In recent years there has been growing interest in how different people learn so that learning opportunities can be designed that match personal preferences and styles. There are various theories of learning but most agree that people learn best when certain conditions apply, for instance:
The learner is motivated to learn (‘you can take a horse to water…’). The learning medium (e.g. training course, book) suits the learner’s preferences. The environment (e.g. classroom, workplace) is conducive to learning.
People are, of course, motivated to learn for all kinds of reasons. Some people seek out learning opportunities because they want to gain a qualification, others because their job is changing and they need to learn new things, others simply because they get a buzz from the experience of learning itself.
If you or a colleague are struggling with the prospect of learning, consider what might make the effort worthwhile for you and try to building motivational rewards into your own learning programme. Some people find that producing a Personal Development Plan helps them to structure learning into busy working lives whilst others prefer a more spontaneous, ad hoc approach.
The learning medium has been the subject of much research and study and relates to what has become known as personal learning styles. It is worth having a glance through the four categories outlined below and to consider which you are able to identify with most easily.
People of a theorist disposition tend to prefer to learn theory first and then apply it to their own circumstances afterwards. Theorists will often choose to learn by attending lectures, reading books or engaging in study programmes.
People of a pragmatic disposition tend to prefer to learn by working on issues or problems that have immediate, practical application. Pragmatists will often choose to learn by doing on the job training, joining action learning groups or taking part in practical skills workshops.
People of a reflector disposition tend to prefer to learn in situations where they have opportunity to mull over ideas in order to unearth underlying issues, meanings and significance. Reflectors will often choose to learn by observing, conducting research, taking a back seat in discussion groups or producing reports.
People of an activist disposition tend to prefer to learn in situations where they have opportunity to get involved in here‐and‐now activities, jump in first and think on their feet. Activists will often choose to learn by working on assignments that involve excitement, challenge and physical engagement.
Learning environments link to learning styles because different sorts of environment will appeal to people with different learning styles. This presents obvious challenges when designing a learning event for a group of people and the most common compromise is to try to create an environment that has different components (e.g. quiet places, activity spaces) and to allow maximum degree of freedom of choice.