Sensory Learning Styles
Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learning Styles in Grappling
by Charles Smith, whitebelt.org
Stephan’s note: this article is from whitebelt.org, which features book, video and grappling gear reviews as well as many fine articles on coaching and training in the grappling arts. Thanks to Charles Smith, the author of this article, for letting us post it here at Grapplearts.com.
People learn in many different ways and no two people learn in exactly the same way. As a coach you can help your players train more efficiently if you teach in a way that takes into account the various differences in their learning styles.
In this article.. I cover three basic styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.
Visual learners want to see how something is done. Auditory learners prefer to hear explanations and like to talk their way through things. Kinesthetically oriented people want to get lots of hands-on experience so they can feel how something is done. I’ve covered each of these sensory learning styles in their own article, linked at the bottom of this page.
As you read the articles keep in mind that everyone uses a mix of learning styles. Some people have one dominant style, and use the others only as supplements, while other people use different styles in different circumstances. There is no right mix. People’s learning styles are also quite flexible. Everyone can develop ability in their less dominant styles, as well as increase their skill with styles they already use well.
Note to Coaches:
The key for you as a coach is to present information in a multi-layered mixture of styles. Don’t get stuck teaching in just one mode. Make sure you’re doing all you can for each style and pay particular attention to how you can blend the styles together.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should help your students discover their own learning styles and how to make the most of them.
Visual Learning Style
First we’ll look at the visual learning style and how best to teach people who use it.
The visual style of learning is one of the three sensory learning styles along with auditory and kinesthetic. Like the other two, visual learning relates to the fundamental ways in which people take-in information. As you can guess, visual learners learn predominantly with their eyes. They prefer to see how to do things rather than just talk about them. It’s the old monkey see, monkey do kind of thing. Since about 60% of people are visual learners you can count on working with them in every class you teach.
Visual learners prefer to watch demonstrations and will often get a lot out of video taped instruction as well. You can sometimes tell you’re dealing with a visual learner when they ask, “Can I see that again?” Other types of learners would ask if you could do it again, or explain it again, but visual learners will often say they want to see it. It’s just a little sign that the person you’re coaching may be a visual learner.
There are two important guidelines to follow in coaching for visual learners. The first is to make sure you are showing the movements as completely and clearly as possible. If you’re demonstrating a technique and part of the movement is hidden from view, you’ll want to find a way to rearrange things. You may have to get pretty creative, but the main thing is to position yourself so that everything you’re doing is available for viewing.
You also don’t want to rush or cut corners during a demonstration. Players need to see exactly how things should look from beginning to end. Coaches will frequently cover the key part of a technique with precision, but then get sloppy with the rest. Remember, monkey see, monkey do. Visual learners are going to do what they see you doing. They’ll subconsciously pick up on the sloppy movements and begin copying them – often even if you tell them not to.
Those are the two main guidelines for visual coaching: Show everything clearly and show everything exactly as you want it to be done.
Based on those ideas, here are a few things you can do, and not do, to improve your coaching for visual learners.
- Always take the time to show the technique from a number of different angles and encourage your students to move around and find the best viewing angles.
- Do not force your students to stay in fixed lines while you demonstrate. This always results in some people blocking the view of others.
- Give your demonstrations toward the middle of the floor, not near a wall. That way people can get all the way around you.
- Every now and then throw out a banana. Monkeys like bananas.
Auditory Learning Style
Auditory learners pick up new ideas and concepts better when they hear the information. In this article we’ll look at the auditory learning style and how best to present information to people who favor it.
Recognizing the Auditory Style
Auditory people can often follow directions very precisely after being told only once or twice what to do. Some auditory learners concentrate better when they have music or white noise in the background, or retain new information better when they talk it out.
Since hearing and speaking are so closely related you’ll often find auditory learners using they’re voice as well as their ears. They’ll often repeat what you’ve said right back to you. It helps them process the information. They may also remember complex sets of information by putting them to song or rhythm. Singers are usually skilled auditory learners for example. That’s why they can memorize a song after hearing it just a few times. Auditory people may also ask, “Could you explain that again?” Other types of learners would ask you to do it again, or show it again, but auditory learners want to hear it.
