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How do you learn? How should you teach?

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Recently, my children's school held a seminar on learning styles. It didn't take long to realize that the value of the information presented stretched well beyond the elementary school walls. Effective learning and communication are vital to military operations, so in order to achieve mission success, leaders at all levels need to understand how best to communicate direction and instruction to all Airmen.

The speaker discussed the three basic ways people process information. They are visual, auditory and kinesthetic (movement/tactile) learning. Everyone uses all three to receive information, but one style is usually dominant and thus defines the best way for an individual to learn.

Visual learners learn through reading and writing tasks, as well as through body language and facial expressions. They remember what they have written down and respond well to charts and demonstrations. To best reach visual learners you can use charts and graphs, present outlines and handouts, eliminate potential distractions, repeat verbal instructions, and leave white space in handouts for note taking to reach these people.

Auditory learners, on the other hand, learn by listening. They prefer verbal lectures and active discussions. These people might read text aloud or use verbal analogies and storytelling to demonstrate a point. To involve this style of learner, ask questions of your audience as you share information, use catchy slogans or rhymes and take time to explain diagrams or charts.

Kinesthetic learners take a "hands-on" approach and tend to lose interest if there is little external stimulation. They respond well to "dressed-up" workspaces and like background music while reading. To impact these people effectively, use colored text in briefings, give stretch breaks and allow for role-playing or interaction when appropriate.
Because of the diversity of these styles and the fact that nearly every military audience will have learners from each group, there are challenges to getting your message across.

The best way to overcome these challenges is simply to be aware of different learning styles. Incorporate elements for each style, adjust your delivery when appropriate, and recognize that how you perceive information may be different from how your audience does. Embrace these concepts and they will make you a better instructor and a better leader. The Air Force will benefit, "Above All"!