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How Connecting Different Learning Styles Leads to Career Success

How Connecting Different Learning Styles Leads to Career Success

How we define our career success is different from one person to the next, or at least should be different.

Many define career success through wealth symbols likened to those glossy images of The Robb Report containing pages of plush houses, luxury cars and superyachts. Others such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett seek other measures of career success, now giving significant amounts of their wealth away to charity.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy documented in 2017 that since the year 2000, Gates and Buffett donated $18 billion and $65.5 billion respectively. Their career success milestones now contain a stronger philanthropic foundation.

Whether or not you define your career success by the size of your bank account, the car you drive, your role title, level of accountability or the emotional and personal satisfaction you feel at the day’s end, one thing in common: you have to learn how to become that person that can obtain that.

Here’s where getting a strong handle on your learning styles really matters if you want to gain faster momentum on your career success pathway. You have to be highly familiar with what works for you and adapt where you can.

In our haste to achieve our personal definition of career success, we look for shortcuts to accelerate our progress pathway. If only we could learn faster…. if only. Well, we can!

The major connection between different learning styles and career success is actually a formula of awareness, variety, timing and being savvy in choosing the right combination of styles to meet your growth challenges.

Knowing our learning styles gives us great advantages but not in the way we might currently think.

The Myth About Questionnaire Scores and Labels

In climbing the corporate ladder, you might have undertaken three or four personality profile assessments such DISC, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or others. You complete a self-report questionnaire such as the VARK to help your new manager determine the best ways to help teach you.

The report you receive describes your preference of learning as a unique combination of visual, aural (auditory and verbal), read/written and kinesthetic preferences.

The most commonly cited learning styles tend to be the following:

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  • Visual – use of diagrams, pictures, symbols and videos or demonstrations;
  • Auditory – talking and listening;
  • Kinesthetic – practical, tactile, doing activities hands-on.

The questionnaire (any questionnaire for that matter) is designed to categorize our responses. Learning style assessments usually reveal we have a prevalence of at least two styles.

If we look at other research and assessment tools, we discover different perspectives on how our learning styles should be recognized. (See Yale Center for Teaching and Learning for additional learning style descriptions.)

What we need to recognize is that these categorizing labels are not absolute across all circumstances and all subjects. In fact, researchers encourage we remember that there is great variability even within the labels.

You might prefer singing karaoke style as you listen to songs you love rather than watch video music clips. However, when it comes to learning ballroom dance moves, you find it easier to watch someone model the foot positions first in the classic waltz before you attempt them yourself rather than listen to someone describe how you undertake the step-sequence.

Wrong and Right Ways to Use Learning Style Questionnaire Results

Reading through the questionnaire report you feel validated and understood. You feel such relief when you read the summary and discover the reason you found math so hard was because the teacher did not teach you in the style you best learn. “They didn’t know how to teach me in a different way that best suited me!”

Here is mistake number one:

Your score doesn’t indicate how you best learn. It indicates how you prefer to learn.

You then apply a blanket conclusion that your report’s summary is all you need to know to best learn in all situations and fast track your career progression.

Here is mistake number two:

Making generalizations can actually be limiting.

Whilst research reports that individuals develop a stronger understanding of their learning preferences,[1] there is no clear evidence yet that simply choosing learning formats that match your preference will improve our learning capability or speed of learning.[2]

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This is not bad news!

Undertaking such questionnaires isn’t worthless but rather a way to recognize you have certain ways of learning which are more comfortable for you to learn. You can figure out how to make learning simple, easier and more enjoyable. That’s a big plus!

Research shows that students encouraged to think about how they learn actually achieve better learning outcomes. They are encouraged to reflect on how they drew conclusions and made connections and as such integrate the information better.

Take Richard Branson for example, with a dyslexia diagnosis, there were clear learning limitations for him. Whilst he probably would not have scored highly on the aural subscale of the VARK , he does credit dyslexia for being one of his greatest assets.

