Learn­ing styles are cer­tain­ly some­thing we should all be aware of with young chil­dren but I think we should also work out how each of us learns as an adult. What are our strengths and weak­ness­es? How could we learn from col­leagues, those in a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion (old­er or younger)? 

Cer­tain teach­ing meth­ods fos­ter spe­cif­ic ways of learn­ing – rote mem­o­ri­sa­tion is still pop­u­lar (despite much research indi­cat­ing there are bet­ter ways to learn) and when car­ried to the extreme I believe we end up with indi­vid­u­als with banks of dis­con­nect­ed pieces of infor­ma­tion. In my expe­ri­ence those stu­dents seem inca­pable of inde­pen­dent­ly con­nect­ing the pieces of what­ev­er they’ve learned or any new infor­ma­tion that might (rarely it seems!) come into their brains. 

I have become an avid adult learn­er. As a young child I was report­ed­ly ‘an ear­ly read­er’ and at pri­ma­ry school I was always in the top four in our class in a small school which sad­ly only offered what was then called the 3‑R’s (read­ing, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic). But I cer­tain­ly didn’t know how I learned; I’m not sure any­one else did either. 

Regret­tably the push to read to your child seems to have obscured the art of teach­ing a child to actu­al­ly speak — first! There is more to learn­ing to speak than sim­ply being read to and when a child speaks well it does­n’t hap­pen by accident.

Where then does that leave me learn­ing as an adult? I now know I have a very visu­al mem­o­ry – proven (I believe!) by the fact that I sel­dom ‘put any­thing away’. If I do so I won’t ‘see’ the item days lat­er and con­se­quent­ly won’t be able to find it! I have had to learn a lot since I left school at 18 and am very glad that I’ve had the time and incli­na­tion to do so…my own way. Despite attend­ing four years of col­lege, start­ing ‘late’ at age 22 to qual­i­fy as a teacher, most of my learn­ing has tak­en place in the past 35 years in the evenings as an avid read­er, large­ly pre-internet.

I def­i­nite­ly learn and inter­pret what I learn dif­fer­ent­ly from my peers and most cer­tain­ly from many of those a gen­er­a­tion much younger than me, except for my sons. I find myself fre­quent­ly apol­o­gis­ing to my sons for how they were taught. Both are life long learn­ers with some quite dif­fer­ent skill sets but oth­er skills in com­mon, and hav­ing been taught to think dif­fer­ent­ly have more aware­ness of their own and oth­ers’ dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles.

I know I taught them to nev­er stop learn­ing, no mat­ter the sub­ject, the source or how they learned the infor­ma­tion. They find it a chal­lenge with their 20 and 30-some­thing friends – no one seems to apply any lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, use their ini­tia­tive, take up the cud­gel if you will, and get things done or accom­plished. They always seem to be the dri­ving force behind any ven­ture they are part of. Always seem­ing to under­stand the nuances, the con­nec­tions, the details that mat­ter between all the rel­e­vant parts of the puz­zle and capa­ble of think­ing things through, often quite quick­ly, and final­ly accom­plish­ing the goal.

I too was able to think, but taught not to ques­tion, despite “I know but……” being one of my stock queries at age 5. Thus most of my desire to real­ly learn stag­nat­ed until I reached my ear­ly 20’s and was free to learn my own way. Of course I strug­gled at the col­lege lev­el because I had a fair­ly poor foun­da­tion for learn­ing despite (or because of?) attend­ing aca­d­e­m­ic schools for 14 years. Being ‘an ear­ly read­er’ was­n’t an asset, my read­ing com­pre­hen­sion was always very poor. Yet it turns out that com­pre­hen­sion is one of the essen­tials of even very ear­ly learning.

Where com­pre­hen­sion fits in the learn­ing puz­zle became clear­er to me when my youngest son was eval­u­at­ed, year­ly, by a cer­ti­fied teacher for our home edu­ca­tion pro­gramme. She was con­fused by the high lev­el of his com­pre­hen­sion at 5 years of age and his rel­a­tive­ly low lev­el of read­ing abil­i­ty – appar­ent­ly, accord­ing to stan­dard teach­ing lore, ‘you don’t have com­pre­hen­sion if you can’t read’!

Which means that many teach­ers wouldn’t under­stand that babies around age 12 months, some­times ear­li­er, can have a very high lev­el of recep­tive lan­guage or com­pre­hen­sion (they clear­ly under­stand what you are say­ing to them or ask­ing them to do) way before they are capa­ble of an equiv­a­lent and appro­pri­ate response in expres­sive lan­guage (speech). They are learn­ing aural­ly and visu­al­ly – by lis­ten­ing and see­ing and inter­pret­ing the world around them. Very young chil­dren learn most effi­cient­ly when the adult they are with is pas­sion­ate about being with them and watch­ing them learn. 

Hav­ing devel­oped so much under­stand­ing of child devel­op­ment in the past 30+ years my skills in read­ing, writ­ing and learn­ing my way have become greater since those days in my ear­ly 20’s when I strug­gled to keep up with those I thought of as the much brighter sparks at my British teacher train­ing col­lege. It didn’t come eas­i­ly to me but I did learn a lot and I final­ly brought my latent abil­i­ty to think into play.

Since that time I have tak­en new paths, not dared tak­en by many oth­ers before me or since. Each path required con­tin­u­ous learn­ing — I read, I com­mu­ni­cat­ed with oth­ers and then I thought and rea­soned every­thing out. 

My dif­fer­ent learn­ing skills have launched two sons into the world through our home edu­ca­tion pro­gramme – well able to adapt and also to be lead­ers and teach­ers. Our fam­i­ly also became the reha­bil­i­ta­tion and med­ical super­vi­so­ry team for my husband’s sur­vival and recov­ery – he’s a real mir­a­cle; we did it!

With my learn­ing skills and teach­ing skills I’ve tak­en a cou­ple of young chil­dren from devel­op­men­tal delay sta­tus (lack­ing lan­guage, hav­ing anx­i­ety attacks, hand flap­ping and poor eye con­tact being among their miss­ing puz­zle pieces) to being main­streamed into school.

I’ve helped man­aged the cas­es and oth­er­wise helped three 90-some­things and one 100-some­thing (two with Alzheimers, the third a stroke vic­tim and the last a care­giv­er for her 50-some­thing Downs syn­drome son) and made the qual­i­ty of their wan­ing years much bet­ter than they would oth­er­wise have been. I’ve offered respite care to sev­er­al Down’s syn­drome adults and children.

I would now say that my learn­ing style and my teach­ing style are intu­itive as well as visu­al. As a result I also find it fair­ly easy to tai­lor what I know to the per­son I’m teach­ing. I can inte­grate top­ics and sit­u­a­tions with each age group tak­ing into account any of their spe­cial needs and get my point across. I can home in on what they need most at any one time, regard­less of their age and all ‘my stu­dents’ respond positively.

Now I can say that ‘alone’ and ‘one-on-one’ are two of my best per­son­al learn­ing styles and it turns out that ‘one-on-one’ is also my best and most pro­duc­tive teach­ing mode. Do you think it’s a coincidence?

What do you know and how do you learn? What are your learn­ing styles?