How do we learn best?

How we learn bestOne day a couple of years ago when my son was studying for his A’levels I noticed something I’d not seen before. I’d been encouraging (nagging?!) him to complete his UCAS personal statement. Every time he sat down to do it, he ran out of ideas. In a moment of exasperation, I suggested we do it together. I sat down at my PC and asked him to just talk to me about himself – what he likes doing, what he’s good at, what achievements he’s most proud of etc. I would transcribe what he said and then we could do an edit together once I’d captured the main ideas.
Now, one of his daily tasks in the kitchen is to unload the dishwasher. As I started to ask the questions, he started to unload the dishwasher, moving around the kitchen putting things away (more or less in automatic pilot).

As we continued the conversation I noticed that he continued to move around the kitchen, thinking through his answers to my questions as he moved.Occasionally he paused and leaned on the kitchen worktop, deep in thought, then moving again. It struck me that he seemed at ease, the ideas flowed and there was no restlessness. As a younger child his teachers had always remarked on what a restless child he was, very bright but lacking in focus and concentration. Well, that day as he moved around talking about his ideas, he was highly focused and concentrated in his thinking – he just wasn’t sitting down! It turns out that his best quality and most creative thinking happens when he’s moving.

As an Executive coach, I come across people who learn in many different ways. This means I need to be flexible in my approach to coaching. I need to spot when doing something visual is needed because my client learns well from visual cues. Or, like my son, I need to identify when my client needs to move around to do his or her best thinking. Neuroscientist Lara Boyd in her TEDx talk of 2015 takes the learning from neuroscience and considers how we learn. Boyd encourages us to study how, what and when we learn best and to identify what our own brain requires to be a great learner – what she calls ‘personalised learning’. She explains that everything we do is changing our brain, so we need to study what things change our brain for the better and what changes our brain for the worse. We can then prepare our brains to be effective learners.

Please comment and let us know how you like to learn.


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