Many years ago I met Dr. Jenkins who was developing an educational program for students in a juvenile detention center in Detroit, Michigan. She was able to show and prove with several tests and experiments, that many of these students had very high levels of intelligence and comprehension. However, their local school’s academic record did not reflect that.
What was going on then? It was indeed puzzling to see these differences as I worked with Dr. Jenkins for several years assisting her with these programs.
We would first have each student take a standard aptitude test, identical to the ones administered in the local public schools. Next, we’d dedicate time daily with each student to identify their modes of learning. From there, we’d group students together by those modes of learning and provide lesson plans for teaching to each mode of learning we identified.
After weeks of teaching according to each students mode of learning, we would then re-administer the original aptitude test. The results were astounding! Many of these students scores increased by at least 20% and several others’ were even higher. Also, we noticed the students were more focused, attentive and involved than in previous class sessions. It was something very powerful about matching methods of teaching with specific methods of learning.
In Dr. Jenkins documentation, she would use the term Learning Styles. She explains that most, if not all of us have a preferred or dominant learning style we use daily and which is most effective in helping us learn and retain new information. For our students, we focused on three learning styles:
1. Visual — Learning by seeing
2. Auditory — Learning by hearing
3. Kinesthetic — Learning by doing
For students who were more visual learners, we designed lessons plans that included pictures and diagrams to accompany the subject matter. For those with an auditory learning style, lesson plans included lectures, stories, Q & A sessions and class discussions. For our kinesthetic learners, the lessons included more hands-on activities and examples for students to try as they learned each lesson.
The results were undeniable. Not only did many of them excel in the detention center’s educational programs, but also began improving academically back at their local schools. What changed? Well the schools’ curriculum hadn’t changed. It didn’t adopt the concept of teaching to learning styles.
The key was this. Once we helped students identify their own learning styles, they then knew how to effectively communicate with their teachers and peers and to ask that information be shared with them in a way that matched their learning style.
For instance, we advised the visual learners to ask their teachers to write examples on the board, on paper or provide a diagram for study. That’s fair to ask a teacher to do right? For kinesthetic learning, we advise them to always ask their teachers if they could volunteer during lessons or ask if they could come up and try to do whatever the teacher was explaining.
This proved to be successful for the students and we hope that they are still employing these techniques in their daily adult lives. Which brings us to the main point, understanding our own personal learning styles.
We can apply this very same understanding of the learning styles above, to how we learn, process and communicate information daily. Also, as we identify our own learning styles, it’s easier to recognize those of others. Once we know a person’s learning style, we can use that method to communicate ideas to them more effectively.
By the way, there are several other learning styles to be aware of such as the Linguistic, Logical and Intrapersonal learning style. There’re also many quick surveys and assessments available to help identify these styles and I’ll provide links to everything below.
In the mean time, how can you identify a learning style without going around and administering a test or survey to everyone? Well, I’ll give you some easy tricks to help identify a learning style instantly!
The key here is to listen close to the words and gestures used when people communicate information to you. For instance, when your co-worker is giving you directions to their house, if they say things like,” come down three blocks, turn left at the second stop sign and we’re the third house down”, it’s likely they learn and communicate in numbers. So when giving them important details, it may help to use this same method of communication.
However, if your co-worker would have said something like, “..drive down until you see a big brown house, turn right and come down past the stop sign and you’ll see our house, it’s white with the big palm tree in front and a black pickup truck in the driveway”, then this person is likely a visual learner and favors commutating with images. So in turn, it would be most effective to communicate important details to them using images and descriptions as well.
Try this out with family and friends. You’ll be amazed at how powerful your communication skills will become and how much you find out about how each of you learns and communicates. Let me know how it goes.
Previously Published on Medium