People tend to learn in four distinct ways, which reflect their attitudes and reactions in life. Activist learners are spontaneous, resourceful and self-reliant. They experiment and lead the pack. Pragmatist learners are practical, structured and more likely to absorb information that meets challenges or leads to rewards. If teachers know what types of learners their students are, they can devise methods and assignments that will play to their students' strengths.
Education researchers Peter Honey and Alan Mumford used responses from a learning style questionnaire to identify four typical learning styles. They called these "activist," "theorist," "reflector" and "pragmatist," sports coach Brian Mac explains on his website. Honey and Mumford based their work on David Kolb's research on the learning process. Kolb, a specialist in organizational development, contends that people learn by reflecting on a concrete experience they've had. Then they come up with assumptions or apply existing theories to understand and describe it. Next comes experimentation designed to change the circumstances surrounding the experience, to give them more control the next time it happens. All of these steps contribute to the next experience, according to the Learning and Teaching website.
Activists enjoy and learn most effectively when they're confronted with new experiences and ideas, according to the Higher Education Academy website. They like to be busy and to tackle difficult problems but often without much preparation. They do first and think later and rarely review what they've learnt. They also learn best when acting as part of, often leading, a team, or by role playing.
Activists learn less when they have to sit through long explanations or lectures or have to read or work alone. They also tend to be frustrated by having to absorb and comprehend data or follow directions precisely, Mac adds. For example, rather than absorbing and applying rules and techniques taught by a driving instructor, an activist learner would want to get in the car alone and learn by trial and error. Rather than studying an auto repair manual to diagnose a malfunction, he'd want to pop the bonnet and tinker around on his own.
Pragmatists learn best when the subject matter is linked to a specific problem or task. They like to have coaching and feedback while learning techniques and prefer to learn content that isn't theoretical but can be applied in real-world situations, according to the Higher Education Academy.
Pragmatists learn less when they can't see practical benefit to what's being taught (the old "why do I need to learn algebra?" argument). They tend to be frustrated if there are no guidelines or ways to practice what they're learning and if there's no apparent reward for mastering material, the Higher Education Academy says.
A pragmatist learner would fare well in a highly-structured group driving course, both in the classroom and while driving under supervision.
Some people combine attributes from two learning styles, says John Fewings, a learning and training consultant, on the brainboxx website. He explains that pragmatist learners like to come up with a solution for a specific problem. Activist-pragmatist learners are problem solvers too, but their approaches and the materials they use tend to be unconventional and improvisational (e.g., the lead character in the TV series "MacGyver.")
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