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Learning Styles
Part 1 of 3

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This paper describes the theory involved with an interactive exercise that will help attendees of the presentation gain insight into their own learning styles. During the presentation, attendees will actually com­plete a learning style inventory to determine their preferred method of learning. Attendees will also be exposed to a lesson presented in four different ways to mimic the four dominant styles of learning. Under­standing the different learning styles will help trainers within organi­zations deliver effective training for all employees.


Frank, the production manager, needs to learn in a hands-on setting. He hates sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. Mary from ac­counting wants to watch someone else do a job first, and then she learns how to do it. Over in engineering, Jay relies on systematic planning and development of his own "theories" while learning. However, the basic manufacturing class that they are attending treats all of these learners the same. One-size-fits-all was never true in the clothing busi­ness and isn't true in education. Yet, manufacturing organizations con­tinue to spend money on "generic" one-size-fits-all training.

Learning is an important competitive advantage in the 21 st century. In fact, some experts believe it is the only sustainable competitive ad­vantage left in today's global market. Organizations can gain a tremen­dous advantage by evaluating how their employees learn and using that knowledge to deliver highly effective training to their high-perfor­mance work teams.

Organizations and trainers need to realize that each employee has a different learning style. An individual's learning style influences how they deal with ideas, solve problems, set goals, learn new information, manage others, and deal with new situations. Gaining an understand­ing into the different way people approach learning can help organiza­tions to provide better training to employees and to more effectively introduce change into an organization.


Basically, there are four different ways people learn. The first is by watching others. Often information is learned by observing a situation or by listening carefully to instructions or directions. The second way people learn is through feeling. In this case, learning develops from relating to people, being sensitive to others, and from specific emo­tional events. The third way people learn is from thinking. Many times a person will logically analyze ideas and learn by acting on an intellec­tual understanding of a particular situation. The fourth way people learn is by doing. Learning by doing involves hands-on experiences. In this case, the learning is from actually being involved in the situation.

Learning theory describes the four methods of learning as Reflec­tive Observation (watching), Concrete Experience (feeling), Abstract Conceptualization (thinking), and Active Experimentation (doing). Some of these learning methods are actually polar opposites of one another. For example, Concrete Experience is actually quite different from Abstract Conceptualization. Individuals oriented to learn through Concrete Experience perceive through their senses by immersing them­selves in the here-and-now and relying heavily on their intuition to learn. Individuals who prefer Abstract Conceptualization like to step back from a situation and think of the underlying theory or concept that can help them learn the new information. These learners want to know the "why" behind everything they are learning.

Also, Reflective Observation is very different from Active Experi­mentation. Each of these methods of learning deal with how we pro­cess or transform information and experiences into knowledge. When processing a new experience, some learners would choose to jump right in and try their hand, while others would choose to carefully watch others who are involved in the experience and reflect what happens. The doers favor Active Experimentation, while the watchers favor Reflective Observation.

Each of the four methods of learning can be summarized as follows:

     Concrete Experience—This learning method emphasizes personal involvement with people in everyday situations. When using this method, a learner tends to rely more on feelings than on a systematic approach to problems, situations, and new information.

     Reflective Observation—This approach involves an attempt to un­
derstand ideas and situations from different points of view. The ap­
proach relies on patience, objectivity, observation, and careful judg­
ment prior to taking any action or synthesizing any new information.

     Abstract Conceptualization—This involves using logic and ideas rather than feelings to understand problems, situations, and new learning opportunities. Typically this type of learning involves relying on systematic planning and the development of theories to solve problems.

     Active Experimentation—Learning with this approach involves an action in the form of experimenting with variables within the new
learning environment. This is a practical approach concerned with
what really works as opposed to simply watching a situation or reading a case study. This approach helps one learn by allowing people to see the results of their influence directly upon the situation.

Since some of the different learning approaches described above can actually be opposites, each person's learning style is actually a combination of these four basic approaches to learning.

To Be Continued


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