Have you ever experienced frustration while trying to learn a new process or application? “This is not working for me, I’m not picking this up as easily I need to.” The reason may be simple: you’re not in tune with your individual learning style. In fact, the experts say that in most any room of 100 people – no more than 20 percent know their learning style. Many don’t realize the potential impact this has on their ability to learn.
Marcia Conner is a recognized leader in the fields of learning, productivity, and adaptability. In her new book, Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter & Faster Conner draws on breakthrough psychological and educational research to help readers tap into their own learning styles and abilities. Insights recently asked Conner about the topic of learning styles and found out what you need to know to maximize your learning, productivity, and enjoyment.
Is a person born with a certain style of learning? Does it change over time?
Conner: While it would be impossible to know precisely when learning styles emerge, they develop along with your physiology, which doesn't change all that dramatically after certain stages of growth. What changes are your senses. As these become more refined, you grow into your strongest preferences, and as your senses degrade, you adjust, compensating with senses that are still sharp.
What are some of the types of learning styles? And, how do you know what type of learning works best for you?
Conner: Learning style pertains to the way we take in information most effectively: through sight (visual), sound or speaking (auditory), or when we touch and move (tactile/kinesthetic).
Motivation style describes what draws you toward learning something new. Are you learning something in order to achieve a goal (goal-motivated), to build or strengthen a relationship (relationship-motivated), or are you interested in learning because you are curious and interested in learning for its own sake (learning-motivated)?
Why is it important to know your learning style?
Conner: If you identify how you take in information most effectively and what motivates you to want to take it in, you can adjust your approach to more closely match your needs. You can also be more mindful of the needs of the people around you (who might have very different styles than your own) and also find opportunities to ask them to help you help yourself.
For instance, if a colleague's explanation isn't sinking in, consider asking him to draw a simple diagram so you can also see what he's saying. After all, he may be a visual learner. If your daughter offers you a glazed over look as you tell her a story, offer to tell her the story as you walk around the house so she can also move along with the rhythm of your voice. She may be a tactile/kinesthetic learner. And if your coworker asks you every morning what you did last evening—just as you’re about to get started on facing the new workday—realize that he may be relationship motivated and by answering the question, he's more apt to help you achieve your goal.
How can I support the individual styles of my employees to facilitate teamwork and productivity?
Conner: First help them understand their styles in a way that also shows you are interested in their wellbeing and success. Consider sharing with them a motivations style assessment or a brief introduction to the three motivation styles (goal-motivated, relationship-motivated, and learning-motivated). Then help them identify projects and experiences that take advantage of their style.
For example, if an employee is relationship-motivated, when introducing a new assignment point out who they will meet. If they are learner-motivated, highlight the breadth of subjects they may learn along the way. And if they are goal-motivated, be clear about how your goals and their goals coincide.
What are the most common barriers to learning and how can people overcome them?
Conner: When I ask people what sorts of things keep them from learning more now, the most common answers I hear are time, support, motivation, and courage. Rarely does the same person list all four, but many of us face at different times at least one of these hurdles.
If you think, "I'm much too busy at the office; I'll start when things settle down," recognize that in today's society, things may never settle down and what you learn may be the only thing that can provide you the necessary skills or perspective to find faster ways to do you work.
If you think, "I just don't care enough about learning this," consider paying close attention to your instincts. Maybe this isn't as important as someone else might think it is for you. If there's no getting around it, though, try by learning about a facet of the subject, and then another. The momentum may energize you enough to want to learn more. The small steps you take to learn something new will open you up to a much wider world and opportunities to learn.
Do you see a big change in people once they understand their learning style?
Conner: By understanding how you take in information, what excites you, and what direction you learn in – with that self-knowledge about how you take in information, the whole world suddenly becomes an opportunity to learn. You become more flexible, more agile, in all you do. You view everything as an opportunity to learn more, even a normal conversation with a colleague. I find that’s been the biggest change in understanding how you learn best. It’s not just that you’re going to get better at taking a class or an online course. This knowledge starts to move the notion of learning from some specific to something like breathing. Once you change your focus, you get back that childhood curiosity.
If you're interested in learning more about Marcia Conner’s research, visit www.marciaconner.com for information about Marcia and her book, Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter & Faster. Or visit www.agelesslearner.com for additional information and assessments on learning styles and motivation styles.
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