Learning Styles

I love getting inside a clients mind and getting to know how they learn, and what makes them tick. And how I can shape my lessons and teaching style to get the best out of them.

There are four main types of learner, according to Mumford and Honey anyway, but many people can identify with more than one style.

Activist learners like to keep moving. They’re the sort that whilst you’re explaining a new exercise they’re already starting to ride it. They like to keep busy and dabble in lots of different topics. They also have quite short attention spans so need short explanations of concepts.  Activist learners learn by doing; so they will learn the aids for canter, for example, by applying the aids and repeating the process. Even if they get it wrong the first time, they’re happy go keep trying until they get it right.

Pragmatic learners are similar to activists in that they like to learn on the move, however they like to focus on one area at a time. With pragmatic learners you have to give them the theory and then show them how to apply it to their riding. I think with these types of learners it’s important that they see the reason behind the exercise. For example, they would ask what is the reason behind working without stirrups? Even the youngest of children can understand that it’s important to learn to go without stirrups in case you accidentally lose one out riding. Pragmatic learners are also happy to repeat an exercise multiple times until they feel it is perfect, whilst an activist learner would get bored of focusing one aspect for more than a couple of goes.

Theorist learners are the ones who can be quite tricky to teach equitation to. They need to know all the theory, the little ins and outs. Which tests my knowledge and ability to explain everything in depth! Only once they have all the information then they feel confident to try it themselves.

The final type of learner in this model is the reflector. They learn by observing and reflecting on experiences. Watching other riders and videos of themselves will help this type of learner learn the correct movement. When teaching these types of learners it’s useful to discuss the exercise, have them ride it, and then discuss their performance before they try again.

There is also the VAK learning style model; some of which are related to the above styles. Visual learners like to watch, and observe others before trying out at exercise; akin to reflectors. Auditory learners learn by listening to explanations like theorist learners. Finally, kinaesthetic learners learn best by doing, in a similar way to activists.

In private lessons an instructor can adapt their teaching style to that of the client, but it’s far harder in group lessons when you have several styles of learner. So each exercise needs to be taught with an element of each learning style. 

I read somewhere that knowing your own learning style can help improve your way of coaching. So I had a bit of a think, but I’m not sure where I best fit. I often like to get involved with a job, or learning. But only when it’s something I’m familiar with, e.g. Horse riding. If I took up skiing lessons I wouldn’t feel confident enough to get stuck in, and would prefer to watch others first. Which is a reflector style of learning. Then I read that your learning style can evolve as you gain more knowledge, experience and I guess confidence. So perhaps I began life as a reflector, but then developed into an activist at some point. However I do like to learn the theory; but I think I like to learn the theory as I go along rather than at the beginning of a lesson… Really, I’m not sure where I fit in, but I think I can identify with each style. 

How do you think you learn best?

I know one of my young clients is definitely an activist learner – he’s the type that you have to say “do not start until I’ve finished telling you what to do”, or “shorten your reins!” As he kicks off into canter! 

Another young rider likes me to discuss what we’re going to focus on in each exercise before we set off. Making her a theorist learner. She also seems to absorb any titbits of information I give her, and she sussed her trot diagonals in ten minutes – and she’s only seven! She then has elements of a reflector, in that after a lesson she will go away and think about the content before practising it the next day.

I would describe one of my mature riders as an analyst; she tries to perfect everything at once, overanalyses why it didn’t happen, and then builds it up into a big issue when really she needs to forget about the tiny details until the exercise can be done by rote. I feel she’s a theorist learner, but has elements of a pragmatist and a reflector. She likes to know exactly what she should be doing, yet finds it hard to put everything in place. And then she picks herself apart afterwards. I try to get her to focus on the big picture initially and to stop overthinking the exercise and then I focus her attention on one element. I actually find this quite a tricky style to teach, and almost feel I have to formulate my lessons to influence her learning style (making her more of a pragmatic learner), rather than try to adapt to meet her complex mix of learning styles. But she thinks I’ve got it – she’s always saying that I seem to have got inside her brain when I teach her. Which means I’m doing a good job. Hopefully. 

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2 thoughts on “Learning Styles

  1. thehorseylife April 24, 2017 / 10:18 pm

    This is an important concept to wrap our brains around as instructors and coaches – thank you for writing this!

    One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my more mature students are often less inclined to jump right in. I think life circumstances can modify, if not completely change, a person’s learning style – especially in an activity which carries some physical risk.

    Adult riders also may be more concerned about being embarrassed in a group setting if they don’t get it right on the first try. It often helps if I give the student the why first, and then work backward till we get to a chunk of the skill where we can have success, and then use that foundation to continue to build the other parts of the skill.

    The best teachers are those who never stop learning – it sounds like you’re definitely one of the best!

    • therubbercurrycomb April 25, 2017 / 10:19 am

      Yes I think you’re probably right about age making you more reflective as a learner. I don’t teach that many group lessons now, but I think most adults prefer privates and I have a couple who book when they know the yard will be quiet because they don’t like the thought of having spectators.
      In the clinics I do I do find that people sort themselves into an order. The confident or activist will put themselves first whilst the reflector and theorist will wait until last.
      And I totally agree with given the finished piece, say riding the leg yield movement 3/4 line to track with a bit of theory, and then examine each little area so they understand yet can see the final result on the horizon 😊
      I doubt I’m anywhere near the best, but I like learning and get a lot of satisfaction from teaching so I’ll keep going!

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