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Is it possible to learn how to learn, and if so, how?

During my educational days I was never actually taught how to learn, obviously this is a bit of a catch 22 question, but after reading books that teach tricks of the memory, and with a higher understanding of how the brain works, would it not be possible to teach people how to learn thereby giving an autonomy to the student, who may then go out and specify their own curriculum?

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    Jul 9 2013: You better believe you can "learn how to learn". I'm gonna tell you how right now. Practice, practice, practice, just like finding Carnegie Hall. Brain science tells us, that every time one performs any task, riding a bicycle, reading a book, playing cards, skiing down a mountain, eating an ice cream cone, new (neurons) are being constructed into networks, bundles, they process (previously encountered stimuli), and now must process the (new information) encountered in the (new experience). As the brain processes stimuli from the new environment, or activity, it must deliver the response to those (developing new muscle tissue), in the (new sequence) to (new cells). I often tell kids to think of plants growing toward the light as an analogy. It's a (constant feed back construction process) of muscle tissue, and neuron tissue.What ever you do towards the end product of information gathering will strengthen the neuron pathways to process more information and more and more. Given enough (nutrients),(rest) and (repetition) and absence of pathology one can learn just about anything.
  • Jul 8 2013: I am not a scholar or anything on this subject, but I am avid reader and I have read a beautiful book "The Practicing Mind" by Thomas M. Sterner ( http://www.thepracticingmind.com/ ) , on this topic. He lays out a simple but an effective way of understanding of how learning happens and how it can be improved. Even though the underlying concepts are age old and complex, he puts some of the simple methods that can followed and applied in every day life. It helped me a lot honestly.
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    Jul 7 2013: Lot to say about this but suffice it to say learning and looking are the same thing.

    You appear to have the required prerequisite of knowing that you don't know which is a common impediment to not looking.

    Second thing I would say is stay interested and do not become interesting.
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      Jul 7 2013: "stay interested and do not become interesting."

      Priceless Pat....
  • Jul 6 2013: It's not the setting Oliver is tackling, but I used to help teams "learn"...:
    - http://www.ybnd.eu/docs/Learn_reeng.pdf
    - http://www.ybnd.eu/docs/CM_wks.pdf

    For adults, it's rather a matter of:
    - Discarding assumptions (mostly outside their professional field of expertise), than improving sheer knowledge;
    - "Joining brains", than solving problems in isolation.

    As a general approach to learning, I'd suggest to differentiate among three different ways of learning:
    - Type 1: gathering new information;
    - Type 2: paradigm change as a specific unforeseen event;
    - Type 3: Repetitive / continuous, voluntary / purposeful paradigm change.

    I view intelligence as the capability of (plastically) changing "representations", i.e. how all the information gathered so far in time is organized "after" vs. "before" the latest bit of information is received (cfr. learning type 3).
    And it's not the "processing" of the information that makes intelligence, but the capability of "storing" it in a plastically changing organized way.

    How to teach this...? Well, it's not straightforward, or trivial.
    I duly "provoke people to rethink". Maybe it works with youngsters, too.

    Incidentally, "learning to learn" is Edgar Morin's "method".
  • Jul 4 2013: desire to learn is the only thing necessary. if there is no desire, let them sleep. they will awaken one day in their own time.......no one teaches a flower to open.
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      Jul 6 2013: "no one teaches a flower to open." - two thumbs up.

      However, my 15-year-old can sleep till 2pm and still wake up without any desire to go to school or do homework. I have a plant that had flowers when our friend gave it to us last year. I planted the bulb in the yard this year, the leaves grew up, but there are no flowers. I think, I planted it too late. Sometimes, flowers never open. They may need the right conditions.
      • Jul 6 2013: :-)
        I was the same at 15.....thus, the only prodding I received from my parents was to get a job. My sleep patterns changed shortly thereafter......and I began to see the connections between education & work.
  • Jul 3 2013: Check out this wiki; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning

    "Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information." (from wiki)

    Apply the above definition to the process of learning to your example of reading books on learning.

    Did the books add to your knowledge?


    Did they change your behaviors, increase your skills, change your values or alter your preferences?

    Did they help or hurt how you learn?

    Did what you learned improve your general intelligence and capacity to learn new things?


    Did what you learn change your level of curiosity about learning?


    Did what you learn change your level of awareness about a subject?


    I think the answer to the first part of your question is 'yes' and the answer to the second part is to increase your understanding of the influential factors associated the process of learning, as well as your general knowledge.

    This could be a change to behaviors (lack of sleep, abuse of drugs, poor diet), try to understand how and why the authors of what you read believe that what they put forward is truth. How did they reach their conclusions? Do you understand the method they applied? What makes one author's opinion on a subject better than another author's opinion? Do you agree with his reasoning?


    How does what the author puts forward line up with your own values?