Branson has said he learned to delegate and communicate better and that due to these ‘limitations’, he realized he needed to work in ways that made business simple and easy for him. Branson might score more highly on a writing subscale!

    He has described his signature management technique to be his constant note-taking because remembering what people said was always too challenging. He takes a notebook everywhere.

    How to Choose Your Personal Best Combination of Learning Styles

    Educators and researchers have found we actually learn better when we apply a variety of learning styles.

    Listen to a podcast, write notes, view a video and complete a workbook on a topic you need or want to learn. You are likely to have a stronger grasp and retention of the information than if you were to engage only one or two of those options.

    There are more types of processing taking place which allow you to store and be able to apply the information better. The increased quality of engagement with your topic facilitates better learning.

    As you think of the steps in climbing the corporate ladder, each rung has inevitable increasing demands. Better skills in guiding and coaching your team, wider knowledge, thinking faster and effectively on your feet, analyzing comprehensive data and reports swiftly are but a few of the growth steps you must master.

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    Think back to situations where you have felt similar levels and types of challenge and ask yourself:

    “How did I learn then? What styles do I feel worked best for me? What should I have done differently?”

    The pattern of learning styles which you applied then are patterns you can use as a framework now. But don’t stop there. Modify, strengthen and build on them.

    A mix of preferred learning styles & less preferred styles will accelerate growth.

    Let’s consider the example of your needing to present a pitch to a potential client for new business. It’s a skill you’ve only seen contract paperwork for as a client administrator but the next step on the path to your career success is a business development role.

    You MUST prove your capability in this opportunity to show you’re worthy and deserving of promotion.

    What learning styles help you grow to demonstrate you’re the best person your company should put forward to win the client? You have the following options:

    1. Practice speaking the actual pitch to a group of friends. You would rather eat dog food for dinner than stand up in front of a group of people and speak but you know that role-playing is the closest simulation of doing the pitch;
    2. Practice your pitch to your dog. He will love you unconditionally anyway despite how you perform and will be even happier if you choose not to eat his dinner;
    3. Practice pitching to your work associates who are successful business development managers. Be sure to have your Wonder Woman or Captain America shield ready to protect you from painful but helpful feedback;
    4. Buy books and read literature about ways to make an effective pitch;
    5. Watch YouTube videos about how to make an effective pitch.

    Let’s pretend you’re identified as being a strong visual and verbal learner. The opportunities to only use these styles are either unavailable or limited. You feel sick about knowing to role-play and know the kinesthetic route is the most viable road to take.

    But that may not be the only way. Functional MRIs have now shown that our brains don’t actually know the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined. Research has also shown that physical performance can improve when we simulate the practice of ideal performance using visualization and imagery.

    You don’t only imagine seeing the movie scene of you delivering the perfect pitch. You also imagine feeling extremely confident, calm, have a sense of knowing that you deserve this opportunity and see in your mind the clients are delighted by your presentation. Imagery and visualization have that power to affect your performance.

    What if you practiced visualization incessantly, did at least one pitch in front of your work colleagues and asked for feedback and verbally rehearsed key statements in your delivery? With slightly less fear-factor, this mix of uncomfortable learning style strategies and preferred styles would surely be a winning combination.

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    The right combination is key. Choosing the right combination of learning styles which feel comfortable plus engaging the uncomfortable styles are sure to drive you closer to your desired aim, faster.

    Bottom Line

    Growth can be painful and change is not something, we as humans, rush toward in fits of excitement.

    Our brains are designed to keep us safe. When we feel safe, we feel nice and comfortable. Our anxiety levels are low or non-existent, we feel in control, fully satisfied and content.

    The problem is though, we are unlikely to develop, stretch and progress.

    Knowing our learning style preferences can help us alleviate some of that discomfort in stretching and growing. However, what we want to create is a reverse plan.

    Choose your endpoint, map the steps backward that you need to grow into and move through. Chart against each step the learning styles and methods you feel will be the best balance of comfort and the amount of growth pain you feel you can handle.

