Learning Styles in action – watching a child prove psychologists (sometimes) know what they’re talking about!

One of the real pleasures of getting to spend so much time with Junior is really getting to see him develop, and learn things. I’m lucky that this period appears to be one where he does develop an awful lot – his mobility alone has increased beyond recognition, he’s almost certainly going to start walking on my watch, and then there’s all the vocal and intellectual development that is going on as well, from making new sounds to being able to sort shapes to associating actions with words.

One of the advantages of working in the civil service is the encouragement it gives staff to develop and particularly be self aware. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do lots of this, and have developed an interest in it, as well as finding it really useful personally and to work with others better. There’s probably three observations based on this I’d make about Junior, two about learning style and one about personality.

The learning styles stuff is actually more academically disputed, particularly the first one I’ll mention, which is about “how” people learn. According to the theory there are three types of learners: aural, visual and kinaesthetic. Aural and visual are pretty self explanatory – people with these preferences will both respond better to input in their preferred format, and will store their memories in this way too. So for instance an visual learner will prefer to see things, and will store information in a visual form. Kinaesthetic is the same, but basically means through their body – so it’s about physical sensation. I recently discovered that this was in fact my preferred style, having thought for years it was visual. It was the memory part that made me realise – my best memories, while having visual and aural elements, are mostly about the physical feeling I had at the time. I’m still to fully come too terms with this knowledge, and how to use it. But watching Junior, it’s clear already that he has a major kinaesthetic element – I wouldn’t want to say his preferences are set already, but he really only gets things when he feels it – he doesn’t really learn through watching (although it helps), it isn’t until he’s done it and felt it that it sticks. Looking back to my childhood, I should have realised from the endless hours I put into repeating sports practice, mostly to the detriment of my father’s lovingly tended lawn…

Secondly, there is a reasonably well-founded theory by one David Kolb, adapted by Honey and Mumford to describes four basic styles, set out simply in this article. While you can be a combination of these, and may use all of them in your life/career, you generally have a preference, and you can normally figure it out quite quickly. They are:

  • Activist – Learn by doing something
  • Reflector – Learn by observing and thinking about things
  • Theorist – Learn by understanding the theory
  • Pragmatist – Need to see how to put any learning into practice

Junior is without a shadow of a doubt predominantly an Activist. While I think elements of the others show through, he already clearly prefers just trying something – he might then not like it (sand, for instance), but he’ll go full bore until he’s tried it. Which is what makes him so much fun, whilst also being quite a danger to himself – not for him the life of quiet observation…or us for that matter!

Lastly, in terms of personality. The theory here is much better grounded, and goes back to Carl Jung. My preferred model is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, which I pride myself on being pretty accurate at guessing. I won’t describe all of it, but the two traits I’d pick out already are to do with where he gets energy, and his attitude to achieving things, the first and fourth letters of the MBTI descriptor. I think the other two will require more time to determine.

He is clearly an Extravert (note, not extrOvert, this is about where people get energy from – within is intraversion, externally is extraversion – obviously there are similarities with the more usual terms, but it isn’t quite the same). Junior is never happier than when he is receiving lots of stimulation from outside, ideally around lots of people. He isn’t necessarily always demanding attention, but he really comes alive when in a high energy environment. This should help with settling into things like nursery, although it depends on quite a lot of other factors. Mostly I think it means he’ll be wired at the end of the day when we pick him up!

I also have a feeling he is more of a Percieving that Judging type. He doesn’t really seem to be that focussed on the end goal, he’s more interested in doing stuff to see where it might go, and enjoying the ride to get there. He doesn’t get particularly frustrated when things don’t work or get interrupted, instead moving on to the next thing quite happily. This isn’t to say he doesn’t get annoyed when his walking truck gets stuck in a corner, but I don’t think that he’s aiming to end up somewhere specific, he’s more interested in just keeping moving. So by my reckoning he’ll be an ExxP by MBTI type. Which is actually the same as my ENTP.

However, all of this may just be projection on my part, wanting him to be like me – and as Mum has pointed out, his current preferences are also likely to mostly be driven by his developmental ability, and the fact that for instance touch is one of his more developed senses. So check back in 17 years time and we might have a clearer answer!

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