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Learning-style Theories

September 1, 1992
Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Featured Article
Many recent learning theories center on learning and communication styles, and hemisphere preference. Other aspects of the individual, such as personality, interact with learning-style and work preferences, contributing to the cornucopia of unique individuals who are your trainees. These theories can provide insight into individuality that can improve your ability to develop training programs. Some well-known theories include the following:

1) Whole-brain theories generally rest on a presumed preference for one of the two hemispheres of the brain. The right brain is considered the seat of creativity and emotion and the left brain is the seat of logic and reason. Some theorists, such as Ned Herrmann, president of Lake Lure, North Carolina-based The Ned Herrmann Group, see the right and left brain as divided into cerebral and limbic, producing four quadrants.

Any large organization would be found to have all four quadrants more or less equally represented so that it represents a whole-brain picture of the organization. It's believed by some experts in the field that this knowledge can be used to tap the subconscious mind and change negative self-image.

2) Neurolinguistic programming is becoming well-known by trainers and managers. Lucy Freedman, president of Syntax Communication Corporation in Los Gatos, California, describes neurolinguistic programming (NLP) as "the study of the structure of subjective experience."

As it applies to training, NLP indicates, among other things, that people have a preferred way of learning and communicating. When they try to remember, they access inside their brains for key information, which they've stored as visual, auditory and kinesthetic representations.

The eyes of the trainee show learning style. Visual learners access information by looking up, either right or left, or keep their eyes unfocused and straight ahead, explains Genie Z. Laborde, in her book Influencing with Integrity. Auditory learners style look directly right or left, or down left. Kinesthetic learners look down and to the right. Laborde has identified another category: cerebral. These people can be visual, auditory or kinesthetic in how they prefer to receive sensory input, but they differ in that they prefer to name their raw perceptions and then respond to those perceptions.

These learning preferences influence communication style, which provides another method of determining the individual's preference. For example, people who are visual tend to reveal themselves by using expressions like, "I see," or "I get the picture." Auditory learners may say "I hear you," or "That doesn't ring a bell." Kinesthetic learners talk about "getting a grasp" on things, or "feeling" one way or another. They also may be more active, according to Laborde.

3) The seven intelligences provide another way to categorize and understand individual abilities and preferred learning methods. This theory was put forward by Howard Gardner in his book, Frames of Mind and lists the following areas of abilities:

  • Sequential-linear
  • Verbal
  • Kinesthetic
  • Visual-spatial
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal (what goes on between two or more people)
  • Intrapersonal (what goes on inside people).

4) Kolb's experiential learning theory, proposed by David A. Kolb, professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, identifies four stages of learning, which, in turn, require four learning abilities. The variation in these abilities influences how individuals prefer to learn, as well as providing insights into the optimum sequence of learning activities. The abilities are:

  • Concrete experience
  • Reflective observation
  • Abstract conceptualization
  • Active experimentation.

5) The Color Code, developed by Laguna Hills, California psychologist, Taylor Hartman, is a theory of personality that can help trainers and managers understand behavior of their trainees, as well as their own. Personality can impact training in many ways, but probably the most significant is motivation. What motivates one person may demotivate another.

Hartman has identified four basic personality types, which he has named after colors. Although there are countless combinations of these, everyone, he theorizes, has an underlying color that drives and motivates. Variations in personality are developed through life experiences, which allow the person to learn characteristics of the other three colors. This he refers to as character.

These personality types manifest themselves in sets of needs and behaviors. Hartman gives the following motivators for each color.

  • Red—power
  • Blue—intimacy
  • White—peace
  • Yellow—fun.

"Personality goes across the board of intelligences," says Hartman. Learning style is separate from personality type. "Generally, however, yellows tend to be right-brain, reds tend to be left-brain and blues and whites are mixed. In addition, people can function outside their own personality style, and it's beneficial for them to do so," he says.

We're closer to understanding how the human mind works, but we have a long way to go. For now, these theories—and others—can help managers and trainers understand, appreciate and enjoy differences in the individuals with whom they work.

Personnel Journal, September 1992, Vol. 71, No. 9, p. 91.

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