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Mar 4, 2014

My new blog

Don't put me in a Pigeon Hole

Over the years I have heard many people say that learning style theory is discredited and old fashioned.   On the contrary I believe it is extremely relevant to contemporary approaches to learning.  However the manner in which some people use it can be a problem.

A quick internet search will find a myriad of documents relating to learning styles, often using differing terminology,  but what they all have in common is to highlight that often people have different preferences,  that is to say that given choice they prefer one style over another. 

 Some people will prefer actually doing things rather than thinking about it or theorising,  some will learn best visually, or by reading,  others will enjoy discussion and some will prefer to think quietly.   None of these approaches are wrong.  It is just another example of the rich diversity of people.

To say “oh I am a visual learner”, or “ I  have always been an activist,  I can’t stand theory” is to be part of the problem, people are rarely totally one thing or another.

Just as people may have preference for one type of food over another, so they may prefer one particular style of learning.  That   is not to say that they are incapable of learning in other ways, any more than to say they can’t eat any other type of food.  

In the ideal world we would all be balanced learners capable of learning equally effectively in any style; however that is something to aspire to and is far from reality.

Just as a chef will prepare a tempting menu to stimulate the palate and provide options, so a trainer should ensure variety is built into their sessions - variety stimulates!    Of course, as we know from television chefs, people are often encouraged to try something different.   Again the analogy to learning can be drawn and people can be encouraged to consider situations in a way different to the manner in which they have usually done it.   When variety is built into a programme If a learner is not enjoying a particular aspect, then they can be comfortable in knowing that a different approach will follow shortly.

We are still in a position where often people are taught by lecture, there being an assumption that this is the most effective way to learn.   While this may be far from the truth, it doesn’t stop the fact that many people when tasked with teaching for the first time tend to default to use of lecture.  

When introduced to the concept of student centred learning, creating opportunities for the delegates to explore issues and think around situations then lights often come on and the new teacher is inspired to explore variety in approaches -   If it is ethical and it works, why not try something different.  

In training design use variety, devise multi- sensory learning experiences using different approaches, devise very active aspects to sit alongside quieter more reflective moments, or group problem solving experiences.     Do not categorise people into one block as theorists, as activists or as any particular ‘single type’ of learner.    Create differing means of engaging people,  your learning event will be more interactive, have more impact, be more memorable and most definitely more effective.

I believe in life we miss so many opportunities if we categorise and make assumptions about people.  

I am doing some work at the moment in respect of the development of leadership programmes and one aspect makes mention of the Myers Briggs type indicators (1) ,  with its four dichotomies.


 E  Extraversion    –           I   Introversion 

S   Sensing             –            Intuition

T  Thinking             –           F   Feeling

J   Judging              –           P   Perception


These are intended to indicate a preference for particular styles which may impact on your perception of, or relationship with, a colleague who has and exhibits different preferences.

On such tests  I tend to come out as ENFJ.    I can recall in the past being told oh you are a J you have to plan and organise things in advance.    I remember at the time being rather uncomfortable with this categorisation and the inherent assumption that I was categorised and thereby incapable of working in any other way.

In my view to categorise like this is to do a dis service to the MBTI approach and is just as detrimental as in making assumptions that someone has, and can only ever have one learning style.

MBTI is hugely useful in thinking how people often see the world in different ways and may react differently to how others react.     This can particularly be the case if someone is in a stressful situation and responds quickly when,  I believe,  there can be a tendency to revert to preferred type.

Taking myself as an example, whenever I do an MBTI assessment I do tend to be fairly strong in respect of my preference for drawing my energies from working with others (  E )  and  equally my reliance on intuition ( I ) is high.      However when it comes to thinking v feeling and in particular judging v perception, then I am much more balanced.    That said even though I have strong preference for something I can still work in other ways. 

MBTI is about preference and in different situations i.e. home, work, social then I subscribe to the view that preferences may differ.   Yet it is frequently my experience that I hear people being categorised into boxes, labelled as being one thing.

To assign people to boxes is to make assumptions about them, which may limit interaction and opportunity.    Perhaps as leaders and as trainers we should be encouraging people to dip their toe in the water of trying different approaches and thereby increasing the range of options available to them.

What are you doing to encourage people to think differently?

What are you doing to encourage people to try new approaches?

What new approaches can you try yourself?


1  The Myers Briggs Foundation  http://www.myersbriggs.org/

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