How to Use Learning Styles
Here’s how I’ve applied the concept of learning styles to my own group leading, and teaching. First, I don’t worry about the style of the people in my group or class. Fully aware of my own weaknesses and preferences, I intentionally try to introduce an activity or experience that’s relevant for each learning style at some point in every session, even if it’s brief. That way, every person feels comfortable at some point, which then helps them be willing to be stretched in methods or styles that are not their strength.
Several years ago, I came up with five-steps that help me plan lessons. I call them the “5 -Ates to Educate.” (The term educate, by the way, does not mean to teach or to learn; it means to draw out or to lead. Think about how that definition might affect your role as a group leader.)
The five steps are Locate, Elaborate, Illuminate, Integrate, and Activate.
- The Locate step becomes the aim of the lesson and relates to a felt need or problem facing the learners.
- The Elaborate step takes that problem and pushes it to its logical conclusion if there is no resolution to it. Imaginative learners enjoy doing this kind of creative thinking.
- The Illuminate step brings people to the text—whether the Bible or another book being studied—to examine the content for the truths and facts. Analytic learners thrive here.
- The Integrate step then helps apply the truth to the felt need or problem. This application step helps learners devise plans for resolving the life problem identified in the Locate step. Common Sense learners are strong here.
- Finally, the Activate step helps participants become motivated and accountable for living out the truths identified in the Illuminate step. This draws on Dynamic learners’ strengths.
Once again, the leader does not need to match learning style type with certain activities. Just let it happen.
I am glad I know about learning styles. I find them so helpful. Yet, the model described above is a tool, and only a tool. It’s not a panacea for all the problems that arise in small groups.
In addition, there is one more thing that will help you immensely when it comes to learning and spiritual transformation in your small group, regardless of your learning style: time and space for reflection. Time for reflection is essential because it creates the space necessary for you to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit. After all, it is the Spirit of God who is the true teacher—the one who truly brings about transformation in the lives of your group.
Scottie May is Assistant Professor in the department of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College.