How to engage with people who have different learning styles …


Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences.  They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences.  They are open-minded, not sceptical and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new.  Their philosophy is “I’ll try anything once”.  They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards.  Their days are filled with activity.  They tackle problems by brainstorming.  As soon as the excitement from one activity has died down they are busy looking for the next.  They tend to thrive on the challenge of new experiences, but are bored with implementation and longer term consolidation.  They are gregarious people constantly involving themselves with others, but in doing so they seek to centre all activities around themselves.


Key questions for activists:

  • Shall I learn something new ie that I didn’t know/couldn’t do before?
  • Will there be a wide variety of different activities?  (I don’t want to sit and listen for more than an hour at a stretch!).
  • How much old ground will be covered again?
  • Will it be okay to have a go/let my hair down/make mistakes/have fun?
  • Shall I encounter some tough problems and challenges?
  • Will there be other like-minded people to mix with?
  • Will I be allowed to contribute and get involved?
  • What are the deliverables?
  • Are there clear learning objectives?

Activists learn best from activities where:

  • There are new experiences/problems/opportunities from which to learn.
  • They can engross themselves in short ‘here and now’ activities such as business games, competitive teamwork tasks, role-playing exercises.
  • There is excitement, drama and crisis, things chop and change with a range of diverse activities to tackle.
  • Plenty of challenges with little time to prepare.
  • They have a lot of the limelight/high visibility, eg they can ‘chair’ meetings, lead discussions, give presentations.
  • They are allowed to generate ideas without constraints of policy or structure or feasibility
  • They are thrown in at the deep end with a task they think is difficult, eg when set a challenge with inadequate resources and adverse conditions.
  • They are involved with other people, ie bouncing ideas off them, solving problems as part of a team.
  • It is appropriate to ‘have a go’ using their creative skills.

Activists learn least from and may react against activities where:

  • Learning involves a passive role, ie listening to lectures, monologues, explanations, statements of how things should be done, reading, watching.
  • They are asked to stand back and not be involved.
  • They are required to assimilate, analyse and interpret lots of ‘messy’ data.
  • They are required to engage in solitary work, ie reading, writing, thinking on their own
  • They are asked to assess beforehand what they will learn and to appraise afterwards what they have learned.
  • They are offered statements they see as ‘theoretical’, ie explanation of cause or background.
  • They are asked to repeat essentially the same activity over and over again, ie when practising.
  • They have precise instructions to follow with little room for manoeuvre.
  • They are asked to do a thorough job, attend to detail, tie up loose ends, dot the i’s and cross t’s.



Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives.  They collect data, both first-hand and from others and prefer to think about it thoroughly before coming to any conclusion.  The thorough collection and analysis of data about experiences and events is what counts, so they tend to postpone reaching definitive conclusions for as long as possible.  Their philosophy is to be cautious.

They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move.  They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions.  They enjoy observing other people in action.  They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points.  They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant unruffled air about them.  Whey they act it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others observations as well as their own.

Key questions for Reflectors
  • Shall I be given adequate time to consider, assimilate and prepare?
  • Will there be opportunities/facilities to assemble relevant information?
  • Will there be opportunities to listen to other people’s points of view – preferably a wide cross-section of people with a variety of views?
  • Will I be under pressure, work against the clock or an unrealistic deadline?
  • Will I have the opportunity to see any data in advance of the event and time to prepare?
  • Will the theory be explained before I would be expected to develop it thoroughly?

Reflectors learn best from activities where:

  • They are allowed or encouraged to watch/think/chew over activities.
  • They are able to stand back from events and listen/observe, ie observing a group at work, taking a back seat in a meeting, watching a film or video.
  • They are allowed to think before acting, to assimilate before commenting, ie time to prepare, a chance to read in advance a brief giving background data.
  • They can carry out some painstaking research, ie investigate, assemble information, probe to get to the bottom of things and therefore give a balanced view.
  • They have the opportunity to review what has happened, what they have learned.
  • They are asked to produce carefully considered analyses and reports.
  • They are helped to exchange views with other people without danger, ie by prior agreement, within a structured learning experience.
  • They can reach a decision in their own time without pressure and tight deadlines

Reflectors learn least from and may react against activities where:

  • They are ‘forced’ into the limelight, ie to act as leader/chairman to role-play in front of on-lookers
  • They are involved in situations which require action without planning.
  • They are pitched into doing something without warning, ie to produce an instant reaction, to produce an off-the-top-of-the-head idea.
  • They are given insufficient data on which to base a conclusion.
  • They are given cut and dried instructions of how things should be done.
  • They are worried by time pressures or rushed from one activity to another.
  • In the interests of expediency they have to make short cuts or do a superficial job.
  • [geoads4]



Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex, but logically sound theories.  They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way.  They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories.  They tend to be perfectionists who won’t rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme.  They like to analyse and synthesise.  They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories models and systems thinking.  Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic.  “If it is logical it is good”.  Questions they frequently ask are:  “Does it make sense?”  “How does this fit with that?”  “What are the basic assumptions?”  They tend to be  detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous.  Their approach to problems is consistently logical.  This is their ‘mental’ set and they rigidly reject anything that doesn’t fit with it.  They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral thinking and anything flippant.