Once you start watching for the signs you’ll see just how many people prefer the auditory style. I believe the experts say that about 30% of Americans are auditory learners. That makes it a good bet you’ll be working with them in any decent sized class.
As with the other styles of learning it’s best to let people arrange themselves around you for instruction. Don’t force your students to stay in fixed lines while you demonstrate. Lines always result in some people not being able to hear as well as others – or feeling that they’ve been pushed to the back and can’t ask questions.
I’d suggest giving your demonstrations toward the middle of the floor and not near a wall. That way people can get all the way around you to find the best place to listen from. You may have to encourage people to move around you since so many of us are conditioned to being in neat little lines.
Likewise, it’s also a good idea to let people ask questions as soon as they have them. Requiring people to raise their hands or otherwise wait for permission to speak usually squanders the moment when a student is really hot to learn. You’ll just end up back tracking to answer the question anyway, so let people speak up when they want to and rely on informal means to keep things under control.
Auditory learners will try to do what you say – exactly what you say. You need to speak clearly and completely or they’re going to head off in the wrong direction for sure. Assuming you’ve got decent speaking skills, the thing to pay most attention to is giving a detailed verbal description of what you’re doing. In other words, you’ve got to put everything into words.
Saying “do it like this” is not enough. It’s talking, sure, but it’s not saying anything. “Do it like this” means: Ignore what I’m saying and watch instead. Instead of saying “put your hand here.” Say “put your hand on the inside of the knee.” Instead of saying “push hard,” say “push hard enough to pin their leg down.” Instead of saying, “move over here,” say “move over next to the far leg.” See the pattern? Avoid saying things that assume the player can see what you’re talking about.
Getting verbal helps a lot of auditory learners. When they can both hear something and then say it out loud for themselves it helps them process the information. Most auditory learners like to ask questions too, if given the chance. You can get things started, and give everyone confidence that you like questions, by asking some questions of your own.
I would caution one thing though. Don’t make people feel like they’re being tested by putting them on the spot. Address your question to the group as a whole and don’t slight anyone who answers incorrectly.
One of my favorite ways to tell someone they’ve got it wrong is to use a melodramatic voice and body language to say:
“Good answer! Good answer!”
Then pause a moment and say:
“It’s not the right answer, but it’s a good answer!”
If you ham it up people get the idea that the answer is wrong but there’s no reason to be embarrassed.
Verbal interaction is probably one of the weakest areas most coaches have. Perhaps it’s because most of us grew up being told to keep quite in school. Now that we’re the teacher we subconsciously induce our students to do the same. Bad, bad us.
If you’re really having trouble with asking questions, one of the simplest ways to start is a technique called echoing. It works like this:
Coach states: “Grab the near collar.”
Coach immediately asks: “What do you grab?”
Athletes echo: “The near collar.”
Coach echoes: “The near collar.”
Echoing is crude, but it works to get people’s jaws moving and that’s a start. Keep it light hearted and try it for a few months. (No, it doesn’t work overnight.) After everyone’s mouth is use to moving start branching out into real questions.
Like I said, echoing is crude, but it’s a start.
By the way, echoing can also be used as a motivational technique. People have to pay more attention to what you’re saying if they know they have to echo what you say.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should help your students become aware of their own auditory style and give them suggestions for putting it to use. What I call rapping is a simple way to start.
Rapping is a simple procedure auditory learners can use to help themselves learn a new technique. Using short phrases, students quietly talk their way through the new movements they’re learning. Each step has it’s own little key word description that acts to jog the memory. The player should be able to put together the key words for themselves from the description given by the coach. Once the student starts to get the movements down, they can say the words in rhythm to help smooth out their timing and pace.
Coaches can encourage rapping by asking students if they’ve got the rap down and “let’s hear it.” And hey, maybe you can beat-box for ‘em too!
