more effective. People become more productive because their individualised needs and motivations are met. Even though we all have the capacity to process ideas through visual, auditory and kinesetic learning practices (and to be effective should employ all three) we have different talents. These talents have different ways of reaching an outcome.
For example, Mary is a student with high Relator talents. She is energised by deep, close relationships. She studies best in small groups where she can share her thoughts with friends. On the other hand, Jane has high Achiever talents. Her motivation comes from getting the job done. She would rather work alone. If forced to work in a group, Mary tends to do most of the task herself because she thinks the others aren’t keeping up or working as hard. Bill is high in the Competition talent. He thrives during tasks that match one student against another. He compares his results to someone else’s and needs to get the highest rank. If Bill thinks there’s little chance of victory, he doesn’t try very hard. To him it’s better ‘not playing’ than coming second. John is high in Context talents. He needs to understand the backstory. John thinks about how he managed similar tasks in the past and uses that memory to complete a current project. John’s actions seem slow to the teacher My Brown who has the Activator talent. Mr Brown wants students to get started straight away on the work he’s set.
Although this is a somewhat simplistic view – I’ve only highlighted single talents and in reality, people thrive when all of their top five talents are engaged, these examples show how individual students have different learning behaviours. Of course, the value of deep practice, curiosity, relevance, collaboration and making connections is the same for all learners. However how they approach these aspects of learning varies according to the motivations, needs and triggers of their talents. It is this extra level of understanding that can help our children achieve more success in the classroom. They can learn how they learn best.
Improve Learning Outcomes
So rather than worrying about learning styles, teachers, parents and students can improve learning outcomes by developing self awareness and understanding the triggers, needs and contributions of specific talents. Students improve their results when their talents are understood because they feel understood. This is a performance focused approach to positive psychology. It helps a student identify both their purpose for learning and their process for learning. They develop their own tools and strategies to become self directed learners. Students feel understood and accepted by peers, teachers and themselves.
Rather than trying to be something they’re not, they focus on the learning outcome – the required skills and knowledge.
If you were interested in these ideas and would like to read something similar check out the article I contributed to recently; How To Help Kids Improve Their Grades
If you would like to know more about how to use your talents for higher performance or how a Talent-based Strengths approach can improve your teaching and learning, contact Nicole today. Nicole is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, a trained meditation teacher and Secondary School English teacher with more than 17 years classroom experience. She is based in Sydney and offers coaching and workshop packages specifically targeted at students, teachers and families.
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Note: The Talents mentioned in this article are trademarks of Gallup. However Gallup have not endorsed this article nor are they affiliated in any way with this site. If you would like to learn more about your talents you can take the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment (Adults), the CliftonStrengths Students (14 – 18) or StrengthsExplorer (10 – 14). The costs involved with taking the assessment are a transaction between yourself and Gallup and we receive no commission or gain.