In the first part of our blog on learning styles and the learning cycle, we looked at the theory underpinning this approach to learning, highlighted the issues with rigid learning styles and started to explore how to apply Kolb’s theory of the learning cycle.
The next step is then to look at the different learning styles and provide some practical guidelines around enhancing the learning experience for the 4 distinct types of learner.
The 4 Learning Styles:
Activists – who prefer doing, tend not to want to understand the theory of why things work as they do. They tend to get stuck in a cycle of action after action, and solve problems through trial and error, without looking or questioning why. They can have a tendency to ‘reinvent the wheel’, and can repeat mistakes without capturing the learning. To help an activist around the learning loop, models, concepts and theories need to be introduced to explain the results of their actions to move them round the cycle.
Theorists – who prefer to understand theories, models, concepts and facts, tend not to get past these and experiment with them to test them out. Theorists prefer to remain in research mode, pulling more and more information in and analysing what they find and draw in information to form new or enhanced theories. To help a theorist around the learning loop, they need support and encouragement to understand when they have enough knowledge and move them on to test what they think and whether it works in practice.
Pragmatists – who prefer to experiment to test out theories to see if they work in practice, tend not to reflect on the results and draw conclusions from the experiments. Pragmatists tend to prefer to continually experiment, gathering more and more data and observations, with a tendency not to draw any conclusions. To help a pragmatist around the learning loop, they need support, the right environment and time to think about what the results of their experiment mean to them.
Reflectors – who prefer to observe and think about their observations, can have a tendency to over-think and over-complicate solutions. Reflectors tend to get stuck in the planning phase and may never take action. They could even paralyse themselves due to over-thinking the potential repercussions of taking action. To help a reflector, they need support and to draw their thinking into an action plan and challenge to hold them accountable to implement it.
Helping individuals achieve learning, therefore, isn’t solely about presenting the material in a way which fits their preferred style and attracts them into the cycle. It is more about taking them past their preferred style, past their internal roadblocks, to the next stage of the cycle and beyond. Only when the cycle is completed, according to Kolb, can true learning take place.
Well designed training may be able to appeal to individuals who fall into all four learning styles, however, it is almost impossible to move individuals past their preferences during training. Therefore, training rarely leads to learning, and therefore has little impact on action and results.
At Yeast, we specialise in delivering Leadership and Management interventions which take participants through the learning cycle. We only provide coaching based development programmes which are tailored to the needs of the organisation.
We compress the time we spend delivering information during our programmes as much as possible, instead concentrating on the element which adds the most value – coaching participants to move past their preferred learning style to understand theory; to experiment with it; to think and plan; or to take action. This is how we help our clients to learn and as a result transform their organisations and culture.
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