Let’s take a moment to cast our minds back to our school days. Imagine you are sitting in a classroom, with dozens of other students around you, busy taking notes or chewing over the words of a distinguished professor, three hours deep into their learned discourse outlining the results of their scientific research. This professor juggles past and contemporary theory with flair to demonstrate the scope of their findings, all while weaving in new hypotheses for future investigation. The class is now over, you need to write up a critical analysis of the overarching concepts put forward in the lecture, and it's due next week!
Keen to get started?... For around 15% of you, the answer is probably ‘yes’. For the rest of you, all this academic drivel must seem rather boring and demotivating. And that’s completely normal – it’s just that your learning style is not the investigator type, as this example has just illustrated.
There are also six other learning styles. They are based on the famous RIASEC model. Pinning down your learning style allows you to commit to a training programme which makes sense for you. This means that the style of teaching, the location, the duration, the personality of your teacher/instructor, the type of activities within the programme as well as the method of evaluation are all a perfect fit. Identifying your learning style allows you to activate effective drivers of motivation, allowing you to maximise your learning potential.
Let’s take a look at the different learning styles using an example which is very much relevant today: learning a foreign language.
Realist: This type tends to quickly lose interest in a classroom setting, especially if the lessons are theory based. Little motivated by learning from books, realistic people need to touch, manipulate, dismantle, construct, move around, etc. to develop a practical knowledge of things. They won’t learn a language just for the sake of it but because it is useful to them. They will therefore get straight to learning what is needed to gain a working knowledge of the language.
Realists perform well through short teaching sessions which are grounded in reality and will progress via the completion of practical exercises. Why not learn the parts of an engine in English, or take a walk through the forest to work on nature-related vocabulary in Portuguese?
Investigator: As we saw in the introduction, lectures are made for Investigators. For them, acquiring new knowledge constitutes a moment of sheer intellectual enjoyment. Investigators are also quick to embark on long-term study programmes or to hone their knowledge through independent learning. This type is incidentally the one best suited for self-study since these learners place a lot of value in intellectual curiosity, general knowledge, and understanding.
They will have fun learning a language, be it an ancient or modern tongue. Alone with their books or their learning software, they can delve into the intricacies of the language to their heart’s content, by looking up the definition of one word, the lexical origin of another, and will gain intellectual satisfaction via this acquisition of new information. Their thirst for knowledge may also be reflected in their leisure time, from enjoying a film night watching Italian movies to staying up reading Japanese manga.
Artist: These kinds of learners are more difficult to please, but once they hit upon the right learning path, they will throw themselves into it completely. Artists want to learn at their own pace and shudder at the thought of having to comply with a one-size-fits-all system where the essence of each person is not showcased. Little fond of contemporary teaching methods, it is through innovative projects which leave room for self-expression that these people will be able to, not learn, but assimilate new information.
They may have the intellectual abilities to do well in advanced-level study, but they are often demotivated by the straitjacket of conventional and overly standardised methods. They want to live their subject of study, to make it truly their own and find meaning in it. Fond of experiential teaching methods which promote learning through experience, they will benefit from taking the time to reflect on the steps taken, allowing them to gain perspective and to identify avenues for future development. Why not sign up for a theatre workshop in Russian? Or listen to your favourite K-pop band on repeat to learn Korean through song?
Social: For this type, it’s all about one thing: people. Theory-based learning will not be very motivating for Social people and they will progress surprisingly faster through conversation-based language courses. Social people like to learn in groups and are motivated by contact and exchange, where everyone can draw upon their own knowledge and experiences to offer up new information. Attentive and in tune with those around them, stimulated by this both invigorating and enriching social contact, it is through this sharing of knowledge and this implementation of the language that Social people will learn most effectively.
In a French/German language class centred around discussions between two native speakers, where everyone takes on the role of both teacher and student, Social people will be truly in their element. These learners could also go on an immersive trip abroad to learn Greek with a host family.
Enterprising: This type needs to be in the heart of the action. Sandwich courses are generally perfect for enterprising people since they can set foot into the real world and be confronted with real-life situations, provided of course that they are given large-scale missions which keep their motivation high. Their self-confidence and their desire to prove themselves are on a par with the immense challenges they wish to face. They look to learn through experience, by taking action or taking on projects.
In terms of learning a language, these learners want above all to get something out of it.
A business Arabic class would be well suited to Enterprising types, as they will be able to quickly grasp the vocabulary needed to thrive in the workplace. A fast-track course in Mandarin Chinese, with a certificate upon completion, will equally give them the credibility they seek to demonstrate their skills and progress in their job role.
Conventional: This type generally opts for a cautious and measured approach. Conventional people will take the time to learn the ins and out of the different programs available before making their choice. They may also prefer classic-style learning tracks where a predefined study programme in terms of its timetabling, objectives, progression, and method of evaluation will be reassuring and help them organise their time well. Conventional people will feel quite at home in the current educational system, provided that it is not overly theoretical, as they can get bogged down by too much theory. They need something concrete, a set path to follow and they should not be left to their own devices. They will appreciate being guided and receiving regular feedback on their assignments and their progression to avoid future mistakes.
A three-month programme of evening classes in Spanish, where vocabulary, written and oral comprehension are covered in turn, plus corrected homework exercises, will suit them well, as would an online Dutch class using a structured learning software.
This example of foreign languages could very well have been replaced with learning IT skills, coaching techniques, a training programme in the medical field, etc. The goal here was to demonstrate that knowing your learning style is immensely useful on an individual level, to unleash your learning potential through the choice of a learning programme which is truly motivating. It also comes in very handy within academic or professional coaching settings, to prevent students from falling behind or to understand frequent school dropouts. Within companies, learning style is crucial in defining training needs to guarantee the continued success of employees and to keep teams performing at top capacity.