Learning Preferences

150122_LearningI taught my two daughters at home from birth up until last year – some sixteen years of homeschooling in all.  Before my first daughter started kindergarten, I learned about learning preferences from a seminar.  Some people prefer to learn by hearing, some by watching, some by doing.  Over the years I’ve added more to this concept. Some people have a primary preference and a secondary preference, and I’m sure there are some people who can happily adapt to whatever is presented.  There are people within each group (audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners) who like to be presented with the “big picture” first and some who prefer to be given the parts so they can assemble the whole.  There’s yet another layer of preferences!  Some people love collaboration and constant conversation with instructor and peers and some prefer to work quietly, alone, and with minimum feedback.  Putting it all together, you might have a student who prefers to learn by watching, wants to piece together the whole from the parts, and loves collaborating with others.

When I came back to Karate, one of the first things I noticed was all three modes of learning are accommodated, and any other individual learning preferences can be addressed as well.  You see Sensei do the technique, you listen to her talk, you do it yourself.  Academic classes tend to shortchange the kinesthetic learner – one is expected to spend a great deal of time sitting still in a desk.  In Karate, “big picture” people are free to clunk through a technique and refine over time.  “Assemblers” can piece things together at their own pace, and if they’re really struggling, Sensei will come around to help.  In my experience, most Karate classes tend to favor those who want to work alone and with minimum feedback.  If this is the case, students who love collaboration and constant conversation are free to spend time outside of class doing exactly that.  If you’re one of these people you should come early to class, stay late, and find someone to practice with on days you don’t have class.  If you have a learning challenge, you will definitely need extra time.

Finding the label for my own learning challenge was huge. Its name is Directional Dyslexia. Now that I have its name, I don’t have to feel anxious about it.  It’s part of who I am.  If I find myself fighting anxiety, I remind myself to figure out ways to adapt.   I have some tips for those who struggle with directional dyslexia – please see my blog post, “Dyslexia – a Path to the Heart of Karate.”  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll sum it up.  I have tricks and ways of labeling things other than “right” and “left.”  Bunkai is vital to my kata.  If I’m really floundering, Sensei will come around to me eventually.  Time before and after class and practice time are vital.  In short, I have to work hard.  So does everyone else 🙂

I don’t have much authority to speak on other learning challenges.    I’ve seen people with physical or mental challenges in tournaments and promotions and I can say that there is a lot that can be overcome.  However, ultimately it boils down to the individual.  For some people, Karate simply will not work.  I have an autistic daughter who doesn’t train with her sister and I.  I respect her distaste for violence, and loud noise isn’t her cup of tea either.  She gets enough group learning at school, so outside of school she prefers solitary activities.  No way would she be able to take even the little love taps I get from time to time in class.  I’m a grouch when I’m laid up with an injury, she’s worse.  The most I can hope for is to teach her a few self-defense things.

There’s tons more that goes into learning, but it all boils down to the student’s responsibility to self-advocate and the teacher’s responsibility to be aware that different people need different things.  Group learning does necessitate that each individual adapt, but practice time and individual instruction can be tailored beautifully. We students must structure our own learning process because every single one of us has different preferences, challenges, and needs. Practicing on your own and taking advantage of time before and/or after class to talk to your instructor for a minute or two pays off big time – that’s taking charge of your learning process. I’m very grateful to my Sempais (senior students) and Senseis for being there as much as they can before and after class, and for my older daughter who practices with me.  Help from others is a huge part of success.  Remembering something you’ve overcome is a great thing to do when the gloom of self doubt sets in.


Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

7 thoughts on “Learning Preferences”

  1. Learning definitely comes in different shapes and sizes, so to speak. I teach kids with hearing challenges, cerebral palsy, and attention problems. It is important to make sure they all find success. I also learn the best by example and watching someone else, rather than reading or just listening. A teacher’s awareness is very important.

    1. Ossu! [bow]

      Hats off to you, Sensei, for being aware of the needs of your students! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting 🙂


  2. “…it all boils down to the student’s responsibility to self-advocate and the teacher’s responsibility to be aware that different people need different things.”

    Wisdom times two. Well said, Jo! 🙂

  3. This really resonated with me. Thanks for articulating it so well. One of the things my Sensei (at my home dojo) and I had been discussing previously is what I like / don’t like / what is different and the same about other dojo in our network. (I actually sent him a link to your blog because I thought your article well was worth reading!)

    Last couple of weeks have seen me on the inside of all 3 dojo in our network with all 3 sensei. They all have different teaching methods and I got a lot out of all the classes. (OK so I was pretty exhausted by the end of the week too…..but that was partly outside dojo happenings!)

    Had this been me 20 years ago I doubt I could have said the same thing (not that I was doing karate but for example music or a uni course – timing wise that would have been right). I think it is partly about the learner and their adaptability. I am streets ahead with adapting now – I was very rigid before and so much more dependent on (what I considered to be) “good teaching” and a lot to do with how interested in / good at something I was. I am a much more self directed learner, I have more things to “hang” new info on and I am confident to ask a question even if I think it may be stupid…..in front of others or just to the teacher – I have pretty much stopped worrying about it!

    So although all 3 sensei have different styles, different personalities, different life experience and different teaching methods, I think they are all fantastic and I can learn a lot from all of them if I keep an open mind, stay flexible (not just of limb) and maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude to learning.

    1. Yep, Rach – taking responsibility for your learning while being respectful and appreciative of your Sensei is what it’s all about 🙂 Thanks for sharing this blog – I’m honored!

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