I have recently discovered Peter Drucker, and work that alligns with his writings. Drucker's work focuses on discovering your strengths (hint: through feedback analysis). But a lot of the focus of his 55-page book(let), focuses on what I'm going to call learning style. Let me explain why I find this so fascinating. I remember being in school. All levels of it. Primary, secondary (high school) and all levels of tertiary (BA, MSc, MA and now PhD). Now me remembering my educational career isn't particularly hard, it wasn't that long ago. I was (still am) a good student. Despite trying my very best to attend the minimum of lectures required. Yes, you read that right. I hate lectures. Can't stand them. I've never really known why, until someone pushed Peter Drucker into my life (not literally). What Peter gave to me, no one else could have given me: the clarity provided by research you can relate to. Beautiful.
To get to the point, Peter Drucker explained to me why I can't remember anything that goes on in lectures. And potentially why I fail to stay awake during most of them: I'm not a listener. Now this is not an excuse for never letting someone a finish. No ma'am. It just means that listening isn't my mode of information acquisition and processing. And it really isn't. I need to read information to make sense of it. So those minimalist, boring-ass slides that most lecturers show up with? Yeah, my worst nightmare... Reading 6 academic papers in one sitting and actually knowing what they are about, and being able to summarise or discuss their most important points? I got you! I read fast (abnormally fast if you ask my family), and I am an incredibly visual person. Give me silence and some visuals, and I won't fail!
Anyway, enough about me. Let's dive deeper into Drucker's work. According to Peter Drucker there's 4 types of people in the world (don't worry, they're not colour-coded): Listeners, Talkers, Readers and Writers. If you dive even deeper into work about learning and information acquisition you can also find there being 6 types or learning styles, simply add Watchers and Doers to the list and you've got yourself a picnic. So it's all about what you prefer to do. Some people are readers like me: Going at it, on your own and at your own pace. I was also a massive notetaker (if the lecturer wasn't going at 60 miles an hour), and I could actually study on just my notes and summaries alone, so I also qualify as a Writer-type (is that surprising?).
The type that I'll never qualify as is the Listener, who is someone who is very auditory focused. They are closely linked to Talkers, who also enjoy discussion of topics to learn them. Listening and talking can almost be differentiated by their level of engagement. Talkers have to both listen and engage to make for a good, or at least educational, discussion. I have found that I only learn from discussion if I can make notes on it. My auditory memory seemingly still needs to hit puberty, it's that underdeveloped...
When it comes to the last 2, Watching and Doing, we move onto much more practical learning. A lot of people prefer to watch and then do. There are very few people I know that you can just throw in the deep end and come back having produced the desired result, without secretely having watched a YouTube tutorial. I think Watching (and then actually knowing what to do, without ever having done it) requires a very high level of empathy, or an already deep-seated understanding of the topic at hand (I'm shit at it). It's unsurprising that most people who lack any of the aforementioned prefer to just jump into it. But to simply do something without prior knowledge is also too much to ask. How do you do something without knowing much (if anything) about it? What level of practical insight does that require? I think this is a type of learning style that fits well with engineers. Also, don't be surprised if you don't fall into either of these. These learning styles very often get combined: watch, do, watch some more, do so more, etc.
Here endeth the summary for today, but not the lessons. I think there is a wealth of information to get out of this domain, even if you're no longer in school (life is continuously educating you anyway). We are constantly enaged with information and having to learn new things. In academia, this is almost a given. But even outside of academia, you will spend a lot of time in meetings, having to learn new things, approach projects from an angle you've never done before, or in a field you haven't been in. Maybe your switching jobs and need to learn new skills. Maybe you need to learn new skills because you want to switch jobs. Why stay in the job domain? Maybe you want to pick up another skill just for fun. Learn a new language. Learn a new coding language. The list is infinite. A lot of people approach learning the way they have been taught (that's a deep sentence, think about it). But if one field has gotten a lot of criticism over the past years it's education: the one-size-should-fit-all model has received a lot of backlash. This backlash was based on research and has driven plenty of new research diving into different learning styles and how to accomodate them. Because really, you can't expect anyone besides Listeners and maybe Writers to benefit from exclusively lecture based education.
Don't just keep this in mind when you are learning something yourself. Think about this when you teach others. I'm sure not everyone reading this is a teacher, but every dog and their grandmother has a webinar or some education online series going on these days. I know that these things are a lot of work already, and I'm not discredting that, but just give these 4, or 6, learning styles a thought when starting the design of your course. It'll be better for it, especially if it spans multiple hours, or even days.
So shed the skin of education's past and find out, as Drucker puts it, what your strengths are. Or what the stengths of others are, when teaching. And tailor to those. And who knows, maybe you'll be fluent in Spanish soon. Or C++. Or you will have helped someone to learn the things they wanted to learn. At the very least diving into this topic will give you a deeper understanding of who you are, how you learn, and how you don't learn. And that is something I've wanted to know for years.