Learning Styles – Potential Show Stoppers

Part 7 In Our Change Management Consideration Series

See Part 1 – Change Management – What Is It?

See Part 2 – The Nature of People – How Does It Affect What We Do?

See Part 3 – Perceptions – The Unreal Truths

See Part 4 – Culture – This Is How We Do Things

See Part 5 – Behavior Styles – Why Is The Other Person Such A Jerk?

See Part 6 – Behavior Flexing – The Platinum Rule

Learning Styles

We are always learning.  Every time we do something there are different nuances that we notice, adjust for, and add to our knowledge and skills sets. We have preferences as to how we learn. When forced into a learning situation that conflicts with our personal learning style, Self-2 (see Part 2 – The Nature of People) starts up the chemical factory and we become less efficient.

There are four learning modes:

  1. Feelers – are individuals who learn best by involving themselves in experiences.
  2. Thinkers – learn best with abstract conceptualization and are oriented more to things and ideas than to people and feelings.
  3. Doers – learn best through active experimentation and use the results of their tests to make future decisions.
  4. Watchers – learn best through an uninvolved, reflective process based on careful observation and analysis.

Each person’s learning style is some combination of the four basic learning modes.

  1. Accommodator (doers/feelers) – This style involves active experimentation and involvement with others. The dominate learning abilities of these types are in the areas of concrete experience and active experimentation. They are risk takers and tend to discard plans that do not fit their own experiences.  They rely on intuition and trial-and-error problem solving methods and prefer to go with other people’s opinions rather than do their own analysis.  Although they are at ease with people, they sometimes are seen as impatient and pushy.  They excel in rapidly adapting to specific circumstances. Their educational backgrounds are usually in practical technical fields and they usually take action-oriented jobs. They are strong in getting things done. They have broad, practical interests. They are typically spontaneous and impatient.
  2. Assimilator (watchers/thinkers) – This style is more uninvolved and reflective, preferring abstract conceptualization. Their learning strengths are opposite those of Accommodators as they are best at abstract conceptualization and reflective observations.  They are good at creating theoretical models and excel in inductive reasoning, where they assimilate disparate observations into integrated explanations.  They tend to be more concerned with abstract concepts than with other people’s feelings or opinions.  If a logical and precise theory does not fit the facts experienced, they are likely to disregard or reexamine the facts (Accommodators will disregard the theory).  They are reflective and patient. They usually have educational backgrounds in the basic sciences or mathematics and can usually be found in research and planning departments.
  3. Converger (thinkers/doers) – This style prefers abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. They are best at learning through abstract conceptualization and experimentation.  They are good at practical application of ideas, especially to specific problems with a single correct solution.  They like to utilize hypothetical-deductive reasoning.  They are relatively unemotional and prefer to work with things rather than people.  Their educational backgrounds are usually in more technical areas in the physical sciences.  Their typical job choice is engineering.
  4. Diverger (watchers/feelers) – This style is uninvolved in processes and is reflective. They do tend to like involvement with others. Their learning strengths are opposite Convergers.  They are best at concrete experience and reflective observation.  They usually have strong imaginative abilities and can see a situation from many perspectives.  They generate a multitude of divergent ideas.  They are interested in people and are emotional, though in a more controlled and understanding manner than Accommodators.  Usually, they have a broad cultural education in the humanities or social sciences.  They tend to be found in jobs such as counseling, personnel, or organizational development.

Figure 1 shows the challenges and communications tension amongst the four types of learning styles.

Figure 1: Learning Challenges

These tensions play out constantly as people interface with each other.  For example:

John is a Business Analyst responsible for developing specifications for financial systems. He is good at taking ideas and converting them to practical solutions for specific problems.  He enjoys working with others, but he prefers to utilize hypothetical-deductive reasoning and not be encumbered by the ramblings of people who have not “thought things through”. He then enjoys experimenting to find the perfect solution to his abstract conceptualizations. John’s primary learning style is Accommodator. 

Frank is a Manager responsible for several financial management activities.  He is good at visualizing situations from a variety of perspectives and generating a multitude of possible solution directions.  He is not interested in people and tends not to recognize the emotional side of issues and how solutions can impact the day-to-day operations of people. He is not a detail person and prefers to deal with the “larger picture” leaving the details to others. Frank’s primary learning style is Assimilator.

John has been sent to Frank’s organization to gather the requirements for a new financial system that will support one of Frank’s major responsibilities. Frank wants to make sure this new system meets the variety of critical needs of Frank’s people, so he wants to meet first with John to ensure the direction is correct. As you can see in Figure 1, there is potential tension to be experienced during their discussions about requirements.

The different learning styles of John and Frank led to a tense and unproductive meeting. Frank started the meeting by telling John a number of things the system had to do. To John, these “things” seem to be descriptions of unrelated problems and were more piecemeal solutions to complaints or excuses. Several of the issues were being handled by the current systems and when John mentioned this he endured the wrath of Frank – disagreement but no reasons why. When John left, he had no idea what problems the new system was supposed to solve, nor could he envision a logical structure or series of processes the new system was to support. So, John put together what he thought would be a logical and effective structure based on a few of Frank’s remarks.

With appropriate learning style awareness, John would have expected the meeting with Frank to be difficult and he could have been prepared to ask Frank questions to clarify the nature of the real problems Frank’s people were having rather than listen to a series of complaints. Likewise, if Frank had the appropriate learning style awareness, he would have recognized the difficulties he was creating for John. He could have been more focused on the “big picture” with John and sent him down to see experts in Frank’s department for the details.

A key ingredient to learning is asking questions. In our next part, we consider a critical technique for getting answers: Critical Thinking – Asking Why.

Jim Stanton

Jim Stanton is the founder of Perception Management, Inc., and the creator of the Perception Analysis Methodology (PAM), a non-invasive process for the discovery and validation of the ‘ground truth’ in organizations. Jim has 51 years of experience in improving technology utilization, team building, and managing change. As COO of a $1.1B company, he reengineered global operations saving $45M annually driving internal growth revenues to $3.2B over 8 years. Jim founded 3 successful consulting firms and is an advisor to several CIOs, CEOs and start-up companies. His early career was as a physicist/mathematician developing guidance equations for the first moon landing that led to a strong focus on 'cause and effect' management approaches that work. He is certified in ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), CoBit (Control Objectives for Information and related Technology), Change Management (ODR), and Process Reengineering (CSC Index).

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