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Myth Busting: Learning Styles

If you've ever had a person say to you: 'I'm a visual learner' or 'I'm a logical/structured learner' then you've stumbled onto the theory of learning styles.

The debate about whether or not people learn in different ways because of learning styles has raged for years. In fact, several years ago, a fellow learning and development professional insisted that a student in one of their classes was a kinesthetic learner because they tapped their pencil on the table. I nearly crawled out of my skin.

The idea of learning styles suggests that people learn in four different ways and that training should be designed to fit the learner's “style” or preference.

  • Visual learners - Visual learning is the ability to learn by seeing things. This may be by watching videos, or visual images that accompany a description.

  • Auditory learners - Those who learn by listening. This may be through podcasts, radio, recordings, or lecturing.

  • Kinesthetic learners - Those who learn with physical action. This could be through hands-on activities or role-playing.

  • Read/Write learning - People who learn by reading information. An example might be through books or handouts.

The concept of learning styles—that different people have different preferred ways of learning—has been widely studied, but little evidence supports its validity as a predictor of effective learning among adults.

How do we develop training?

The mode of instruction and course development should suit the training topic. Adults learn best through experience, reflection, and practice. A good training program uses these methods to deliver instruction. Active learning techniques are essential in developing a well-rounded course or training program.

Surgeons learning a new technique may be exposed to the new technique in several modalities before perfecting their new skill. For example:

  • First: The surgeons may attend a lecture where they learn about the new technique, hear stories of its success rate and see it performed. They might also read case studies and peer-reviewed articles on the technique.

  • Second: The surgeons may shadow another surgeon performing the technique.

  • Third: The surgeon may perform the task using training simulation.

  • Forth: The surgeons may perform the technique under the supervision of a seasoned surgeon who provides the practicing surgeons with feedback.

This active learning technique uses several approaches to help surgeons improve their skills in a systematic way while bringing experiential and social aspects of learning into practice.

Contrary to popular belief, learning styles are mythical creature that exists in learning and development. No one way of learning is more important than the other. Instead, all active learning techniques work together to form a well-rounded training program.


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