The three ways we learn is a regular topic in our Little Ninja classes. As part of the class the students have to memorize and recite the three ways we learn. The class goes something like this -
ME: “What are the three ways we learn?”
CLASS: Usually there are a couple students in the class who remember this from before “Watching, Listening and Doing”
ME: “Repeat After me – Watching”
After repeating that three times I then have the students individually tell me the three ways we learn. It almost always works. It’s important for all students to learn the mechanics of how they learn. We reinforce to them the value of watching, listening and doing. The goal is for that to become one of their learning habits. Rather than teaching someone just a specific thing there’s more value in teaching them how to learn.
As parents and teachers though, its also important for us to understand how our student or our own child learns. Watching, listening and doing is a simple way to explain it. While this certainly applies to teenagers and adults I’ll use young children as an example.
If our child is a visual learner, a watcher, then we need to make sure to use visual cues in our teaching. Most children are visual learners to some degree. Very often in class we’ll have a number of visual learners that may need different visual cues. Sometimes there’s a student who needs me to stand directly in front of them so they can see and understand what to do. Other times I need to face them and show a mirror image or maybe even be right beside them. On exams with the older children I’m usually sitting at the testing table in front of the students. I’ll often mirror image the techniques from my chair as I’m explaining what to do. It’s a little thing but I know it helps.
A child who learns by listening is an auditory learner. This child needs for you to create an auditory ‘picture’ of what you’d like them to do. This is where you have to be very descriptive in your teaching. As a drill for our new instructors I’ll sometimes have them teach a portion of the class while sitting down. The goal is to teach the students by creating the picture of what to do while only using their words. When your teaching style combines both visual and auditory pictures then it makes learning more successful for the student. As a bonus, a child who has success at learning will be a more focused and more confident student. It’s no coincidence that the secret to focus is also based on the child’s watching and listening skills.
The doing part of learning in its simplest form is based on repetition. The more we do things the more they become ingrained in our habits, but doing is also about feeling. The technical term is kinesthetic learning. A kinesthetic learner learns by feel. Often times I may have to help a student put their hand or their foot in the right position so they can feel it. It’s important to ask them if they feel that position and then to tell them they have it correct in order for them to begin to understand better, and then they need to successfully repeat it many times.
I am direction challenged. It’s a big joke in my family. I can ride in the car to a location many times and still not know how to get there. It’s only after driving there myself several times that I can make it to my destination without help, and even then sometimes its a challenge. Like most people, I know that my particular learning style is based on all three ways we learn. You can show me where to go and tell me the directions, but unless I’m allowed to get there on my own I still won’t get it.
This last thought is the most important to remember when teaching our children. When they’re having difficulty learning something maybe its not them. Maybe it’s the way we’re teaching them that’s causing the challenge. We have to make sure we’ve given them the visual cues they need, we need to make sure we’ve created an auditory picture for them, we may have to help them feel it the right way, but most importantly we have to give them the opportunity to repeat it on their own many times. That repetition also includes letting them make some mistakes, then positively correcting those mistakes, again making sure to allow them to watch, listen, and then feel themselves doing it correctly, and then repeat it on their own some more.
From a martial arts perspective that means consistent class attendance two to three times a week and encouraging good practice habits at home. The real idea though is to use the same learning techniques as it applies to school work and sports practice as well daily habits and responsibilities at home. Interestingly, these same skills will transfer over to our adult lives too, whether it’s training our employees, working with others, or just helping a friend.