Posted by: phynbarr | January 18, 2009

Learning and brains

I had a newsletter recently from P3 Training which brought to my attention some research on learning styles by one (actually, two) Felder & Silverman.

I like P3 Training, my experience of them is nothing but good (still got the camel, Paul!) and one day I must have a conversational blog about facilitation, Leeds and the joy of scrums before I’d ever come across the word “Agile”

But, back to the plot.
The Felder-Silverman research (1988) quoted uses a model which indicates that learners have preferences. I suppose these days we might say “nothing new there”, but I guess in 1988 this was new and may well have been the basis for further investigation. I shall leave you to read as much or as little as you want here or, indeed on the P3 website

Certainly, I have heard similar points of view from many including from Kaizen Training. And it serves the basis for a great deal of NLP understanding.

Just to take a small detour here, one the main premises of NLP is that people filter their experience of the world through different modalities. Most are Visual, and then there’s Auditory & Kinaesthetic whilst a few filter via Olfactory or Gustatory senses. Some, like me, combine two and it is probably my Auditory / Kinaesthetic preference which means that I like to learn and process information by walking and talking. You can find many links and sources on the web but a good place to start is here.

I get proof of this preference every day at home. My husband, who is mostly visual, turns on a radio wherever he is and then wanders off leaving it burbling happily to itself. Which I, with an Auditory preference find deeply annoying. On the other hand, I cover the walls with endless pictures which a friend on mine who is strongly Visual finds over-loads her sensitivities. And if anyone can find a way of filing / storage that suits a Kinaesthetic daughter, could they let me know? Or is that just teenagers!

Where was I? Oh yes, learning styles.

Yes, I agree that there are different preferences in learning style.

Yes, as a facilitator and occasional trainer I do try and encompass as many of those styles in the material I use and that which I produce.

But, I do think that there is another side to this story and that is, that is important that teachers – especially those in the early years – teach children how to learn & process information in all the ways it is presented. And that may well be in their non-preferred style.

Not that I hold any brief for the point of view espoused by an MP earlier this week. Although I do have some sympathy for the point of view of “an expert” quoted in today’s paper that what is referred to as dyslexia is often one of a spectrum of disorders.

Nor do I think we should return to the days when left-handed children had their preferred hand strapped to their side and were foced to learn to write right-handedly.

What I do think is, that if – as quoted by P3 in their newsletter – there are significant differences in how information is presented and how individuals process it, then it does no-one any favours to sit back on their haunches and say “I can’t do it that way”. And that those who will get on are those who make significant efforts to learn in their non-favoured way, if that’s what it takes.

And as a final aside, many years ago I read (I think it may have been in the Harvard Business Review, but don’t quote me on that) that many CEOs do have flashes of intution. But what they don’t do, is go to the Board the next morning and present it as such. They tend to go in for some “reverse engineering” whilst lying in the bath (or wherever else intuition strikes) and work backwards from their intuitive idea to where the business is now and then present _that_ to the Board as a logical progression of ideas.

So it’s just a case of fitting to the way the world works rather than making the world bend to your preferences.


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