Now that you’ve got a grasp of the auditory learning style I think you’ll find you can more precisely target your coaching for a number of your students.
If you haven’t already, I’d recommend taking a look at the other two sensory learning styles, visual and kinesthetic, to round out your knowledge.
Kinesthetic Learning Style
About 10% of the general population are kinesthetic learners. They prefer to learn by getting their body into action and moving around. They are “hands-on” types who prefer doing to talking. In this article we’ll look at the kinesthetic learning style and how best to present information to people who favor it.
Recognizing the Kinesthetic Style
While only about 10% of the general population are kinesthetic learners, it’s a good bet a lot more people in a grappling class are. Only people who enjoy lots of hands-on work tend to keep coming back to something so physical.
As a coach you can count on all of your players to engage in kinesthetic learning. They may not be kinesthetic-oriented by nature, but grappling will eventually shape them into skilled kinesthetic learners.
Let me point out a few indicators of the kinesthetic style.
When you’re giving a demonstration the people who always ask you to demonstrate on them so they can feel the technique, are very likely kinesthetic learners (and masochists).
You’ll also see the kinesthetic types following along as you demonstrate – moving their arms and legs in imitation of what you’re doing. Moving is so fundamental to kinesthetic learners that they often just fidget if nothing else. It helps them concentrate better.
If you talk for more than ten minutes during a technical demonstration you’ve gone way too long. Kinesthetic learners need to get to the action as soon as possible. Even visual and auditory learners can’t keep track of 10 minutes worth of non-stop details. Three minutes is my rule. If I can’t demonstrate something in under three minutes I usually break it down into smaller chunks. Say what you need say, don’t say anything else and then get to work.
This is a very important point that relates not just to kinesthetic learners but to everyone in general. It has to do with the relationship between short-term-memory and learning. Check out the article entitled Chunking to find out more.
One of the most important things you can do regarding learning styles is help your students become aware of their own preferences. Be sure to talk to your students about kinesthetics.
Kinesthetics simply refers to an awareness of changes in pressure, momentum, balance and body position in general. It’s all about feeling what you’re doing as you do it. Kinesthetic learning is not particularly difficult to understand but because so many people regard learning as something you do by reading books or listening to lectures, they often haven’t given a great deal of thought to physical movement as a means of study.
For some people, taking a grapping class may actually be the very first time they become consciously aware of kinesthetics, so make sure all of your students know what it is and that they will need to make extensive use of kinesthetic learning methods to succeed. Even predominantly visual and auditory learners need to make use of all the kinesthetic techniques they can.
Essentially, kinesthetic learners need to feel the particular details of what’s happening during a technique. As a coach you want to give your player a very tactile sense of what to do. Provide them with precisely targeted physical contact by setting up situations where the player feels one thing if they move correctly and something else if they move poorly.
For example, if a player is incorrectly leaving his arm out where it might get pulled into an arm bar, have the player tucked in his arm and point out that he should feel his elbow tight up against his own ribs. Then emphasize the way the position feels by pulling on his arm so he is forced to engage his muscles. Tell him to pay attention to his own muscles working away inside his body.
Once he’s got a feel for the proper position, do some repetitions. As the player works on his technique stop and check the arm to make sure it’s in tight. Tug on it a few times to reinforce the correct feeling and then continue on. After several reps stop checking the arm but keep an eye on it as the player keeps going. If that arm goes slack again slap the piss out of the guy and repeat the whole arm-pulling exercise again. After a few training sessions the player should be keeping his arm in on his own.
Finding a way to physically check a player’s body position is the key. Push, pull, lift, press, whatever – do something that the player must physically react to – then get them to pay attention to the kinesthetic sensations.
Understanding kinesthetic learning is an absolute necessity for grappling coaches. I typically base my own coaching style on the requirements for good kinesthetic learning and then supplement it with the other two sensory learning styles: visual and auditory.
Thanks to Charles Smith and whitebelt.org for allowing us to post this article on Grapplearts