Key questions for Theorists:

  • Will there be lots of opportunities to question to investigate the facts?
  • Doe the objectives and programme of events indicate a clear structure and purpose.
  • Shall I encounter complex ideas and concepts that are likely to stretch me?
  • Are the approaches to be used and concepts to be explored ‘respectable’, ie sound and valid?
  • Shall I be with people of similar calibre to myself?
  • Will the event be run by professional, qualified people?

 Theorists learn best from activities where:

  • What is being offered is part of a system, model, concept, theory.
  • They have the chance to question and probe the basic methodology, assumptions or logic behind something, ie by taking part in a question and answer session, by checking a paper or inconsistencies, providing an environment for producing good results.
  • They are intellectually stretched, ie by analysing a complex situation, being tested in a tutorial session, by teaching high calibre people who ask searching questions.
  • They are in structured situations with a clear purpose, clear objectives and outcome.
  • They can listen to or read about ideas and concepts that emphasise rationality or logic and are well argued/elegant/watertight.
  • They can analyse and then generalise the reasons for success or failure.
  • They are offered interesting ideas and concepts even though they are not immediately relevant.
  • They are required to understand and participate in complex situations.

Theorists learn least from, and may react against, activities where:

  • They are pitch-forked into doing something without a context or apparent purpose.
  • They have to participate in situations emphasising emotions and feelings.
  • They are involved in unstructured activities where ambiguity and uncertainty are high, ie with open-ended problems, on sensitivity training.
  • They are asked to act or decide without a basis in policy, principle or concept.
  • They are faced with a hotchpotch of alternative/contradictory techniques/methods without exploring in any depth, ie as a ‘‘once over lightly’’course.
  • They doubt whether the subject matter is methodologically sound, ie where questionnaires have not been validated, where there are no statistics to support an argument.
  • They find the subject matter platitudinous, shallow, gimmicky or lightweight.
  • They feel themselves out of tune with other participants, ie when with lots of Activists or people of low intellectual calibre.



Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice.  They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications.  They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice.  They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them.

They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions.  They are essentially practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems.  They respond to problems and opportunities ‘as a challenge’.  Their philosophy is ‘There is always a better way’ and ‘If it works it is good’.

Key questions for Pragmatists
  • Will there be ample opportunities to practise and experiment?
  • Will there be lots of practical tips and techniques?
  • Shall we be addressing real problems and will it result in action plans to tackle some of my current problems?
  • Shall we be exposed to experts who know how to/can do themselves?
  • Will there be opportunity to collaborate with an experienced practitioner whose competence we can trust and respect?
  • Will the pace be brisk in a positive environment?
  • Will the majority of the content be innovative and new and the minority be established ‘old’ thought and thinking?
  • Will there be sufficient opportunity to do – rather than spectate?
  • Will the majority of the content be applicable to my current personal position/job?

Pragmatists learn best from activities where:

  • There is an obvious link between the subject matter and a problem or opportunity on the job.
  • They are shown techniques for doing things with obvious practical advantages, ie how to save time, how to make a good first impression, how to deal with awkward people.
  • They have the chance to try out and practice techniques with coaching/feedback from a credible expert, ie someone who is successful and can do the techniques themselves.
  • They are exposed to a model they can emulate, ie a respected boss, a demonstration from someone with a proven tract record, lots of examples/anecdotes, a film showing how it is done.
  • They are given techniques currently applicable in their own job.
  • They are given immediate opportunities to implement what they have learned.
  • There is a high face validity in the learning activity, ie a good simulation, ‘real’ problems.
  • They can concentrate on practical issues, ie drawing up action plans with an obvious end product, suggesting short cuts, giving tips, time saving strategies.

Pragmatists learn best from and may react against activities where:

  • The learning is not related to an immediate need they recognise.
  • They cannot see an immediate relevance or practical benefit.
  • Organisers of the learning, or the event itself, seem distant from reality, eg ‘ivory towered’, all theory and general principles, pure ‘chalk and talk’.
  • There is no practice or clear guidelines on how to do it.
  • They feel that people are going round in circles and not getting anywhere fast enough.
  • There are political, managerial or personal obstacles to implementation.
  • There is no apparent reward for the learning activity, eg more sales, shorter meetings, higher bonus, promotion.
  • [geoads4]