Understanding Different Learning Styles

Here's how to teach in the ways people learn best.
Understanding Different Learning Styles
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So much has been said in educational circles about people's different ways of perceiving reality. We're inundated with "right brain, left brain" jargon. We hear that some people think with their feelings, senses, and emotions; others with facts and figures. Clearly, we don't all think—or learn—alike.

Educators have found at least four separate learning styles, each with its own optimum teaching methods. Individual educational theorists label their quadrants differently, but I prefer the schema Bernice McCarthy outlined in the 4MAT System. She distinguishes four kinds of students: innovative learners, analytic learners, common-sense learners, and dynamic learners. The following descriptions lean heavily on her work.

Innovative Learners

Innovative learners seek meaning. They learn as they listen and share ideas. For them, being personally involved in the learning process is important. McCarthy writes, "They are divergent thinkers who believe in their own experience, excel in viewing concrete situations from many perspectives, and model themselves on those they respect."

As you might have guessed, I'm an innovative learner. We innovative ones like to participate in small-group discussions. We're idea people; our favorite questions are "Why?" and "Why not?" Often we're found in careers in the humanities, in personnel work, counseling, or organizational development.

But I hate art projects. Don't invite me to carve a bar of Ivory soap into a dove to represent the Holy Spirit. I'm not interested. It won't look good. I'd think the whole idea is silly—unless we could sit around and talk about the process. Then I could get excited.

So put me into a small group at some point in the learning experience. Let me discuss with other learners the application of biblical truths. I want to talk about it and hear others' opinions. I go crazy when a teacher just talks on and on. I want my turn to work with the idea or to get to know the teacher as a real person. Discussions, skits, small groups, drama, and interaction with others are the learning strategies from which I learn best.

Since I prosper in this kind of learning atmosphere, it's hard for me to believe that not every student longs for that moment in class when he's invited to move his folding chair into a circle. I have to remember there are three other learning styles.

Analytic Learners

An analytic learner says, "Just give me the facts." Analytic learners like to know the mind of the experts. For them, learning comes through thinking through ideas to form reality. They tend to have less interest in people than in ideas and concepts. They like to critique information and collect good data.

These are the people who love the traditional classroom. Straight lecture suits them well, as long as the lecturer is qualified. They are willing to do the memory work and lap up all the facts. As a teacher, it's easy to like these students because they are happy to sit still and listen. Learners like these excel at creating concepts and models. They cluster in careers like math, research, the basic sciences, and planning departments.

A man in my group named Bob is an analytical learner. When I suggest making big, colorful collages that depict the pressures society puts on 20th-century Christians, he wants to hear what scientists say about current trends, what facts I've dug out of the most recent journals, and what predictions specialists make for the future. Forget the collage for Bob, unless it is adapted to appeal to his learning style.

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