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Learning Styles on the Job

by Marcia L. Conner

In the past ten years my husband and I have moved across the country four times and built then sold as many homes. With each move, we meet terrific realtors seeking the best ways to market our property and edge out the competition. Because my work focuses on helping people understand the role that learning plays in personal productivity and success, I have shared this perspective with our realtors who have commented that they are overwhelmed with an increase in new information to read and learn. By assessing how you learn, youíll understand how you are likely to respond under different circumstances and how to attain information in a way that best addresses your particular needs. The more you discover about your natural way of learning, the easier it will be to overcome information overload and communicate with other people.

We each have a personal learning style that we rely every day even if we have never examined how we learn best. In their simplest terms, we take in information and learn through sight (visual), by sound or speech (auditory), or by touch and movement (tactile/kinesthetic). We favor one of these senses and process information most effectively through it although we can benefit from information that comes to us through other means too.

If youíre a visual learner, you prefer to look at what youíre learning. Pictures almost certainly help you understand ideas and information better than text or verbal explanations do. Rather than listen to what someone says, you may find yourself watching the speaker. Telephone conversations might be difficult because youíre so accustomed to getting visual cues from people while they talk. To learn, donít just stare at a page. Move your body and your eyes to heighten your visual perception and your comprehension.

Charlie almost flunked out of school because he drew pictures and maps instead of writing or reading his assignments. He never did find a way to succeed in academia, but he now makes a good living as a commercial realtor where he can draw floor plans and help his corporate clients visualize how a space will look when they move in.

If youíre an auditory learner, you prefer listening or talking when youíre learning. The most common type of auditory learner, the auditory listener, learns by listening to other people and may even carry on mental conversations and resolve problems by thinking back on what people have said. The less common type of auditory learner, the verbal processor, likes to say what he or she is thinking. If youíre a verbal processor, you may know intuitively that until you say something aloud or at least move your lips, youíre not quite certain of your thoughts or their implications.

Susan, a young mortgage broker, spends the early morning reading the newspaper and then adds another dimension to what she has read by listening to the news on the radio. By using two different auditory techniques together, she remembers more and can use one method to help her focus on the other.

Henry, owner of a growing leasing business, talks his way through nearly every meeting. He even talks to himself when heís alone in the car. An auditory learner who processes information best by verbalizing it, he keeps track of details this way and figures out what needs to happen next by giving voice to his thoughts. He sometimes has trouble with colleagues, who doubt his abilities, because they assume he talks to himself because heís nervous. Actually, he talks more when heís comfortable, and talking helps him to understand situations in more meaningful ways.

If youíre a tactile/kinesthetic learner, you incorporate information through touch and movement. As a result, you may not thrive in traditional work environments because there arenít enough opportunities to hold things or move around. In school, classroom discussions and written materials probably frustrated you, but you most likely caught up and even jump ahead during lab time.

Faye, an energetic residential realtor, loves her job most when sheís walking around houses, running her hands over the walls, or touching the upholstery of a couch. Although she learns a little from her clients when they set up their appointment on the phone, she knows she will understand them better when they walk around a home together.

Put this to work today
If your primary learning style is visual, draw pictures in the margins of books youíre reading, look at the graphics, and read the text that explains the graphics. Online, envision the topic in your thoughts.

If your primary learning style is auditory, listen to the words you read. Try to develop an internal conversation between you and the text. Donít be embarrassed to read aloud or talk through the information.

If your primary learning style is tactile/kinesthetic, in printed text use a pencil or highlighter pen to mark passages that are meaningful to you. From online text, take notes, transferring the information you into your journal. Doodle. Whenever possible, walk around as you read. Feel the words and ideas. Get busyóboth mentally and physically.

By appreciating your own style, you can also begin to look from otherís perspectives and more easily help everyone learn. None of us learns in only one way but by honing in our strengths and preferences, we can remember more of what we learn and make learning and meeting with others more efficient, effective, and enjoyable.

Marcia L. Conner is a facilitator, coach, and writer living in Virginia. She is author of Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster (Wiley, 2004) and the forthcoming Creating a Learning Culture (Cambridge, 2004). Reach her directly at

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