Why I Still Teach Learning Styles

Wow, do people get fired up about learning styles or what? In 2009, a now famous study de-bunked the “science” behind the idea that different learners would benefit by having access to materials customized to their specific learning styles.

Recently, Will Thalheimer upped the ante for his “Learning Styles Challenge” to $5,000 for anyone who can scientifically prove the value of learning style theory.

I respect science. If scientific studies have been conducted that say we don’t need to customize our training courses to offer only verbal information to auditory learners, only written information for visual learners and only movement-based information for kinesthetic learners, then let’s not create all those individualized materials.

But I’ve never, ever heard of anyone spending any extra time customizing three sets of materials for their learners, depending on their learning style.

I have, however, heard of presenters who lecture and talk at their audience for their entire presentation.

I have sat through training sessions in which trainers tell us the theory behind their topic, without allowing anyone to de-brief the ideas that were shared.

I have sat through many a sermon and homily on Sunday morning when, in the absence of any visual cues or movement, I simply zone out and begin thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.

Incorporating design elements that include auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities into a presentation or training module is simply good teaching. It’s simply a way to engage learners, to get them involved, to make them feel a part of the presentation and to capture their imagination. Therefore, it’s something I continue to teach in my train-the-trainer sessions.

 

I think I’m engaging, but why doesn’t my audience seem engaged?

As a presenter, I have my favorite techniques and strategies to engage my audience. Ironically, the more I attempt to engage an audience with some of these techniques and strategies, the less I’m actually able to engage them. As I’ve reflected on this over the past several years, the issue seems to be related to people’s preferred learning styles.

You may be familiar with the three basic learning styles: auditory, visual, kinesthetic.

I’ve found that the techniques that I favor are generally presentation strategies that appeal to my own preferred learning style. I’m a visual learner, and when I present I spend a lot of time working on visual aids which I think are clever and engaging. And of course they are clever. But those in my audience who may prefer to process information through things they hear or say (auditory learners) and those who prefer to roll up their sleeves and experience the learning by doing something (kinesthetic learners) may feel a bit neglected.

If you’d like to learn more about the three basic learning styles or if you need help coming up with some activities to engage all of your learners during your next presentation, here is a link to a short elearning module I spent some time developing this weekend.  Here’s a sneak preview:

Learning Styles (Auditory)

Learning Styles (Visual)

If you have any feedback on this elearning module or if you think it can be improved, drop me a line in the comments section.

If you know someone who might find this program helpful as they gear up for their next presentation, pass this post along to them.

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