What kind of learner are you? That’s a question that is rarely asked of a student or employee these days. Most assume that the traditional education model is sufficient for imparting knowledge onto others. The problem with that, however, is that most of us are unique in the way we interpret data. Humans are not made on an assembly line with identical processors that all read and write the same way. Some of us learn by seeing, some by doing, and others by hearing. Many of us are also hybrids, meaning we need to both see and hear something or touch and hear something in order to completely understand it.
Finding Your Learning Style
During my time in the traditional education system (K-12 and college), I was often frustrated by my lack of ability to comprehend what was being presented to me. I struggled with the traditional classroom paradigm and was seldom able to give my undivided attention to whatever was happening around me. My teachers labeled me a disruptor, the class clown, and even lazy. What they didn’t understand was that I wasn’t trying to be any of those things. I simply didn’t connect with the way they were teaching.
In order to be a successful learner you must first understand what type of learner you are. There are three distinct learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most learners will display an affinity for one of these styles, but most benefit from a carefully-constructed combination of all three. I’ve found over the years that I’m very much a kinesthetic learner, but that I also benefit from audio reinforcement. This means that I can be told how to do something, but I must have my hands on that something simultaneously in order to fully grasp the concept. This is something that I’ve learned over time, really the past 31 years, and I continue to learn new things about myself on a daily basis.
This means that you need to be trying lots of different approaches when you are attempting to learn a new skill. For instance, if you were to ask me “how do I become a web designer”, I would probably tell you to buy some books, watch training videos, and attend a hands-on workshop. At some point you’ll either be reading, watching a video, or listening to your instructor, and you’ll realize that this is the learning scenario that fits you best. Then you should ask yourself why that is. Are you able to simply see someone demonstrate something and it clicks, or do you need to get your hands dirty too? Once you’ve figured out how best to go about consuming the information, your brain will automatically take care of the processing for you.
Making Others Aware of Your Learning Style
I stated earlier that most employers and educators don’t ask you what kind of learner you are. That means it is up to you to initiate that conversation and explain to them how you should be trained for your job or degree. Most will be willing to work with you on this, as it behooves them to help you achieve success, but they can’t help you if you don’t make it known up front. Don’t wait until you’ve missed a deadline or failed a test to engage them in conversation about this issue. At the end of the day you’ll both be happy and the end results will reflect that as well.
Adapting Your Learning Style Over Time
No matter what, you’re always going to encounter situations that require you to learn in ways you’re not comfortable with. Therefore you need to be prepared for that and constantly be working to evolve your learning style over time. I’ve worked hard over the years to improve my reading comprehension, for instance. Whereas before I could read an entire book and not be able to tell you what it was about, I can now process most of the necessary information and recall it in some way. That wasn’t something that came natural, however, it was something I worked for and earned the hard way.
How do you adapt your learning style? Well, I can only tell you what worked for me, and that was simply “baptism by fire”. There were times over the past few years where I simply forced myself to read, and read only. I wasn’t allowed to practice anything, touch anything, or listen to anything whatsoever. I put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, sat in a comfortable chair, and went to work. By doing this and then quizzing myself afterwards, I was able to find ways of tricking my mind into understanding things. I used different visualization techniques to simulate hands-on exercises in my head, and I imagined myself reading the book aloud as if I were listening to an audiobook. Slowly but surely I began to see things more clearly, and now I’m able to comprehend written material at a much more natural pace. That doesn’t mean that I prefer reading, but I’m certainly not afraid of it anymore either.
Accepting That You’re Not Flawed
The traditional education system is quick to judge students for their learning styles. As I said earlier, I was labeled disruptive and lazy. These were adjectives that stayed with me well into my adult life. I had simply come to accept that I was irreparably damaged and unable to succeed at certain things. Producing courses for millions around the world has also shown me that I’m not alone in these feelings. Many people write to me each week telling me how they’ve been able to further their skill set or obtain a new job by watching my courses or reading my blog posts. Many of them tell stories similar to mine where teachers told them they were lazy or incapable. But once they came to see how they learned, they realized that they weren’t flawed at all, but simply misunderstood.
Education Needs to Evolve
I believe the traditional education system is flawed. It’s not ready for the junkyard, but it’s in desperate need of an overhaul. We have to educate the educators on alternative methods of education, and we have to show them that it’s not ok to put a student down for not being able to comprehend their preferred method of delivery. At the same time, however, students should be looking at ways to augment traditional education with learning experiences that benefit them and help their overall comprehension. Many people pit the traditional and alternative education worlds against one another, but I believe the only way we solve this problem is to help them co-exist in a meaningful way.
Learning is not one-size-fits-all. We have to know and accept that. The world is full of new technologies and methodologies that we can use to enhance the educational experience for people, but we must be willing to pursue and implement them. I realize it’s difficult to change a way of thinking that has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, but if we want each generation to be better than the next, we must find a way to do just that.