How people learn

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9. How people learn

People are different. They have different styles and preferences for particular forms of learning.

We each have a way that we like to learn. Learning styles are often grouped into three primary types:

  • Auditory - learning by hearing
  • Visual - learning by seeing
  • Tactile - learning by doing

However, no one only learns one way. We may have a preferred style, but we also use parts of the other styles as well.

Training should provide learning opportunities for all learning styles and include;

  • A variety of activities so that participants are challenged and stimulated.
  • A variety of configurations of participants so that learners get the opportunity to work on their own, solve a problem with another student in a pair, or hear discussion from a larger group
  • A variety of stimuli, media, visuals be they printed hand-outs, presentation slides, verbal instructions, a video presentation or graphic displays to cater for different learners.

Everyone learns through more than one approach – not just one learning style.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners mostly learn through listening to:

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Presentations
  • What others have to say,
  • as well as talking things through themselves.

The instructor’s tone of voice, pitch, and speed help them interpret and remember what they hear. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard so auditory learners often benefit from spoken instructions, discussions, recordings and debates, for example. They may also benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder. For example, ask learners to read aloud or create their own audio recording of

  • parts of a technical manual they have to use,
  • them attempting to teach some of the material,
  • a description of procedures they have to learn to follow,
  • paraphrased sections of important material they have to learn.

Visual Learners

Visual learners learn most effectively through seeing:

  • Pictures
  • Demonstrations
  • Diagrams
  • Illustrated text books
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Videos
  • Flip charts
  • Handouts
  • Written instructions

The facilitator’s body language and facial expressions help visual learners understand the content. They like to sit up front so nothing is in the way between them and the instructor. They remember something by seeing it in their minds. Visual learners like to take detailed notes to absorb the information. To support visual learners, try to incorporate the use of picturesque language, vivid presentation materials and graphics, colour, real objects, or stories from real life, for example.

Tactile Learners

Tactile learners learn best by doing, moving, and touching. They find it hard to sit still for very long. Hands-on activities and games are great for tactile learners. They want to actively explore the physical world around them. So,

  • Get people moving physically
  • Change the learning environment
  • Give plenty of hands on experience
  • Use computers to reinforce learning
  • Use demonstrations to evaluate knowledge

Combining different learning styles

To really grasp a new piece of information or a new skill, we need to:

  • Hear it (a verbal description or "Preparation")
  • See it (a demonstration or "Presentation")
  • Say it (repeat it back or "Practice")
  • Do it (a practical exercise or "Practice" again)
  • Teach it to others (explain it to someone else, or "Performance")

Just like their learners, instructors have a preferred learning style. That learning style will affect the way they like to teach.

  • An instructor who is a visual learner will probably incorporate more graphic elements in a lesson.
  • One who is an auditory learner will be more comfortable lecturing.
  • One who is a tactile learner will want to get right to the activities, perhaps putting less emphasis on preparatory instructions.

Each training facilitator will need to stretch himself or herself to incorporate the learning styles which are outside of their own preferred style and teaching activities they are perhaps less comfortable with. Remember that addressing all learning styles will increase each participant’s retention of the material.