Having been deeply involved in the world of small groups for more than a decade now, I’ve learned a lot of new concepts and interesting ideas. But if I had to pick one area of study that’s had the greatest impact on the way I lead my own small group, I wouldn’t hesitate at all. It’s learning styles.
A Brief Description
If you’re unfamiliar with that term, a “learning style” refers to the way a person perceives and processes information. It’s how raw data enters your brain through senses such as sight, smell, sound, and touch (that’s perception); it’s also how your brain interprets, organizes, stores, and uses that raw information (that’s processing).
To state the obvious, learning styles describe the different ways we learn things as human beings.
What I believe—and what I’ve experienced while serving hundreds of churches and small-group leaders—is that understanding the way we perceive and process information is vitally important for the kind of experiencing we all hope for in a healthy small group.
That’s why over the next several weeks I’ll be writing about the basics of learning styles and their application to small groups—starting today.
The VARK Model
When it comes to categorizing and understanding the learning styles of human beings, there are dozens of different models that have been developed over the years (many of which are very scholarly and the opposite of user friendly). But I prefer to focus on the VARK model because it makes a lot of sense and, frankly, is easy to both understand and apply.
The VARK model of learning styles was developed by Neil Fleming, who is a professor and educational theorist currently living in New Zealand. It focuses on four distinct learning styles:
- Visual learners
- Auditory learners
- Reading/writing learners
- Kinesthetic learners
We’ll discuss each of the different styles in depth over the next several weeks, although you can guess a lot about each style based on the name.
In addition to the four VARK styles, we’ll also be learning about Social Learners and Solitary Learners—a distinction that makes a big difference when it comes to attendance and participation in small groups.
Dominant and Secondary
It’s important to note that just about everyone is able to operate in all four of the different learning styles described above. Chances are good that all of your small-group members will be able to perceive and process information through site (visual), sound (auditory), reading/writing, and touch (kinesthetic).
But each of us has a dominant learning style—a primary method that we prefer to use when we learn. This is the way that we unconsciously approach and interpret the world. Most people have a secondary learning style, as well. They are not as comfortable with their secondary style as they are with their dominant style, but they can learn and interact well just the same.
Now, here’s the kicker for us small-group leaders: our dominant learning style typically becomes the primary way we attempt to lead and teach others. So, the way you prefer to learn will influence the way you lead your group—which can be a positive or negative thing based on the different learning styles of your group members.
That’s just one of the reasons why group leaders really do need to have a basic understanding of learning styles. We’ll discuss many more over the weeks to come.
Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.