Understanding Different Learning Styles

Here's how to teach in the ways people learn best.
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To best teach the analytic learners, I've found I need to give them details, lists, technical information, and quotes from "the experts." And if I keep it well organized, it makes it easier for them to transfer the data intact into their notebooks.

They tend to frown when drama, art, or group discussions are the order of the day. These techniques seem a waste of time to them—fluff when they are looking for information. One way around this problem is to supply them the data about learning styles. Once these folks know why the other teaching methods are necessary, they are more amenable to them.

Common-Sense Learners

These people don't want to talk about something; they want to do it. Nothing is more important for common-sense learners than practical, hands-on approaches. Learning is filtered through the screen of usability. A "fuzzy idea" that they can't take apart to see how it works makes them uneasy. You'll often hear from them, "How does this work?" But they may actually resent being given answers. They would prefer to solve the problems themselves.

The common sense crew learns by testing theories in ways that seem sensible. As McCarthy says, "They edit reality." Grown-up common-sense learners can be found on Monday morning working as engineers, nurses, technicians, and physical scientists.

Eric, a common-sense learner, doesn't hesitate to help me understand how his type can learn best. He tells me, "Forget all that fancy jargon; just get down to what really works in life."

Actually, he's not that fond of being in a classroom at all. He'd rather "get on with it"—whatever it is. He wants to know what works, what you can do with it, and how it all fits together. With Eric, I can't be nebulous. I have to be specific, and then let him try it out.

With people like this, I'm most effective when I give them something to design with their hands. I provide some factual data to massage and a problem to solve, then set them free on a project. And the best projects have some tie to "real life."

If the Bible lesson is on stewardship, for example, the common-sense learners would enjoy working on a project to pay the church bills. Give them a copy of the church budget, the income, and the possible ministry expenses. Then set them loose to plan, to experiment, and to solve the problem using their practicality.

Dynamic Learners

Dynamic learners want to discover truth themselves. Hidden possibilities excite them. Their favorite question: "What can this become?"

The world comes to people like these in rather concrete principles, but they process it actively and with flair. They don't so much absorb reality as enrich it. People like this often seek careers in sales, action-oriented managerial positions, and marketing.

This group functions best by acting and then testing their experience. To best reach them, I need to make things happen in the group, to inject action into mere concepts. Dynamic learners need variety and flexibility, which makes them greatly adaptable to change.

For a lesson on evangelism, I may charge the dynamic learners to design a strategy to reach a local apartment complex with the gospel. And I'd challenge them with the task of not only designing the plan, but finding ways to bring it to reality. They don't necessarily want the hands-on experience of printing the brochures or mapping the neighborhood (as the common-sense learners would), but they would sure like to brainstorm the program design. This is a real task, one they would consider worthy of their enthusiasm and creativity.

At the time this article was written, Penny Zettler was minister of Christian education at Central Baptist Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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