Stephen Woolston

Steve's Articles, Coach and NLP Trainer in Maidstone and London

Let’s stop teaching people they have a static learning style

Learning is about correlating all your faculties, not leaning on just one.

Has anybody ever told you that you have a visual learning style? Or an auditory one? Or a kineasthetic one?

We need to stop teaching people they have a static learning style of this type and put the focus back on stretching all our sensory abilities and our ability to correlate them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being self aware; of knowing our strengths; and of applying our strengths rather than suffering our weaknesses. I’m also all for being aware of those strengths and weaknesses in the context of teaching. Some people, for instance, are stronger with their visual abilities than their auditory abilities.

However:

  1. A lot of people hear their learning style as a limitation. I want to cry every time I hear someone say they can’t learn to do something, “because I’m a visual learner, not an auditory learner.” This is one of the ways labels can be traps.
  2. It gets distorted into rules and mantras like, “We have to teach the visual kids visually.”
  3. No worthy task is completed inside one representation system.

Learning is not a visual or an auditory or a kinaesthetic task. It is a visual and an auditory and a kinaesthetic task.

Just as heavy lifting is not an arms or a legs or a back task. It is an arms and a legs and a back task.

Indeed, intelligence might be linked to how flexibly we are able to use all our sensory systems together, so rather than teaching people they have a visual learning style, or an auditory one; and that this style dictates how they need to learn everything; how about we put the emphasis back on adaptability and flexibility?

Driving, for example, is about learning to correlate visual and auditory and kinaesthetic information very quickly. The sight-reading musician also has to learn how to correlate visual and auditory and kinaesthetic information simultaneously, just in different ways.

My strategy for learning complex systems starts with a flow diagram. I’ll trace the various flows with my finger and my lips and head moving like I’m talking to myself. I am. Every so often I’ll stop and gaze into the distance while I visualise a large 3-D moving model and test if that feels right. That’s a multi-sensory process.

At this point, I want to invoke Gregory Bateson’s Logical Levels of Learning, which tell us what’s better than having a single learning strategy for all tasks is to have a variety of learning strategies; and what’s even better than that is to have a variety of strategies for learning a variety of learning strategies. Call that meta-learning if you will: learning how to learn.

It’s all about variety and flexibility.

Besides, sometime we have to be the flexible ones. Sometimes we have to adapt to the task, because the task cannot adapt to us. Good luck learning to swim with an auditory strategy!

We need to stretch all the faculties.

How?

Stretch the auditory by teaching music. Stretch the kinaesthetic by teaching dance. Stretch the visual by teaching art. Stretch the internal reasoning by teaching mathematics and logic. And so on.

One of the implications of this is why arts are important. Arts stretch our sensory faculties. Stretching our sensory faculties increases our intelligence.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Steve.