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Learning Styles and Lesson Prep

Characteristics of Learning Styles

First of all, no one is purely one type of learner. We’re all a mix of types, but most of us have a style of learning with which we are most comfortable. By the way, intelligence is equally distributed among all styles.

Here are brief summaries that describe each type:

  • Imaginative. Starts with concrete reality, and then diverges creatively. Enjoys the arts and beauty. Learns through discussion and interaction. Friendly and caring. Enjoys people. Dislikes lectures, competition, and debate. May be a people pleaser. Needs to feel liked and accepted to learn well. Asks “why?” Typecast ministry position: pastoral counselor, youth ministry.
  • Analytic. Starts with ideas and abstractions. Assimilates content like a sponge. Organizes it into theories and concepts. Learns well from organized experts. Wants all the facts. Serious minded. Tends to like ideas more than people. Dislikes discussion, noise, and sitting in circles. They love school because traditional school is designed for this type. (That’s the reason so many teachers and professors are like this: because they are in an environment very comfortable for them.) Asks “what?” Typecast ministry position: systematic theologian, expository preacher.
  • Common Sense. Starts with ideas and concepts, but then converges them to develop a plan or strategy. Enjoys figuring out how things work. Hands-on. Dislikes lectures, memorizing, lots of reading, and being told how to do something. Focuses on tasks sometimes to a fault. Asks “how?” Typecast ministry position: practical theology, administration.
  • Dynamic. Starts with concrete experience and accommodates through trial and error. Experiments, takes risks. Very flexible. Change agent. Enjoys learning in a variety of ways. Dislikes routine, and “rigid” truths. May be comfortable in front of people. Asks “so what?” and “what if?” Typecast ministry position: pioneer missionary, evangelist.

Learning styles vary greatly. Those differences can be challenging for a small group member, or they can make community experiences rich and fulfilling—it all depends on your perspective. In some ways, the style differences remind me of the diversity of spiritual gifts described in the New Testament; they also parallel the diversity of the Body of Christ noted in 1 Corinthians 12. You wouldn’t want a small group made up only of people who are analytic, type 2 learners, any more than you’d want a body made up of only hands.

A small group of diverse learners is complementary, sort of like a marriage. The differences in members’ styles can help each other develop their strengths, and also grow in areas of weakness. Diversity is healthy, and I think, draws on biblical principles.

Relevance for Leaders

Why should small group leaders be aware of learning styles? Because you need to be aware of your own learning preferences. Know your strengths, but also be aware of ways of learning that make you uncomfortable—the method or approach you tend to avoid as a leader. Most of us prefer to do what makes us comfortable. But what I dislike in a learning setting may be exactly what would help another—usually a person whose style is opposite mine—to gain insight into a spiritual truth.

For example, imaginative learners may focus so much on relationships within the group and issues in their lives that they fail to spend an adequate amount of time on the content. Analytic learners may be so text focused that the group struggles to get to know each other well. Common Sense learners may be so task oriented—even with caring, servant tasks—that relationships or Scripture may be neglected. And Dynamic learners may be so flexible that truth may become relative.

As in most of life, sameness is not best.

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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.