Learning Styles

Picture of class referenced from www.renzogracie.com

Article written by: Cristiano Del Giacco

Learning Styles

A recent change in careers has steered me toward the path of education. Specifically teaching English to adult foreign learners. Teaching students how to speak a new language using only the language that they are in fact trying to learn is no easy task and special attention to the details of teaching must be focused on in order be effective. One minor mistake or lapse in concentration when teaching English to someone who does not speak it can result in a complete train wreck of a class. I have been studying many different approaches to better my language teaching and I have found that many, if not all, concepts could be adapted to the teaching and learning of Jiu Jitsu.

What makes a good teacher and what influences or accelerates select students to progress faster than others? We all know that guy or girl in our gym that trains all day every day and has developed their talent through long periods of trial and error and tenacity in their training. Then we all know that guy or girl who maybe attends 70% of the classes that the tenacious student does but seems to adhere to the techniques and concepts a lot faster branching off from the techniques and ideas taught adapting them to other parts of their game and increasing their level at, what seems, a spectacular rate. Usually we attribute this increased capacity for learning to “natural talent”. But is that really it? My recent career change to teaching has lead me to learn and study different areas of teaching specifically how to nurture a student’s development and motivation. Let’s first look at a basic break down of the different types of learners.

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The 3 base forms of learning types are:

  • The visual; those who predominantly benefit from visual stimulation in classes i.e. learning from watching techniques being demonstrated or watching fights. These students are usually the ones that live on Youtube. They watch matches from various competitions and technique videos from around the world. They usual do not care if the techniques are taught in their native language, as the visuals are enough for them to go on.
  • The auditory; these students learn via verbal communication and prefer to be lead and told what to do in the class. Hearing their professor speak about the technique, where to place grips and or weight etc, provides a better learning experience compared to those who prefer visual instruction. Although auditory learners find it hard to watch a technique in a language other than their native tongue, they are the type of students who can talk about a technique after class, with no visual aid or representation, in detail to other auditory learners with total comprehension of the position. These verbal representations will often baffle the visual learner or the kinesthetic learner as they try to comprehend what they are hearing by looking off to the sky and miming the technique as the auditory learner is describing them. To understand this concept a bit more, the next time you are in the gym, start up a conversation with your training partners about some inverted guard technique. Do not provide any visual examples, just talk. The students who can clearly understand and talk through the technique are the auditory learners, while the students who seem baffled are the visual and kinesthetic learners.
  • The kinesthetic; in the previous example the auditory learner is explaining verbally the technique. The visual learner is confused and asks for the auditory learner to physically give an example of what they are talking about. The kinesthetic learner is the student, who after the visual representation, asks if he can try it out on someone so that he can understand it better. This student benefits more from doing rather than from the instructions. Often when techniques or concepts are being taught this learner will be drifting off as verbal and visual representation holds little to no reward to them. Their learning will come from actual participation.

These are the base forms of learning styles. What do I mean by base forms? Well to say that one style is more predominant in a student is a fair concept to state. But many people will be a combination style learner. That is, they will be a visual/auditory learner, a kinesthetic/visual learner and so on and so on. It is true that a student can be a combination of the three, though the fact of the matter is one will be more dominant than the other. One learning style will be of major benefit to the student and usually is the one that needs to be activated first to motivate and promote a better learning experience. So, if the student is a combination of visual and kinesthetic it is a good idea for him or her to first see techniques or concepts in action, create an association of practical relevance and then learn by doing. Meaning the visual style, being predominant in that student, should be attended to first in order to spur the motivation.

So how should a teacher, after learning this, schedule their classes to accommodate for this new information? If they want to focus on the visual student, the auditory and the kinesthetic student will suffer. If the teacher wants to help the auditory students the visual and the kinesthetic student will suffer and so on. What should an instructor, coach or professor do? They should incorporate each element into every class for an equal proportion of time. For example, allocating time for students to ask questions after visual demonstrations. Question time should not only be reserved for the time proceeding visual demonstration but also after kinesthetic application. After the students try the technique for themselves the auditory learners may need further instruction as to why parts of the technique may have not been working for them. This does not mean they are less skilled at BJJ, it just means that their dominant learning style has not been sufficiently nurtured. Providing auditory students the chance to ask questions after both visual and kinesthetic periods will help to promote the growth of their own skills more effectively. To help the kinesthetic learner, the focus on adaptation to techniques and concepts in live situations will prove to be a far superior method. This does not mean full sparring rounds. Full sparring rounds do not always provide, with certainty, a situation where the pre-taught technique will become relevant. If a kinesthetic student is taught a technique, or an idea, but does not have the opportunity to put it into practice and learn with it, the whole lesson will be a complete waste of time. Auditory and visual learners may acknowledge the importance of the concepts being taught but kinesthetic learners must feel this for themselves. These types of learners are often classed as slow and untalented merely because they haven’t had the opportunity to actualize the idea for themselves, therefore finding little to no practical relevance.

The combination learners, as I mentioned earlier, must have their predominant learning style tapped into first before real motivation to learn will commence. Unfortunately this is a more tricky area and, from what I have found, can only be approached via a dynamic teaching style. Possibly the instructor, coach or professor could periodically alter the sequence of their lesson plans. For example, a method I use on occasion in my English classes is to apply a ‘test-teach-test” approach. In this lesson a problem is posed to the students first before any instructions. This may come in the form of specific training to begin the class. The specific training may be focused on the worm guard, De La Riva or spider guard involving a lapel wrapped around the top players leg. These are tricky positions that a lot of students under brown belt have trouble with passing as they either do not totally understand the concepts of the guards or because they are totally new positions being played. The initial specific training session of the class will have the students learning by trying the positions, learning from others who know the position or even not learning at all. The point was to open up their mind to the problem. Then comes the teaching session of the class. The instructor could ask the students for the main problems experienced in the position, and then eliciting possible solutions from the students along with examples. This creates empowerment and develops independent learning skills with the students, which I believe is invaluable asset to have. After the students input the instructor could provide further input and clear up any loose ends in the solution of the positions. After the teaching session the final test session is put into place where the students then try out and actualise each idea and technique that was elicited and taught. This has then appealed to all learning styles and provided an alternate approach to the regular class structure. This is not to say this form of lesson plan arrangement is superior to any other, but I do think it is important to mix up the teaching approaches in order to motivate and develop talent.

Each and every learner must be accommodated in a class. No student is untalented or unintelligent. All students have the capability to learn, it’s just the path that needs to be recognised and nurtured.

P.S. if you are wondering; I am a visual/kinesthetic learner J

Article written by: Cristiano Del Giacco

About The Author

Cristiano Del Giacco
Co-Founder & Lead Editor

Co-Founder of howweroll.com.au. BJJ enthusiast based on the Gold Coast and collector of Kimonos, travelling the world training with some of the worlds best.

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