How People Learn

How People Learn

April 29, 2019—One of the popular concepts over the past decade or so has been that of “learning styles.” It’s an idea that’s been around for many years in the field of education but it has come under criticism of late. Depending on how you count and who you read, there may be upwards of twenty-five identified “learning styles.” This may seem a bit excessive given the fact that people have only five to nine “senses” they depend on for learning throughout their lives. How many “new” ways of learning can we identify that are distinct enough to warrant adding to the list?

Some would argue, correctly, that people have more than five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell). And I think there is more merit in the concept (and research) into Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (MI) than some of what is out there about “learning styles.” One of the merits of the concept of multiple intelligences is the notion that they are an asset, not a liability, as so often becomes the emphasis in the literature on learning styles. And while (if current literature is to be believed) the ways of learning are unlimited, a more helpful framework is to appreciate that, to a certain extent, people learn differently during their developmental life stages (regardless of notions about “learning styles”). More specifically, while all people learn basically the same way all their lives, developmental life stages mediate the learning process.

Here are some general comments about learning and developmental stages:

Understanding the developmental dynamics related to learning can help us plan more effective programs and curriculum In terms of both content and process, ways of learning (approaches) are more appropriate at certain developmental stages than others. Effective programs reflect congruence in what is being learned, how it is being learned, and when it is being learned.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

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