I’d hope that you agree with me that a school classroom is only one environment in which learning takes place. Isn’t it true that we can learn from looking around us on a bus, sitting in a theatre or on a park bench and just about any other setting in which you find yourself.
And I also assert that learning isn’t limited to those who make up the audience in any formal teaching situation; for those who stand in front and impart knowledge themselves learn a great deal. When we learn, we grow; when we stop learning, we stagnate.
It’s indeed fortunate that our brains are capable of taking in, processing and retaining vast amounts of information. Everything we accumulate helps us to perform better in future situations, avoid what we experience as negative experiences and to increase what we perceive as positive moments. We tend to remember and then be guided by our past actions and if we wish, we can make adjustments to our behaviour based on how well or poorly things have gone before.
The classroom we were in as children and then later as teenagers tend to impart knowledge in a standard method requiring us to sit and receive information, then have our ability to internalize and use that information in the form of tests. These tests check our abilities to internalize, remember and apply that learning when called upon. For some however, this environment and the way in which the information is presented to them is less than effective in imparting that knowledge.
Not everyone learns the same volume of information, but more importantly, not everyone grasps information in the same way. There are those who learn by reading best, for some it’s listening while for others still it’s having opportunities to be shown and then try things themselves.
Teachers in classrooms of 25 – 30 children for example are in trying positions. They have to impart a large amount of educational information that is dictated by the Boards of Education for whom they work, and they have to do so within fixed timetables. The bigger issue however is that among all those children, there are bound to be a mixture of children who learn best in different ways. Auditory, visual and experiential learners make up just about any audience.
It’s for this reason that many of the best facilitators, lecturers and teachers use a variety of learning methods to reach most if not all of the people in the group. Hence you’ll find video’s, Prezi’s and PowerPoint presentations, role-playing, reading, music, reading, individual and group work in most formal learning environments.
But what of you? Do you know how you learn best? Are you aware of the exact opposite; what is for you the least effective way for you to receive, process and retain information? Knowing what works and doesn’t work for you personally is extremely useful well beyond the classroom and into work environments.
For example, you can minimize your learning curve and acquire information faster, making you more productive to an employer in the process if you relay to your supervisor the method you have found that works best for you when it comes to learning. Telling your boss that you learn best when you’re shown first how to do something and then be given a chance to do it yourself under guidance before being left alone to do it may help you in the workplace. This could contrast with how the boss has typically instructed employees in the past when he or she has just told them what to do and expected them to do it.
Good instructors – great instructors – know this to be true and will check with those they are mentoring or teaching and make adjustments to their teaching methods in order to best respond to their audience. On the job it can be problematic if those teaching and instructing fail to understand this. Can you recall a situation in your past for example where the boss told 10 people the same instructions but only 8 of the 10 employees received the message the way the boss intended it? The other 2 may have heard the exact information but not been able to do the work as told not because they are less intelligent but simply because they don’t process the information received in the same way; they learn differently.
The easy thing for us to do sometimes is put the blame on those who don’t perform as we expect and reprimand them or question their intelligence or ability to follow directions. Most often it’s not that the people are rebellious, incapable of performing as they are expected to, or just belligerent; they just didn’t receive the information the way it was intended because they learn differently.
Knowing your own learning preferences can be something you choose to share in a job interview too. Any question about a time you make a mistake could be an opportunity for you to demonstrate how you corrected a problem by requesting your training be presented in the way you learn best. This information could help the new employer understand how best to train you and show them that you know yourself well.
If you are currently working, this may also help you reassess how your personal learning style fits or doesn’t with how training is presented in your workplace; and small adjustments could make a huge impact in training sessions and those teachable moments.