    Sometimes no amount of standing on the sidelines and watching people glide around the ice-skating rink is going to help you learn how to skate. You are going to have to step onto the ice at some point to find your own center of gravity and balance. The weekend seminar junkie, listening to speaker after speaker telling them how to turn their four-figure revenue into six figures in six months.

    It’s great to listen, watch and read, but nothing changes until the behavior actually changes and action is taken. The major connection between learning styles and career success will always be a combination key to knowing what you prefer, knowing what works, choosing the right mix and applying them at the right time.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Malachi Thompson

    Leadership & Performance Edge Strategist

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    Published on April 15, 2021

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    You have probably heard of the saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”

    That old cliché gets thrown around quite a bit in educational circles, but what really goes into inspiring people to become independent, lifelong learners? Read on to learn more about self-regulated learning and how to make it more effective.

    Self-Regulated Learning

    One theory about teaching people how to learn is through self-regulated learning. In the broadest sense, it’s the idea that individuals should set their own learning goals and work independently and with a sense of agency and autonomy to achieve those goals. It’s the opposite of a teacher handing out a worksheet and students completing it just because the teacher told them to.

    Self-regulated learning is constructive and self-directed.[1] Instead of the worksheet example, self-regulated learning involves the students setting their own learning goals, deciding how to best achieve those goals, and then systematically and strategically working toward them. Teaching strategies like the Workshop Model and Portfolios are more aligned with self-regulated learning than a one-size-fits-all worksheet or lecture.

    Workshop Model

    The workshop model consists of three parts. Class begins with a mini-lesson, then students spend time working independently while the teacher circulates conferencing with students. Finally, the class ends with some kind of summary derived from what students learned through their independent work.

    Heavy hitters in the workshop model are Lucy Calkins and Nancie Atwell.[2][3] Their work has been instrumental in spreading best practices so that teachers know how to create truly student-led learning experiences.[4]

    Portfolios

    Another example of an instruction that’s moving toward self-regulated learning is student portfolios. Students set learning goals and periodically reflect on whether or not they’re achieving those goals. They keep all their reflections and student work in folders and have periodic conferences with their teacher on how they’re pressing toward their goals.[5]

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    The problem though is that the workshop model and portfolios require a different mindset and skillset from teachers. That’s where the theory of self-regulated learning comes in.

    3 Elements of Self-Regulated Learning

    One approach to self-regulated learning is to break it down into three components: regulation of processing modes, regulation of the learning process, and regulation of self. Dividing self-regulated learning in this way helps teachers know how to best help students work toward their individual goals, and it also gives us a glimpse into how we all can become more self-regulated learners.

    1. Regulation of Processing Modes

    The first step in self-regulated learning is to give learners a choice in how and why they’re learning in the first place.

    In our worksheet example, students are completing the task because the teacher said so, but when we reset why we’re learning in the first place, we’re starting to create a foundation for self-regulated learning.

    One educational researcher, Noel Entwistle makes a distinction between three different reasons for learning, and his work makes what we’re all working toward a lot clearer. Students can try to reproduce or memorize information, they can try to get good grades, or they can seek personal understanding or meaning.[6]

    The goal of self-regulated learning is to encourage students to move away from the first two learning orientations (following orders and trying to get good grades) and move toward the third, learning for some kind of intrinsic gain—learning to learn.

    2. Regulation of Learning Process

    The next level of self-regulated learning is when students are in charge of their own learning process. This is also known as metacognition. Studies have shown that when teachers do most of the heavy lifting—deciding what’s working and not working for each student—there’s a reduction in students’ metacognitive skills.[7]

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    When I was teaching middle and high school, we had a saying that if we left the building at the end of the school day more tired than the students, we hadn’t done our job. What that means is that teachers have to find a way to get students to do the heavy lifting of metacognition—thinking about thinking. And students need to accept the challenge and become curious about what’s working and not working about their individualized and (at least, partially) self-generated learning plans.

    Boosting metacognition might include learning about how the brain works, what metacognition is all about, and all the different learning styles. Becoming curious about your individual strengths and learning preferences is crucial in beefing up your metacognitive skills.

