September 20, 2018

Leverage your learning preference

How do you like to learn?

Professional growth is all about learning — you have experiences, you reflect on them, you apply what you have learned, and you grow.  But sometimes you actually need to learn things.  Meaning, you must become proficient with a new skill or gain an in-depth understanding of an emerging issue.  Maybe you’re a surgeon learning a new technique or an executive taking your product to a new market.  You need the fastest, most effective path between points A and B.  You need to leverage how you learn.

I’ll bet this isn’t the first you’ve heard about the idea of learning styles.  Maybe you already have identified yourself as, say, a visual learner. In truth, there are seven styles of learning.  But before we discuss them, I must warn you, readers.  We are about to enter some controversial terrain.

Some people really buy into learning styles, pitching quizzes and piles of resources to help users learn better and work smarter. If this has worked for you, I salute you.

But the notion that learning styles are fixed — wired into our brains, each with a unique cerebral address — is considered a bit of (or very much) an overstatement by many scientists.  It’s hard to argue with their perspectives and their neuroscience credentials, and I don’t.

However, this family doc-turned-educator-turned-coach has seen some real evidence that learning preferences are a thing, and we all have them.  Here’s how to think about yours and why it matters.

The ways we learn

Our learning preferences can be grouped into seven categories.

  • Visual (spatial): You respond to images and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical):  You respond to sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic):  You like using words, whether spoken or written.
  • Physical (kinesthetic):  You use your body to learn, relying on your hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical):  You like to use logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal):  You do well learning in groups.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal):  You prefer solo work.

Do you see yourself reflected here?  In some categories more than others?  Those reflect your learning preferences.  Most of us have one or several that work well, as well as some that seem less effective.  However, these tools are available to all of us, and you need to be able to navigate each.

What does your learning preference mean for you?

I tell students and colleagues they need to understand their own learning preferences because this framework offers both a pathway for rapid assimilation of information (your preference), and a pathway for stretching skills (not your preference).

[bctt tweet=”Learning in a way that aligns with your preference will feel easier and seem to come more quickly. If you have a lot on your plate, content presented in your preferred format and a need to cram, this is the way to go.” username=”MettaSolutions”]

If you have time, though, try stretching some of those other muscles and choosing a less-preferred way of learning.  We all have times when we must listen to and retain information presented in a lecture, slide deck, or other content.  We all also have times when we must learn from someone who shares information in our nonpreferred format.  Seek and seize opportunities to get better at learning in a way that challenges you, and notice how you become more versatile.

How do you learn best?

And do you see your preference as fixed or fluid?  Let me know in the comments!

Last updated September 20, 2018