The Basis of Learning

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Some education experts claim that there are as many as seven types of learners, most agree that there are three primary types:

  1. audio learners
  2. visual learners
  3. kinesthetic learners

Audio or “listening” learners are often mistakenly accused as having some form of attention deficit. You probably remember (if it’s not you) the type. They may have sat through an entire semester with their head down, apparently sleeping, yet they somehow magically earned good marks when it came to test time. When asked if they understand, they’ll often reply something to the effect: “I hear you.”

Visual learners, on the other hand, usually have to “see it to believe it” and the point of understanding is often marked with the phrase “I see what you’re saying.” They also tend to be the notetakers who try to record every word and they learn primarily through the written word.

Kinesthetic learners, on the other hand, learn better by doing. They prefer to take a hands-on approach and actively explore the world around them. They may be accused of being fidgets, as they are prone to become distracted by the need for physical activity and exploration.

No matter what your learning style, it is clear to me that if involvement is lacking, you are not likely to learn much of anything. Involvement is a two way street. Teachers, instructors, mentors, parents and bosses must find ways to involve those they’re teaching in the learning process.

A teacher-friend told me about an eight year old child who interrupted a monotone and long-winded lesson from another teacher with a dangerously disrespectful “blah, blah, blah…” When asked by his teacher why he said that, he said “Well, if you’re not excited about what you are teaching, why should I be interested in it?” To involve others in a learning process, you are wise to be involved and passionate about what you’re teaching.

Many students lose interest in the subject at hand or school in general due to an instructor who has failed to convey his or her passion about the topic. That said, the uncommon student can thrive in any learning situation. If you are passionate about learning, you will find a way to learn. They don’t excuse themselves based on the fact that they were dealt a bad hand, a bad schedule, the worst teachers or any other person, place or thing typically targeted by a wagging and accusatory finger.

A good teacher will find a way to use his passion to ignite the tinder of understanding in his students. Doing so is not always easy, especially when you are presenting to a number of people who each have slightly different learning styles.

To be a good speaker and teacher, you must be first and foremost a good listener. You must hear, see and feel where your students are to be able to guide them to where you know they can be. You may pique the interest of your visual learners with a good graphic, but a good story might be more effective at reaching the audio learners in the room. Props are often useful, especially when they demonstrate the principle being discussed to your more kinesthetically-inclined students or employees.

The art of teaching is as much an art as it is science. It requires skillful application of the various principles involved, and rarely does the same approach work for two different groups. I cringe when I hear about videos replacing professors in undergraduate university courses, for exactly this reason.

The next time you are in a learning or teaching position, find a way to make what would otherwise be an average experience, exceptional. Touch the hearts of your students or if you’re in the other shoes, open your heart to the enthusiasm of your instructor. Enjoy!

17 thoughts on “The Basis of Learning

  1. Colin

    What an informative post. I am a distinctly audio learner, which I found good because whether or not the teacher showed or let us interact directly with the subject, they always talked about it. In fact, I think that schools are very biased towards my type of learning, probably because it is cheaper and easier to talk about something. I would love to see schools branch out, however. There is room for every kind of learner, and I believe our education system falls very short. I was excited to hear some of the TED presentations about this subject that you have posted in the past. They have good ideas, and hopefully their forum for dispersion will allow some of these ideas to actually come to fruition. Thanks again!


  2. jaymorrow

    I remember in high school being taught by teachers that were trained to teach another subject but taught the one there was a job opening for. Even as a kid I understood the necessity but felt the disconnect. It wasn’t so much they didn’t know the subject but they didn’t love it, thus the class was boring, rote and lacked any spark to ignite my interest.
    Teaching anything does require immersion, if not from actual experience than at the least your sincere interest. I did have one remarkable teacher that was actually a PE teacher who ended up teaching history. It was as if he was in the class as well. His journey of discovering history made that class one of the most outstanding. I remember him saying more kids received high grades that year from him then in any previous year. He used the same tests that all the teachers used but his students were engaged with the material. I’ve never forgotten that and as a result have looked for that in teachers. I’ve also realized when I was teaching it was the “secret” to success.
    Great post Gregg, thanks.


  3. mchoya

    I’m not a teacher in the professional sense but this is fascinating information and “I see” how it will increase my empathy in working with others and being sensitive to how they may best learn and receive.


  4. Brad

    Great opening quote from Mr. Franklin!
    Thinking back on the teachers I had in school, I was certainly more engaged if their enthusiasm was high and “heart” involved. And I feel that you are right on, the student also has a responsibility – to get passionate!
    When we look at reshaping our educational system these two points would be a great place to start rather than the finger pointing that tends to dominate.
    We all need to take more personal responsibility.


    1. Gregg Hake

      I agree. That shift would probably need to start with the way we educate our future teachers. At the moment I fear we are dimming their enthusiasm more than stimulating it!


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