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Massage Today
May, 2001, Vol. 01, Issue 05

Learning Environments

By Cherie Sohnen-Moe

In previous issues of Massage Today, we explored the importance of lifelong learning, sources of resistance regarding taking continuing education courses, and ways to evaluate continuing education providers.

Finding a high-quality course offered by a reputable company is just one phase. Your learning experience will be significantly more enjoyable and effective when you take a course best suited to your learning style.

The following exercise demonstrates the power of working with your appropriate learning style. Take out a piece of paper and a writing implement. Write your name in cursive with your non-dominant hand; then write your name in cursive with your dominant hand. Note the differences in the two: the legibility of the signatures; how long it took to write; and the comfort level you experienced while doing the exercise. Learning in an environment that is not suited to your learning style is just like this exercise: you can do it, but it will most likely be more difficult, take longer, and the results won't be as clear.

Many theories on learning abound. The two most popular for educational environments are Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), developed by Richard Bandler; and Multiple Intelligences (MI), formulated by Howard Gardner and extended to the classroom by David Lazear.


NLP postulates that the three major methods for processing information are auditory, kinesthetic and visual, and that people are usually dominant in one area. Approximately 65% of the population is visually oriented, 20% is kinesthetic, and 15% is auditory. Discovering NLP changed my life. According to this system, I am AKV, which puts my two major learning orientations in the minority with the rest of the population. Plus, I'm married to a VAK (actually, if it were possible, he would classify himself as a VVV). As an instructor, this information transformed my teaching methodology. My classes were severely lacking in "visual" materials. It was an effort (and to some degree still is) to include a variety of visual stimuli such as handouts, overhead transparencies, flip charts and posters.


MI classifies human intellect into eight major intelligences (there is rumor of a ninth): verbal/linguistic; logical/mathematical; visual/spatial; bodily/kinesthetic; musical/rhythmic; intrapersonal; interpersonal; and naturalist. This system of understanding how people learn doesn't label people as being a specific type. We use all of the intelligences, but some are stronger in one person vs. another. While personality types refer to what a person is most of the time, multiple intelligences are strategies for learning. I have used this information to broaden the types of activities I use in my classes.

As with NLP, it takes creative effort to incorporate all of the intelligences. When we designed activities for our teaching manual, we painstakingly included all the MI and NLP styles (naturalist was the most difficult).

Choosing the Right Style for You

Consider your learning style when choosing the type of continuing education course. In college, I aced classes when the tests were based on lectures. And although I am an avid reader, I still don't perform as well when tests are based on reading materials. I also notice that I enjoy learning and retain more information when the environment includes a variety of approaches.

Teaching styles vary greatly vary when continuing education is done "live" (e.g., workshops, classes, conferences). Also, the class leader's style might not be best for you. Some people prefer highly structured classes; others like a loose format. Some people want to just hear what the "expert" has to say and resent class discussions. Some people enjoy group activities; others would rather work on their own. Some people do just fine in a class with hundreds of people; others withdraw. Some people want a hands-on-approach; others would rather watch a video.

Distance-learning courses are ideal for people who learn best at their own pace. Keep in mind that these courses also vary widely: some provide reading materials while others include audio or video cassettes. The assessment can range from multiple-choice exams, to written essays, to documented case studies.

Once you have identified your preferred learning styles, you can assemble a list of questions to ask potential CE providers to get the best course for you.

In subsequent issues, we will explore what constitutes a good distance-learning course; CE administration/tracking; effective ways to critique (or complain about) CEU offerings that don't deliver as advertised; and how to prepare yourself before attending a class. Please feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions.

Click here for previous articles by Cherie Sohnen-Moe.


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