Engaging all learning styles

Dear Dr. Karyn,

I loved your article last month on understanding learning styles. I could tell my 10-year old learned differently but didn’t have the words to describe it. Can you tell me more tips on how to connect and communicate to my son who is a visual learner? Also I’m a manager at a mid-size law firm and have noticed that several of the lawyers I work with seem to also learn differently from myself. Can you share some tips on how to connect to all types of learners?

The key to communicating (and engaging) our kids, spouses, colleagues, friends and even employers is to understand and maximize all three learning styles. Here are three tips! Enjoy!

Maximize visual learning

Visual learners are energized and engaged through seeing a visual! Having a parent, teacher or boss tell them orally what they need to do will go in one ear and out the other! Pictures, metaphors, graphs, videos, and acronyms work great for teaching and engaging this type of learner.

Here’s a great example for how this works: Last weekend I went to the cottage for a “girls weekend — no boys allowed” with three of my closest girlfriends. It was the first time that I had to open up our new cottage by myself, and my husband (who knows how I learn) prepared instructions for me in my learning style. He, being auditory, wrote out the instructions in three pages with the 15 different steps I needed to do, but right beside the words he drew pictures (I’m not kidding) for various switches that I had to turn on.

After he had gone over the 15 steps with me at home, he asked me to teach it back to him (this is my kinesthetic style of learning) to make sure I had understood the steps properly!

Similarly, when I train counselors at our Leadership and Counseling Center, I tell them you can start off with auditory and explain concepts to clients orally, but if you have a visual client, you need to get up and start using your chalkboard or whiteboard so that clients can SEE what you are talking about. One of my associates said that when he started doing this he saw an immediate difference in one client’s energy (a visual learner) by simply enabling him to see in picture form what he was referring to!

Maximize kinesthetic learning

Kinesthetic learners are energized and engaged through doing; too much talking and you will see their energy melt away! I also mentioned last month that kinesthetic students often doodle in class on their notebooks (as a way to keep engaged). This type of learner is energized by role-playing, projects, games, group work, experiments that involve getting out of their seats, frequent breaks, and various tools that they can use with their hands including modeling clay, puzzles, drawing materials and computers.

One of the best strategies I learned for myself in eighth grade was to get myself a chalkboard! I had recently become aware of my learning tendencies, and my dad came home one day when I was 13 years old, and told me he had a gift for me in the garage. When I walked in there I saw an authentic old chalkboard, made out of slate and weighing more than 120 pounds. He explained that he had been driving in the country, and noticed an old church and schoolhouse that was being demolished with this beautiful old chalkboard inside.

The custodian said he could have it since it was going to be destroyed anyway, and my dad explained that because I was a kinesthetic learner, he thought it would be a great tool for me to use to study my schoolwork on. That chalkboard made a dramatic shift in my level of engagement and stayed with me throughout high school, grade school, graduate and doctorate studies, and it remains in my office in Toronto today!

If you are working with kinesthetic learners, I think all bedrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms should have chalkboards or whiteboards. Thankfully, you don’t need to find a 100-year-old chalkboard — instead, just go to Home Depot and get yourself a $15 can of chalkboard paint to do the trick! Not only does this strategy help with learning and engagement — but it looks fabulous as well!

Maximize auditory learning

Auditory learners are energized and engaged through words and hearing! Too much talking de-energizes visual and kinesthetic learners, but talking too slow will de-energize auditory learners. They usually pick up quickly what parents, teachers, and bosses are saying and will get bored (and disengaged) if the information is not being taught fast enough. These auditory learners are energized by those who can teach the information quickly, can get to the point (don’t go on and on), who allow them to work at their own speed (and ideally work ahead), and who know their material (they have an enormous respect for “smart” teachers and bosses).

In addition, these types of learners appreciate any opportunity to read information in a written forum (textbooks, notes), often while listening to music. My husband, who is a strong auditory learner, describes school as incredibly easy and too slow. Thankfully, he had several teachers who understood that he was gifted and allowed him to work ahead on various subjects, which he credits with keeping him engaged!

A lot of auditory learners find French immersion quite helpful because they have the challenge of learning two languages. As I shared last month, the challenge for auditory learners is usually not in learning the material, but rather to be self-disciplined (an emotional intelligence muscle). One of the reasons I created our Dare to Dream event was specifically for this type of learner — to help them engage with their life and start working on developing that self-discipline muscle (which is 100 percent learned)!

Maximize all three styles

Obviously it’s a lot easier to address learning styles if you are working one-on-one. But how do you address this to a group of students, clients, or employees, obviously with a mixture of needs? The key is to make sure you are always speaking according to all three learning styles!

For example, when I give keynotes to 500 people (remember, 80 percent are visual and kinesthetic learners) I will make sure I use skits, role-playing, games (yes, even for adults!), visuals, Power-Point slides, and video to illustrate my points.

As a speaker, a teacher, or a parent, when you learn to tap into all three learning styles of your audience you will see an enormous increase in the engagement level! Including elements specifically for each type will ensure you are maximizing all styles!

Dr. Karyn Gordon is one of North America’s leading relationship and parenting experts. She is a regular contributor to “Good Morning America,” founder of dk Leadership, best-selling author of “Dr. Karyn’s Guide To The Teen Years” (Harper Collins), and motivational speaker to a quarter of a million people. Visit her at www.dklea‌dersh‌ip.org and on Twitter: @DrKarynGordon.