Learning Styles

So, how do you learn best?

Learning styles, what are they? Learning styles are more commonly know as an individual’s unique approach to learning based on strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. As children we were able to grasp concepts quickly; we would try things out and not be afraid of failure, and; we would ask lots and lots of questions. However, as we get older our inhibitions creep in and we become less willing to step outside of our comfort zone.

We become more aware of failure, and place all sorts of connotations on this feeling, in particular what others may think of us. Consequently, we become more accepting of what we already know, and stop asking so many questions.

Yet, no matter how old we are, we still have an enormous capacity to learn; it’s simply a case of understanding our learning preferences and how to play to our strengths. Once you understand this, you can continue to explore new concepts, ideas and theories and consequently expand your own personal knowledge. You can also understand better your less clear preferences for learning, and develop these too, so that you remain open to all possibilities. It will also help you to understand how others learn too.

There are many different models you can use. Here is one example:

One of the most popular models of learning styles is The Index of Learning Styles™ developed by Dr Richard Felder and Barbara Soloman in the late 1980s, and based on a learning styles model developed by Dr Felder and Linda Silverman.

The model describes (which Felder revised in 2002) four dimensions of learning styles. This is shown as a continuum with one learning preference on the far left and the other on the far right.

The trick is understand better where your own personal preferences sit on each of these dimensions. Once you understand this better, you can then begin to push those preferences and enhance your other learning preferences, so you become more rounded in your approach to learning. Consequently you will become more effective in your learning, and expand your thinking, perceptions and intuition.

The key to this is to become rounded in your approach. The brain is a muscle, and when exercised can become stronger as a result. The more you practice your less preferred learning styles you increase your ability to absorb new information and experiences and make sense of it quickly, accurately, and effectively.


Step one
Read the explanations given above and select the one you feel best describes your learning style.

Step two
Spend some quiet time reflecting what this means for you. Are there any styles you feel “out of balance,” with?

Step three
Now read the descriptors below:

  • SENSORY LEARNERS prefer what is familiar, and will trust to past experiences rather than being innovative and seeking new experiences. If this is you actively seek new experiences, and try and keep an open mind as you experience them.
  • INTUITIVE LEARNERS are big picture thinkers and consequently can, if they are consciously aware, miss out on important details. Consequently, ill-informed decisions can be made, sometimes with serious consequences. If this is you, take time to really read and consider the detail; stand back and objectively ask questions.
  • VISUAL LEARNERS learn best from graphical information, pictures etc. They are less inclined to read narrative and this places them at a distinct disadvantage as most information is still portrayed through words; written or verbal. If this is you, practice actively listening, taking notes and practice delivering information using words.
  • VERBAL LEARNERS also learn best through a different media including webinars, CD-Roms, discussions etc. They also have a preference for graphical information, flow charts etc. This is a skill well worth developing if it is a less clear preference for you; in a world where so much information is being presented, the more adept you can become using this preference the more information you will be able to absorb quickly, this making you more efficient and effective. Identify opportunities to learn through audio-visual presentations, such as CD-ROM and Webinars. Use notes, and/or mind maps to group concepts, using arrows to create links etc. Practice presenting information using graphics etc.
  • ACTIVE LEARNERS activists tend to “do-think-do” and can as a consequence make rash judgments and seem hasty to others. If this is you, practice actively listening including summarising and reflecting back to the person you are perhaps talking to, to check your understanding. Take time to reflect what you have heard before reaching any decisions.
  • REFLECTIVE LEARNERS are the opposite in many ways to the Active Learner. Reflective Learners have a tendency to “think-do-think”. If in balance, measured judgements are often the result however, Reflective Learners can, if not checked, think so much that they risk doing very little. If this is you, take the time to reflect but give yourself a time limit. Push yourself and involve yourself in group discussions whenever possible; yes, this will take you out of your comfort zone but it will help you place concepts into reality and take practical decisions.
  • SEQUENTIAL LEARNERS like to break things down into chunks and can often actively problem solve spontaneously. However, this can often be an unproductive use of time, as the tendency is to focus on one chunk and overlook others, particularly when time is tight. If this is you, by all means continue with chunking down but do give yourself a time limit for each chunk. Stop and think about why you are doing something and how it relates to the overall objective. Play Devil’s Advocate and ask “how will it help in the long run”. If you can’t answer this, top and go back to the higher, big picture level.
  • GLOBAL LEARNERS rather like Intuitive Learners, Global Learners love the big picture and will grasp concepts quickly and easily. They seem to know immediately what is needed, but can be in so much of a hurry to “fix it” that they can also often overlook the detail. If this is you, develop your Reflective Learning preference and take the time to really understand something by go through the steps sequentially, asking questions and waiting for explanations, before reaching a decision. Ask yourself how to explain what you have done, and more importantly why you have done it. If you can’t explain it fully go back and work through it again, as chances are you have missed a critical detail.

It’s not just your own learning style you have to take into account. Just as you have your own preference(s), so do others and this is an important consideration, particularly when you are communicating ideas to others. Take the time to understand your audience and use a communication style that blends the preferences above. You will get your message across far more quickly, you’re your audience will be more receptive if you invest this time up front.

Provide a balanced learning experience by:

  • SENSORY-INTUITIVE Provide both hard facts and general concepts.
  • VISUAL-VERBAL Incorporate both visual and verbal cues.
  • ACTIVE-REFLECTIVE Allow both experiential learning and time for evaluation and analysis.
  • SEQUENTIAL-GLOBAL Provide detail in a structured way, as well as the big picture

To consider how your learning styles can influence your communication skills watch:
Visual Auditory Kinesthetic Communications Styles