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Learning Styles and 'True Love'

By Charlie Badenhop
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What do you think draws you to some people, while keeping you separate from others? Would you be surprised if I told you it might have to do with the way you learn?

I had a couple see me for counseling a number of years ago. The wife was dressed quite stylishly and exuded a strong presence the moment she walked in the room. Her husband on the other hand was dressed quite casually and I wasn't sure if he had combed his hair since getting up. He had earphones on and was still listening to music as he entered my office.

The "problem" they presented was - after five years of marriage, they were both feeling they didn't have much in common, which included liking very different leisure activities. The clearest statement the wife made about her model of the world was, "Beauty and order gives me a sense of both exhilaration and serenity, a feeling that all is well." The husband, who was a voice coach, said that "Listening to good music is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Music is the language of the gods."

After watching and listening, I realized they were very much the same in their common interest and appreciation for "beauty". It was how they went about appreciating and expressing "beauty" that created their seeming "problem". The wife loved graphic art and fashion, the husband loved symphony music and jazz. In a classroom they would almost certainly exhibit different learning styles. The husband would likely be content listening to a lecture, while the wife would likely prefer slides, graphs, and other visual stimuli. Why is this? Because the sensory experiences of everyday life you are most drawn to, are the sensory experiences that will best help you to learn. Makes a good deal of sense doesn't it?

As it often does, "luck" plaid a part in my work with this couple. In between sessions I saw an article about an upcoming show at a gallery that involved a live interaction between a video artist and a jazz pianist. The video artist flashed images on a large screen in "conversation" with the improvisations by the pianist. I suggested they attend the performance, and report back to me on their experience. Can you guess what happened? The husband loved the music and had little memory of the video graphics. The wife was just the opposite! The good news is they both enjoyed themselves immensely, which was an important change for the both of them.

Over the course of time, I taught them how to expand their common love of beauty, by discovering in the world of their partner, aspects of beauty they had been failing to notice. One method we used was this: I had the wife list what led her to experience "beauty" in the visual realm. She came up with terms like "majestic", "bold" and "the tension between symmetry and asymmetry." I then had the husband share with his wife, music he liked that he felt had these same qualities. Later we reversed the process. The husband made his list and the wife found corresponding visual art. It was gratifying to see how they rediscovered their appreciation and love for each other as they found "beauty" in the realm of their partner.

There was one more experience I suggested they share with each other at home - taking turns expressing "beautiful touching" with each other. This turned out to be the icing on the cake, as they both once again experienced how their partner truly added to the richness of their life.

One useful way of considering "thought processing" or "learning styles" is to consider how we use our senses when learning. Even though people have the potential to input information through any one or a combination of all of their senses - seeing (visual), hearing (auditory), touch, physical sensation (proprioceptive), smell (olfactory), and taste (gustatory) - they generally process information primarily through only one or two of their senses when learning. You might never forget a person's name, but find it impossible to remember the color of their eyes, or you might have an excellent feel for the kind of person you are meeting, but remember little else. In personal relationships, what this means is:

  1. If you know of someone that you have difficulty getting along with, chances are you will find that they process information and learn differently than you do. Why is this? Well if for no other reason, people with different learning styles notice and are affected by different aspects of life. In other words, different information processing and learning strategies will lead to a different experience of life, just like growing up in an inner city environment will give you a different outlook on life then growing up in the countryside.

    Somewhat unfortunately, we tend to think there is something wrong with people that do not perceive the world as we do. We often tend to think such people are lazy, stupid, uncaring, unintelligent, etc. In reality, in most cases it is simply that the other person has a different learning style, and thus notices portions of their surroundings that their partner tends to miss.

  2. The aspects of our life that we do notice are the aspects of our life that tend to interest and excite us. What you do not notice or remember, you will not learn from, or find interest in. Because of this, you might struggle to find leisure activities that you enjoy taking part in with the person you care most about.
  3. The good news is - if you stay open to alternate versions of reality, you can find that you are enriched by being with people that relate to the world differently than you. Two heads are not necessarily better than one, if both people think and perceive in exactly the same manner. You can learn a lot about the world and become a good deal wiser, by being with people that process life differently than you do.
Nursery school, kindergarten, and early primary school learning are usually mainly proprioceptively oriented as we get the children to learn by doing. Later in primary school, learning switches to being much more visual in nature, as we show the students what we want them to learn by placing it up on the blackboard. As we get into high school and particularly college, learning usually requires good auditory skills as the teacher lectures on what it is you are to learn. Some people will do well in this kind of auditory environment, and others will struggle, because the information is not presented in a format that matches their learning style. The best form of teaching involves combining different forms of instruction (visual, auditory, and proprioceptive) to match the different learning styles of the students.

Highly successful management teams often consist of people who each learn and process information differently so that every aspect of a situation is taken into account. For instance, it is well known that visionary leaders are often poorly equipped to run the day to day operations of a company, because they tend to focus on the big picture and not on details.

The challenge of working with a group of people who have different learning styles is twofold. First, people in the group need to have a deep appreciation for differences of opinion. Second, people need to learn how to communicate in a way that can be understood by people with different ways of thinking. This often takes a fair amount of training.

What you like and who you like very definitely depends on what portions of your life you habitually attend to. The better able you are to tap into various streams of information, the fuller your life will tend to be.

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