- Know your learning style.
- Know how to match your style to the circumstances.
- Use the gauge-discover-reflect framework.
Principles of management courses typically combine knowledge about skills and the development and application of those skills themselves. For these reasons, it is helpful for you to develop your own strategy for learning about and developing management skills. The first part of this strategy should be based on your own disposition toward learning. The second part of this strategy should follow some form of the gauge-discover-reflect process that we outline at the end of this section.
Assess Your Learning Style
You can assess your learning style in a number of ways. At a very general level, you can assess your style intuitively (see “What Is Your Intuition about Your Learning Style?”); however, we suggest that you use a survey instrument like the Learning Style Index (LSI), the output from which you can then readily compare with your intuition. In this section, we discuss the dimensions of the LSI that you can complete easily and quickly online (Soloman & Felder, 2008). The survey will reveal whether your learning style is active or reflective, sensory or intuitive, visual or verbal, and sequential or global. 1
What Is Your Intuition About Your Learning Style?
Your learning style may be defined in large part by the answers to four questions:
- How do you prefer to process information: actively—through engagement in physical activity or discussion? Or reflectively—through introspection?
- What type of information do you preferentially perceive: sensory (external)—sights, sounds, physical sensations? Or intuitive (internal)—possibilities, insights, hunches?
- Through which sensory channel is external information most effectively perceived: visual—pictures, diagrams, graphs, demonstrations? Or verbal—words, sounds? (Other sensory channels like touch, taste, and smell are relatively untapped in most educational environments, and are not considered here.)
- How do you progress toward understanding: sequentially—in continual steps? Or globally—in large jumps, holistically?
TRY IT OUT HERE: http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html
Active and Reflective Learners
Everybody is active sometimes and reflective sometimes. Your preference for one category or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. A balance of the two is desirable. If you always act before reflecting, you can jump into things prematurely and get into trouble, while if you spend too much time reflecting, you may never get anything done.
“Let’s try it out and see how it works” is an active learner’s phrase; “Let’s think it through first” is the reflective learner’s response. If you are an active learner, you tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it—discussing it, applying it, or explaining it to others. Reflective learners prefer to think about it quietly first.
Sitting through lectures without getting to do anything physical but take notes is hard for both learning types but particularly hard for active learners. Active learners tend to enjoy group work more than reflective learners, who prefer working alone.
Sensing and Intuitive Learners
Everybody is sensing sometimes and intuitive sometimes. Here too, your preference for one or the other may be strong, moderate, or mild. To be effective as a learner and problem solver, you need to be able to function both ways. If you overemphasize intuition, you may miss important details or make careless mistakes in calculations or hands-on work; if you overemphasize sensing, you may rely too much on memorization and familiar methods and not concentrate enough on understanding and innovative thinking.
Even if you need both, which one best reflects you? Sensors often like solving problems by well-established methods and dislike complications and surprises; intuitors like innovation and dislike repetition. Sensors are more likely than intuitors to resent being tested on material that has not been explicitly covered in class. Sensing learners tend to like learning facts; intuitive learners often prefer discovering possibilities and relationships.
Sensors tend to be patient with details and good at memorizing facts and doing hands-on (laboratory) work; intuitors may be better at grasping new concepts and are often more comfortable than sensors with abstractions and mathematical formulations. Sensors tend to be more practical and careful than intuitors; intuitors tend to work faster and to be more innovative than sensors.
Sensors don’t like courses that have no apparent connection to the real world (so if you are sensor, you should love principles of management!); intuitors don’t like “plug-and-chug” courses that involve a lot of memorization and routine calculations.
Visual and Verbal Learners
In most college classes, very little visual information is presented: students mainly listen to lectures and read material written on whiteboards, in textbooks, and on handouts. Unfortunately, most of us are visual learners, which means that we typically do not absorb nearly as much information as we would if more visual presentation were used in class. Effective learners are capable of processing information presented either visually or verbally.
Visual learners remember best what they see—pictures, diagrams, flowcharts, time lines, films, and demonstrations. Verbal learners get more out of words—written and spoken explanations. Everyone learns more when information is presented both visually and verbally.
Sequential and Global Learners
Sequential learners tend to follow logical, stepwise paths in finding solutions; global learners may be able to solve complex problems quickly or put things together in novel ways once they have grasped the big picture, but they may have difficulty explaining how they did it. Sequential learners tend to gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one. Global learners tend to learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly “getting it.”
Many people who read this description may conclude incorrectly that they are global since everyone has experienced bewilderment followed by a sudden flash of understanding. What makes you global or not is what happens before the light bulb goes on. Sequential learners may not fully understand the material, but they can nevertheless do something with it (like solve the homework problems or pass the test) since the pieces they have absorbed are logically connected. Strongly global learners who lack good sequential thinking abilities, however, may have serious difficulties until they have the big picture. Even after they have it, they may be fuzzy about the details of the subject, while sequential learners may know a lot about specific aspects of a subject but may have trouble relating them to different aspects of the same subject or to different subjects.