Learning Styles for better leadership

Learning is an important characteristic of leadership. Leaders should be fast learners. Leaders need to understand learning ability of followers and change the style of education to make them understand the vision or purpose.

Different people have different ways to learn things. There is no right or wrong way in learning styles. Some people see things and understand. Some people do experiments to learn. Some people may just think and correlate. Leaders spend most of the time in understanding follower’s development levels, and change their teaching methods to educate them based on that.

Learning improves the working ability which in turn gives out the expected outcome, which is otherwise called as improved performance. Even those who fail to understand by one approach of learning, can understand things well if we change the learning style.

Number of theories evolved in learning styles like Kolb Experiential Learning theory, Honey & Mumford Learning Styles, Allinson & Hayes. These learning style models designed on Learning styles are both flexible and stable.

Out of these let me brief Kolb’s experiential learning. Kolb produced the first systematic and comprehensive exposition of the theory of experiential learning. His experiential learning theory has wide acceptance by academics, teachers, managers and trainers as truly seminal works. It explains fundamental concepts towards our understanding and explaining human learning behavior, and towards helping others to learn.

‘Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it’ – David Kolb

So, Experience + Understanding = Knowledge

Below picture depicts general learning cycle of individual learner:

General Learning Cycle

Kolb proposes that experiential learning has six characteristic features:

1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes.

2. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.

3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically (debating) opposed modes of adaptation to the world.

4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.

5. Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment.

6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge which is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge

Kolb describes the process of experiential learning as a four-stage cycle.

Kolb\'s Experiential Learning Theory

The converging style (abstract, active)

* relies primarily on abstract conceptualization(AC) and active experimentation(AE);

* is good at problem solving, decision making and the practical application of ideas;

* does best in situations like conventional intelligence tests;

* is controlled in the expression of emotion and prefers dealing with technical problems rather than interpersonal issues.

The diverging style (concrete, reflective)

* emphasizes concrete experience(CE) and reflective observation(RO);

* is imaginative and aware of meanings and values;

* views concrete situations from many perspectives;

* adapts by observation rather than by action; interested in people and tends to be feeling-oriented.

The assimilating style (abstract, reflective)

* prefers abstract conceptualization(AC) and reflective observation(RO);

* likes to reason inductively and to create theoretical models;

* is more concerned with ideas and abstract concepts than with people;

* thinks it more important that ideas be logically sound than practical.

The accommodating style (concrete, active)

* emphasizes concrete experience(CE) and active experimentation(AE);

* likes doing things, carrying out plans and getting involved in new experiences;

* good at adapting to changing circumstances;

* solves problems in an intuitive, trial-and-error manner;

* at ease with people but sometimes seen as impatient and ‘pushy’.

Learning styles play a significant role in different fields – mainly in educational, professional career and adaptive competencies. The most relevant field to explore experiential learning theory is that of educational specialization.

Following words by Kolb tells us the need for knowing learning styles:

‘Learning styles represent preferences for one mode of adaptation over the others; but these preferences do not operate to the exclusion of other adaptive modes and will vary from time to time and situation to situation’.

A learning style is a ‘differential preference for learning, which changes slightly from situation to situation. At the same time, there’s some long-term stability in learning style’

To summarize the benefit, successful projects need to employ a range of learning styles to capitalize on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of each style & it helps leaders to setup good coaching relationship.