Which sort of learner are you?

21st March 2003 at 00:00
IT'S one thing to choose professional development to suit your particular career path or school, but another to match it to your learning style. We use a mix of learning styles but will find some more fruitful than others.

Observation, brainstorming, lectures and "having a go" appeal to us in different degrees. One of the best-known ways of identifying your style was devised by intelligence expert David Kolb. A web search for "Kolb learning styles" will throw up ways of testing for your type, but just knowing the four types can help when making choices about professional development opportunities.

1. The Theorist: likes to learn using abstract conceptualisation and reflective observation (lecture, papers, analogies) and ask such questions as: "How does this relate to that?" Training approach: case studies, theory readings, thinking alone. Theorists' strengths lie in their ability to create theoretical models. They are less interested in people and less concerned with practical applications of knowledge. Theorists are often found in research and planning. This learning style is more characteristic of basic science and mathematics than applied sciences.

2. The Pragmatist: likes to learn using abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation (laboratories, fieldwork, observations). Pragmatists ask: "How can I apply this in practice?" Training approach: peer feedback; activities that apply skills. Pragmatists' greatest strength is in the practical application of ideas. They tend to be unemotional and prefer to deal with things rather than people. They have narrow technical interests and often choose to specialise in the physical sciences.

3. The Activist: likes to learn using concrete experience and active experimentation (simulations, case study, homework). Activists tell themselves: "I'm game for anything".

Training approach: practising the skill, problem-solving, small group discussions, peer feedback. Their strengths lie in doing things and involving themselves in new experiences. They excel in adapting to specific immediate circumstances. They tend to solve problems intuitively, relying on others for information. The activist is at ease with people but is sometimes seen as impatient and pushy.

4. The Reflector: likes to learn using reflective observation and concrete experience (logs, journals, brainstorming). Reflectors like time to think about the subject. Training approach: lectures with plenty of reflection time. Their strengths lie in their imaginative ability. The reflector tends to take an interest in people and the emotional elements of the learning process. People with this learning style tend to become counsellors, organisational development specialists and personnel managers. They are likely to have broad cultural interests and tend to specialise in the arts.

This style is typical of a background in humanities and arts.

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