    3. Regulation of Self

    Finally, there’s goal setting. If students are going to become truly self-regulated learners, they have to start setting their own goals and then reflecting on their progress toward those goals.

    How to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    Now that you’ve learned the important elements of self-regulated learning, here are 9 ways you can make it more effective for you.

    1. Change Your Mindset About Learning

    The first way to become a self-regulated learner is to change your mindset about why you’re learning in the first place. Instead of doing your schoolwork because the teacher says so or because you want the highest GPA, try to move toward learning to satisfy your curiosity. Learn because you want to learn.

    Sometimes, this will be easy, like when you’re learning something on your own that you’ve self-selected. Other times, it’s tougher, like when you have a teacher-selected assignment due.

    Before mindlessly completing your assignment, try to find “your in.” Find what’s fascinating about the topic and cling to that as you complete it. Sure, you need to complete it to graduate, but by finding the morsel that’s interesting to you, you’ll be able to start experiencing a more self-regulated kind of learning.

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    2. Explore Different Learning Styles

    There are lots of different ways to learn: auditory, visual, spatial, and kinesthetic. Learn what all those styles mean and which ones feel especially effective for you.

    3. Learn How Learning Works

    Another great way to become a more self-regulated learner is to learn how learning works. Read up on cognitive science and psychology to figure out how we form memories, how we retain information, and how our emotions affect our learning. You have to understand the tools you’ve been given before you can wield those tools most optimally.

    4. Get Introspective

    Now it’s time to get introspective. Do a learning inventory and reflect on when you’ve been most and least successful in your learning.

    What’s your best subject? Why? When did you lose interest in a subject? Why? Ask yourself tough questions about how you learn, so you can move forward more strategically.

    5. Find Someone to Tell You Like It Is

    It’s also helpful to find someone who can be honest about your learning strengths and weaknesses. Find someone you trust who will be honest about your learning progress. If you lack self-awareness about your learning style and abilities, it’s difficult to be a self-regulated learner, so work with someone else to start becoming more self-aware.

    6. Set Some SMART Goals

    Now it’s time to set some learning goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They’re a great way to become a self-regulated learner.[8]

    Instead of just saying, “I want to get better at Spanish,” you might set a SMART goal by saying “I want to memorize 100 new Spanish vocabulary words by next week.” Next week, you can test yourself and measure whether or not you’ve achieved your goal.

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    It’s difficult to see how we’re progressing and learning when our goal is vague. Setting SMART goals gives you a clear barometer for your learning.

    7. Reflect on Your Progress

    Goals don’t mean much unless you measure your progress every now and then. Take time to determine whether or not you’ve achieved your SMART learning goals and why or why not you did. Self-reflection is a great way to boost self-awareness, which is a great way to become a self-regulated learner.

    8. Find Your Accountability Buddies

    Armed with your goals and deadlines, it’s time to find some trustworthy people to help keep you accountable. Now, your learning progress is your responsibility when you’re a self-regulated learner, but it doesn’t hurt to have some friends who know what your goals are. You can turn to this trustworthy group to discuss your learning progress and keep you motivated.

    9. Say It Loud and Proud

    There’s a phenomenon where we’re more likely to attain our goals when we’ve made them public.[9] Announcing our goals helps hold our feet to the fire. So, figure out a way to make your learning goals known. This might mean telling your accountability buddies, your teacher, or maybe even a social media group.

    Just know that you’re more likely to succeed when you’re not the only one who knows what your goals are.

    Final Thoughts

    Self-regulated learning is learning for learning’s sake. So, change your entire attitude about why you’re learning in the first place. Choose what you want to know more about or start with what interests you most when assigned a topic or project.

    Then, set SMART goals and periodically reflect on your progress. Self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Make learning your job and your responsibility, and you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a self-regulated learner.

    You’ll never need to blame your learning struggles on someone or something else. Instead, you’ll have the self-awareness and abilities to be able to take your learning into your own hands and find a way forward no matter your current situation and limitations.

    Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

    Reference

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