What is the best way for learning? This has been considered and debated for decades. Entire lines of thinking say that some of us are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic learners, and some learn best by reading or writing. Schools across the country teach this principle and are even a part of the testing for licensing for many teachers, so it’s only natural that many of us have been exposed to this again and again.
We first came across this idea about 40 years ago, and intuitively it seemed to make sense: some people certainly had more of an inclination to speak with visual language, some with auditory language, and some with feeling language. Over the years, however, this has been researched extensively and it turns out that it’s simply not true – people don’t have to be limited in the method with which they learn.
Because of the exposure that many of us have had through our schooling, we have the sense that we have to learn one particular way: “I have to learn more visually, or I have to learn more auditorily, or kinesthetically.” This has become a problem for a lot of people because they’ve put themselves in a box of being a particular type of learner, whether they were told which type they were or self-identified as a particular type of learner. That box now acts as a limit to their capacity for learning.
About 30 years ago we gave on the notion of “learning types” as more evidence came in and we had more direct hands-on experience with this. True, people may have a preference, but it turns out that their preference is learned and is not a hard and fast rule. Preference certainly changes depending on the subject and the circumstances, however it does not really lend to us becoming the best learners we can be. It has simply just become another way to limit our learning. So, what is the best way to learn?
The basic proposition that we assume is that all brains (or the vast majority of brains) are capable, to a great extent, of doing or learning to do what most other brains can do. Each person’s brain has hardware similar to anyone else’s, yet we haven’t reached the limits of what any given brain can do. If one brain can learn a particular way, then it should be that most can learn that way as well, and type of learning should be available to each and every one of us. We should each be able to become highly skilled at learning in all of these ways.
We should each be able to learn equally well visually, kinesthetically, and auditorily. We can each learn by reading, learn by writing, learn through abstract teaching, learn through hands-on learning… Those should all be available to all of us. If we assume this to be true, as the research suggests, how do we get to this point? How do we get to be the best learner that we can be? We believe that the most important thing is the state of mind that we’re in when we’re learning. What is our attitude? What is our outlook? What is our belief about our capability to learn and what is our relationship to the subject?
For our purposes here today, we’re just to look at one way to do this. We want you to think about a time where learning was really easy, really joyful, really successful. Take a moment to clearly and deeply remember that time. Remember what the experience was like and step into it to notice what is happening with each of your senses. How are you seeing things, hearing things, feeling things? What is it like to take in new information, experience lessons, readings, or topics, or understand things the way you did in that moment?
As you’re having this experience, recognize that this is yours. This is your ability. This is your system functioning optimally. If you can do it in this particular circumstance, you can certainly do it elsewhere. As you’re imagining being in that past experience, take another moment to really feel what that was like and bring that experience and how you’re feeling to what you want to be learning right now.
Let yourself experience the confidence and satisfaction from that past experience and apply it to what you want to learn today. Notice how doing this changes your current experience of learning. Notice how this changes your perception of learning. Notice how easy it is to grasp what’s going on with what you’re learning. Notice the connections that you make and how this affects your learning and your engagement with learning. Again, you want to recognize, “Oh, I’m capable of this. This is mine. This is what I can do. If I can do it here and I did it back there, where else can I do it? What if I could do this anywhere and everywhere?”
Another variation of this is to think about somebody you know that’s a very good learner, someone that you’ve seen go about learning something, and step into their experience of learning. Imagine what it’s like to be them in all those ways that we’ve just talked about. How would I learn visually if I were them? How about kinesthetically? Make note of what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, the way that understanding about a topic arises, the connections they’re making.
Then bring those feelings into yourself and incorporate them into who you are and what you’re capable of. One powerful way to increase the recognition of our capacity is to imagine that large capacity in somebody else because it gives us permission to think that big. We might think, “Well, I can’t do that, but they can, and if they can and if I can step into it, what’s that like? If they can do it and I can imagine what that feels like, now I can do it too.” That way of thinking can help you get around that limitation, that belief. If we can do this with someone we know, why can’t we do this with someone that we don’t know? Or even someone that doesn’t exist?
What would it be like to be the world’s smartest person and step into them and have that experience? Again, this gets us around the limitations and gives us the permission to come alive in these ways and activate those deeper capacities in ourselves. Once again, bring this to any area of learning that you want. Let’s say you want to be better at a specific area of learning, that you’re wanting to understand physics or math, or you’re wanting to understand how to quickly learn a sport.
You can step into somebody that can do any of those things. You can step into the experience of a great athlete and notice what their experience is like in your imagination. This is just saying to your brain and your body, “Now we have the permission. Now we can go beyond what we thought we were.” If we do this again and again and again, this activates us and brings forward our capacity. If education, or its root word “educare,” means to draw forth or to draw out, this is a way to draw out of ourselves what has always been there.
Sometimes we have that sense that we can be really good at something, I could be great at _______, something I want to be, that I have the urge to be. All of that comes out of that deep recognition that the capacity to do that is already within you. This is an easy, quick, and powerful way to engage that capacity. The more often we do it, the better it’s going to work. This gets quicker and easier, and in time, the more that this expanded capacity is just going to be who you are. Imagine yourself without limits and then live this way. Live without the limits. Use this process to engage the tremendous capacity that you have.
With over 40 years of experience in coaching, educating, and supporting others to become better learners, we’ve created a whole range of podcasts with proven, no-nonsense (free) ways for you to enhance your learning in all areas of your life.