Girl studyingLearning is vital for growth in discipleship - but not everyone learns in the same way. People have distinct learning styles. They prefer to learn in different ways. When preparing learning time and activities or choosing a published discipleship resource, it is important to think through the different learning styles within a community. How well will different types of learner engage with the material?

Educationalists such as Yvonne Craig, Peter Honey and Alan Mumford have identified a variety of learning styles (Yvonne Craig, Learning for Life, Mowbray, 1994, p49, and Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, The Learning Styles Questionnaire, Peter Honey Publications, 2006, pp19-20).

Some educationalists categorise learners according to what senses they prefer to use - visual, aural and kinetic (touch and acting out), for example. Peter Honey and Alan Mumford, on the other hand, have suggested four learning styles.

Activists assemble the flat pack before reading the instructions.

ScrewdriverThey are enthusiasts who welcome new challenges. They like to be in the limelight, live in the now and need to be specific. They do not worry too much about the bigger picture or the historic context.

To learn, activists like:

  • spontaneity;
  • short sessions;
  • lots of variety;
  • the chance to initiate;
  • joining and having fun.

Activists will love Messy Church but not thank you for a 45-minute expository sermon or silent reflection. They may also be at risk of death by PowerPoint.

Reflectors will lay out all the pieces of the flat pack first

Lake, mountain and skyThey will ponder the design of each part before assembling the furniture. They think things through in detail before doing anything. They listen very well and are happy to be in the background. They tend to read deeply and widely. They don't enjoy too much noise or fast movement.

To learn, reflectors like:

  • quiet spaces and times;
  • images and metaphors;
  • to think carefully before acting;
  • to prepare thoroughly;
  • to take time to research, evaluate and decide;
  • to listen and observe;
  • the opportunity for reflective tuition.

Reflectors will enjoy new monastic communities but may well struggle with a church like Legacy XS, a skater church.

Theorists will read the instructions first

Engineering plansThey will check they understand them and then follow them carefully. They like to see how things fit into an overall pattern. Analytical, logical and objective, they pay attention to detail and tend to be perfectionists. They may love spending hours putting a good talk together.

To learn, theorists like:

  • theories, models, concepts and diagrams;
  • to see the overall picture;
  • to be stretched;
  • structure and clear objectives;
  • logical presentation.

Theorists will be very happy with lots of PowerPoint slides and process courses. They won't be very comfortable coming to a spontaneous meeting and having to go with the flow.

Pragmatists will build the flat pack and get excited by what the furniture can do

WardrobeIf they can think of a better way to design or build it they will be even more happy. Pragmatists are practical and down to earth. They like to see how things work, solve problems and improve things where possible.

To learn, pragmatists like:

  • to know their learning is for a purpose;
  • to see what their learning produces;
  • to explore the how and what questions;
  • credible role models and proven techniques;
  • leaders who have been there, done it and wear the T-shirt.

Pragmatists will enjoy exploring whole-life discipleship. They will struggle with mysticism and any spirituality that appears to be too 'other-worldly'.

Might the gospels reflect different learning styles?

When the Bible Reading Fellowship was developing the online course, Foundations21, they came to see how the four gospels related to different learning styles:

  • Mark is attractive to activists who like information delivered quickly;
  • Matthew is particularly suitable for pragmatic and logical people who value order and tradition - people who like to see the whole picture and how it fits together;
  • Luke appeals to reflective types and those who are particularly interested in people;
  • John connects well with those who are imaginative and attracted to symbolism and signs.

As fresh expressions seek to introduce people to Jesus and develop effective patterns of discipleship, it can be helpful to keep asking: 'Is what we are sharing and doing suitable for different learning styles?'