Understanding Our Learning Styles

In my introductory post “Why A Learning and Development Blog?” I mentioned that it was Honey and Mumford’s work on Learning Styles that first fascinated me about the theory of learning. So it feels appropriate to make my first post one about the subject.

The theories around the concept of individual learning styles was to have a major effect on the world of learning and development. By definition, a learning style is an individual’s habitual or natural pattern of processing and acquiring information in learning situations. Ever since the theories became popular in the 1970’s, many practitioners have developed models about it, two of whom are Peter Honey and Alan Mumford.

Honey and Mumford adapted their learning styles from the work of David Kolb. Kolb’s model was based on the Experiential learning theory and involved two approaches in grasping experience (Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization) and transforming experience (Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation). According to Kolb’s model, these four modes make up an ideal and complete learning process.

Don’t worry if that all sounds a little theoretical I am going to explain now what it means in practice!

Unlike Kolb’s model which involves the combination of two stages, however, Honey and Mumford’s four main learning styles are directly associated with each stage. This model, which was based on research conducted on the behavioral tendencies of managers, involved four stages namely

  • having an experience,
  • reviewing the experience,
  • concluding the experience,
  • … and planning the next steps.

According to this model, each of us have preferred learning styles which are dependent on both the context of the learning and our experience. As a result, people cannot be considered to be locked into a single style only. In fact, these four main learning styles are assumed as acquired preferences that are completely adaptable to the learning activity instead of being just fixed characteristics which we always follow.

These four main learning styles, which I will explain below, are:

  • Activist,
  • Reflector,
  • Theorist,
  • …. and Pragmatist.

The Activist

The activist learning style is all about having an experience. People who fall under this category are most comfortable in doing and experiencing activities and love the limelight. Activists love to try new experiences. They flourish when given immediate experiences and are willing to try anything new.

They are different from other types of learners in a way that they tend to jump in before thinking over the possible results of their actions. So as an example when someone who is an Activist gets an iPad they will switch it on and start playing with it to see what it does! They love practical activities and games and can get totally immersed in a new learning experience.

The Reflector

The reflector type of learning style, at its simplest, can be described as the direct opposite of the activist. While activists are all about immediately jumping on experiences and reviewing the consequences afterwards, reflectors prefer reviewing the experience they are going to have first. They prefer being given the time to observe and think and are more comfortable in watching others rather than being in the centre of activities. People who fall under this learning style tend to be cautious, with them having the need to collect a significant amount of data first before they would come to a conclusion.

The Theorist

The third type of learning style classifies people as theorists. Theorist type of learners conclude from the experience and tend to want to see where things fit in terms of overall concepts. They attack problems in a logical way and enjoy analyzing situations. Models, systems, and principles dominate their actions and way of thinking.

The Pragmatist

Pragmatists, unlike the other three learning styles who tend to focus on experiences, prefer planning the next steps instead. They are into problem solving and find comfort in finding the relevance of the things and experiences they encounter in the real world. While theorists like to analyze, people with a pragmatist learning style like to apply learning instead. They like searching out for new ideas and like to put them into immediate practice. It is also in their nature to look at problems as “challenges”.

Why Are Learning Styles Important?

The importance of understanding the four main learning styles is that they really do play a very significant role in the way we as individuals learn. As individuals understanding our learning style can help us to maximize our own personal learning. As managers, trainers and people developers ensuring that we understand the different learning styles helps us to design learning experiences that are more likely to engage people and enable them to get the most from their learning opportunities.

Not only does it make learning easier but learners whose preferred learning styles are being addressed can enjoy the process better if the teaching has been tweaked to fit their needs and preferences.

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