How Do You Like to Learn? Part 2: Structure

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 05/04/2011

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To develop and hone your talents, it’s helpful to understand your learning style, the topic of Part 1 of this article. A second component to understanding how you like to learn involves recognizing your preferred learning experiences.  For example, how much structure do you like in your lessons?

Why bother?  Because when you recognize and understand your preferences, you can adapt when you are put in different circumstances.

Let me give you a personal example:  I know how structure can unleash creativity so I prefer well-organized learning experiences.  This is how I teach and this is how I prefer to learn:  Give me a detailed course outline at the onset.   Tell me the required tools and supplies before we actually need them.  Demonstrate the skills and explain the concepts clearly — then give us students the opportunity to apply them immediately.  Assign a project to cement and deepen our knowledge.

Recently, however, I signed up for a course in which the teacher adopts a different approach.   There is no course outline, just a general topic.  One shows up with supplies — or not.  Rather than there being a clear lesson plan there are random, spontaneous, teaching moments.  Students putter, working on whatever.  When someone has a question, the teacher may respond with a mini-lecture or a demonstration — or not.  Sometimes bits of wisdom surface organically, during the conversations in the room.

Point #1: Being in this kind of class might be stressful and frustrating, if I didn’t understand my preference for structured learning experiences.  Because I’m aware of the difference, I’m able to relax and understand what’s happening without getting irritated.

Point #2: Even though this is not my preferred educational situation, I’m still learning.  The information comes in bits and pieces at unexpected times…but it does arrive.  It  becomes a mental workout, keeping alert, like a hunter, waiting to grasp new knowledge when it pops out.  When I do capture a new technique or a helpful piece of information, it’s satisfying — and also fun.  It also makes the learning more vivid and profound.  I’m unlikely to forget something that required so  much focus to attain.

Also, these classes provide a scheduled period to participate in skills for which I probably wouldn’t make time, were I left to my own devices.  Let’s take painting for example.  I have all the supplies at home but I rarely pull them out to work on a canvas…unless I have a class.

Point #3:  It’s good to get out of my comfort zone — to stretch and grow in a different learning environment.  For another, it’s a great opportunity to practice acceptanceaccepting the circumstances and accepting others as they are.

So sure, I like structure — I prefer structure — but I’m perfectly capable of learning in an unstructured environment.  And there are many benefits to doing so.

How about you?  Under what circumstances do you prefer to learn?

[Take a moment to answer. Ideally write or type out your responses].

Describe a time when you were in a very different learning experience — what was that like?

[Take a moment to answer. Ideally write or type out your responses].

What adjustments did you have to make?

[Take a moment to answer. Ideally write or type out your responses].

What benefits were there to being in that situation?

[Take a moment to answer. Ideally write or type out your responses].


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