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From the right seat: Learning channels

Teach the way your students learn

Every time I think I'm proficient at communicating with students they surprise me. You know what I mean, don't you? During a climb, you tell your student to adjust his pitch, so he clears his throat and then starts speaking in a different tone. While we can't always predict our students' behavior, we can communicate better by identifying which of the three main sensory channels they use to represent their experience. These are the visual channel, the auditory (hearing) channel, and the kinesthetic (feeling) channel.

Most of the time students favor a single channel over the others when learning new tasks. We'll call this their predominant sensory channel. Communicate with your charges on the wrong sensory channel and they probably won?t learn as well.

You can identify your students' predominant sensory channel by listening carefully to the visual, audio, and kinesthetic terms that they use in describing their experience. Some may say, "Yes, I see the problem;" others might say that they "hear what you are saying," and a few more will indicate that something "feels right." All of these are linguistic clues to the predominant sensory channel they use for that particular environment or activity. Keep in mind that an individual's sensory channel predominance may vary with the activity being learned (i.e., math, flying, volleyball, etc).

Several years ago I worked with a student who struggled to obtain her instrument rating. Betty (not her real name) had stripped the mental gears of three previous flight instructors. I was number four. As I listened to her discuss her previous training experiences I noticed that she had an unusual preference for kinesthetic terms.

It was always, "I knew in my gut that I had forgotten something but I wasn't in touch with the problem," or "I couldn't get a grip on my position which caused me to stumble, and ultimately slowed my thinking down." These terms indicated her preference for communicating predominantly on a kinesthetic channel, versus the auditory or visual channel. The problem here is that instrument flying is anything but a kinesthetic activity. After all, we tell our students not to pay attention to bodily cues. It's likely that Betty's previous instructors spoke in visual and auditory terms - the language of the instrument world.

Students communicating on a kinesthetic channel are more likely to be kinesthetic learners. These are people who often learn best by doing instead of by watching or listening to you. Being directly (physically) involved in their learning is very important to them.

It turned out that Betty's instructors provided one too many demonstrations (good for visual learners) and lavished her with explanations (great for auditory learners). They didn't give her enough time to learn by doing (precisely what a kinesthetic learner needs most).

So I let Betty fly while I kept the demonstrations and explanations to a minimum. It was an appropriate antidote. Within five hours, all the disembodied information she hadn't comprehended began to make sense to her. Students whose predominant sensory channel is auditory are often identified by expressions like, "That didn't sound right to me," "That struck a chord with me," and "I was in harmony with ATC today." These students enjoy verbal instructions. You can interrupt the training session by taking the controls and explaining a particular issue (don't overdo this with a kinesthetic learner). Additionally, students with an auditory preference are more likely to benefit by talking themselves through a task. Don't be surprised to find many musicians among auditory learners.

The most common predominant sensory channel is visual. After all, an enormous portion of our brain is wired specifically to receive and interpret visual information. Visual predominance is identified by a student's preference of phrases such as "I watched for ATC's communication," "I was focused on the approach," or "I had a picture of the landing site in my mind."

Students with a visual predominance respond best by watching demonstrations. So don't be stingy with the demos. Show them how it's done. You'll find that these students also like visual descriptions because they have the skill to visualize a problem. So don't be stingy with those airplane/hand gestures. These folks don't pay as much attention to sounds (i.e., you talk and they don't hear) and may have difficulty in getting a feel for the airplane (something kinesthetic learners do well). Identifying someone's predominant sensory channel is important, especially if you're a professional hypnotist. These folks listen carefully, then communicate predominantly with visual, auditory, or kinesthetic terms-all of which strengthens the power of a hypnotic suggestion. When you think about it, good flight instructors should do the same thing. After all, there's not that much different between suggestion and learning; both seek a relatively permanent change in a person's behavior. So speak in the sensory terms your students understand.

By Rod Machado

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