The Only Time the AVK Myth Applies

Now Or Later Signpost Showing Delay Deadlines And UrgencyI am taking dancing lessons in preparation for my daughter’s wedding next month, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that when the instructor shows me a new step, it looks simple. But when I try it, I can’t get it until I step through it a few times.

According to training lore, I guess that makes me a kinesthetic learner. But if you consider the corollary to that statement, I suppose an auditory learner would be able to pick up the steps simply by listening to the following instructions: “move your left foot about twelve inches to the side, then bring your right foot to meet it; next, advance your left foot forward a bit. But be sure to make the first two steps quick, and the third step slow…”

I had an opportunity recently to sit through a facilitation skills class put on by a major training company, and I was astonished to find that they still teach the idea that facilitators should tailor their techniques to the styles of their learners. One would think that they would have buried this myth long ago, since there is no scientific evidence to support it. Learning theorist Richard Mayer illustrated the weakness of the idea with one experiment that I’ve written about, and another famous example in the literature is described in John Medina’s book, Brain Rules. He describes a study in which expert wine tasters—about as kinesthetic as you can get—were completely fooled into describing white wines with the language reserved to reds, merely through the addition of food coloring. Maybe they were closet visual learners, but I doubt it.

Even if it were true, I can’t see how the instructor would actually change anything—they’d have to first, figure out how to quickly identify the style of each individual, and second, say or show everything three different ways to make sure everyone gets it.

But there actually is one way the idea applies, and dancing lessons offer a clue. It depends on the subject matter and the task. One can understand complicated verbal directions for navigating in a strange town, but a map is much more efficient. It’s possible to learn how to dance by watching others on YouTube, but trying the steps is much more efficient. You can memorize the words to a song by reading them on paper, but hearing them is much more efficient.

Why should this be important to you? Because if you believe the myth, it just becomes another useful excuse for why you didn’t learn something. The world is not going to accommodate itself to your imagined strengths and weaknesses.

You hear what I’m saying? Do you get the picture? Can you feel me?

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1 Comment
  • I hear ya, see what you’re saying, and feel ya, Jack.

    There are some interesting applications for AVK with NLP, in terms of getting in synch with someone (in addition to posture-mirroring and rate-of-speech matching), but I’ve never seen a practical application of AVK in learning theory.

    My buddy Guy Wallace has written extensively about the learning styles myth, most recently at:

    To quote him, “What you need to do is match the material to be learned to the presentation format, not you.” Yeah, that.

    Good luck with those dance lessons.

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