    Gradually increasing independent study for students until they are autonomous learners is a good plan. However, we need parents, teachers, and authors to initially guide them through the basics and synthesize for them to allow them to take advantage of prior knowledge and lessons learned.
  • Jul 10 2013: My opinion is that the quest of every student - at least, a hard-working one - is to learn how to learn. This sort of thinking can sound a little optimizer, but also includes that we, as students, have to improve step-by-step: a new concept learned can be used to learn another one and, for me, is how the "knowledge network" happens. It's possible to learn how to learn, however, the way we do it is very specific, because different things make different senses for different people.
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    Jul 10 2013: I sincerely think it is possible to learn how to learn. But also, I think this is very specific for each other, depending on the issue the subject is trying to learn and the experience of the subject with the issue. Associating things, for me, works perfectly. But this my way of learning. Other people think differently from me. So, I think it's some sort of self knowledge that's behind learning how to learn and, also, that it works specifically for each person. And I think everyone can learn everything, even if, for some, it is more difficult. Nothing is impossible to learn( it includes learning how to learn hehe)
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    Jul 8 2013: A fascinating question. Given the many kinds of learning there are, I don't think it's a catch-22! As a scientist, the most important thing I ever learned was... how to learn:

    How to study: specific tactics to absorb and retain new facts
    How to observe: art classes in how to carefully observe the world and notice new things
    How to conduct a scientific experiment: training in how to rigorously test a hypothesis to learn a fact no one has yet learned

    I think the giving students autonomy should be the goal of every teacher, but not only by teaching memorization skills - also problem-solving skills, creative thinking skills, organizational skills, tactics to improve self-motivation and self-esteem, and the experience of being thrilled to learn something new. With confidence and a hyper-diverse skill set (and this relates back to the many mentions here of Sugata Mitra), students are then best empowered to chase down and take command of any kind of new knowledge on their own, no teacher required.
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      Jul 9 2013: So true!! ........"Everybody is a genius........but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree...... it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid".

      • Jul 9 2013: My dear Juliette, I want to reply with B.Bettelheim's words: "I genitori devono avere (o imparare ad avere) fiducia nel figlio e raggiungere la certezza interiore che il loro figliiolo riesca bene nella vita. Un genitore quasi perfetto non deve avere fiducia soltanto in sè e nel mondo in cui vive, ma anche nel figlio...è la fiducia che noi mettiamo nei suoi confronti che fa sorgere nel bambino un senso personale di fiducia in se stesso e nelle proprie capacità".
        Se posso commentare direi che i genitori dovrebbero smettere di programmare il destino dei figli -che non sono loro, bensì della vita- al fine di lasciarli liberi di crescere secondo la loro propria vocazione. Thank you.
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          Jul 9 2013: I agree, those are great words...we can do this:)... When we can keep in mind that children are our future, and that they are our hopes and dreams, we should allow them to be who they are. Having confidence in our sons and daughters, and our students, is the way forward.

          Quando siamo in grado di tenere a mente che i bambini sono il nostro futuro, e che sono le nostre speranze e sogni, dovremmo permettere loro di essere quello che sono. Avere fiducia nei nostri figli e figlie, ei nostri studenti, è la via da seguire.

          “You can't teach children to be good. The best you can do for your child is to live a good life yourself. What a parent knows and believes, the child will lean on.”

          Adesso:) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY
  • Jul 7 2013: That is the real meaning of being taught...given the tools with which to continue self-education during one's whole lifetime. But one needs to take into consideration common sense and wisdom lest we become robotic factually over-knowledgeable.
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    Jul 7 2013: If you are Earthling, you are born with learning already hardwired and high priority coded in your DNA, so you need no further to look for your teacher than nature. If you are Intelligent life from another galaxy, beam us up ...on a second thought (and after today's google doodle)....just send someone to give us a TED talk about your Planet :):)

    Meanwhile, here's some inspiration from Black (click subtitles in your language and listen to his good words) http://www.ted.com/talks/black_my_journey_to_yo_yo_mastery.html
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    Jul 7 2013: Brain Science...
    Every time I read about neural plasticity, I think of Vygostky's Social Constructivist Theory. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/grey-matters--4 Watch her youtube video linked. It explains her ambition and vision to make the documentary. I so support her in this effort! and it goes right along with your question.
  • Jul 7 2013: The children learns to speak and to count before to go to school. Questo fatto è una fortuna perchè la scuola certamente avrebbe complicato il processo di apprendimento a causa del modo tradizionale di porgere le materie di studio.
    II bambino impara in tanto in quanto è plastico, curioso, disponibile, provando e riprovando seleziona ed accumula l'essenziale. Per imparare ad imparare mancano solo due condizioni: da un lato, occorre incontrare un maestro capace di trasmettere almeno in parte la consapevolezza di una propria testa che lavora;dall'altro è necessario scoprire che se ci si appassiona, ci si interessa, ci si emoziona, si farebbe meno fatica ad imparare e si conserverebbe meglio ciò che si è capito (la memoria è aiutata dallo stato psichico positivo). Thank you
  • Jul 7 2013: Yes, it is possible to learn how to learn. One way to do so is to get a better understanding of how you structure, acquire and retain information. Dr. Lois Breuer Krause developed a system for doing this called a cognitive profile. Her short and highly useful book, How We Learn and Why We Don't explains the method that is based on her research with students, helping them learn. When I discovered her work and applied it to myself a door was unlocked revealing new understanding that helped explain a longstanding mystery which completely changed how I view the world & my place in it. Afterward, I assigned the use of Dr. Krause's method to students taking Intro Psych with great success for them as well. You can learn more about it at http://www.cognitiveprofile.com. Take a look. You might find it helpful.
  • Jul 7 2013: Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment program (FIE) allows every person, beyong age and severity of the deficiency, to improve his or her learning potential.
    Have a look, it's worth it!
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    Jul 6 2013: I believe that self learning is better than the conventional wisdom and learning process. This world and the generation is filled with fast learners with instant access to information sitting in thier pockets in the form of mobile browsers. If one does not know something today, it is most likely becasue they havent taken the inititiative to self education and learn. Ignorance is now almost like a choice. Well, that is for the most part of the world who can afford to own and access a browser.

    We are inquisitive by nature...I guess the difference is in taking the efort to either self educate and form our own opinions or resort to borrowed wisdom and live as per other peoples wisdom and opinions.

    TEDxtalk about this: http://youtu.be/a181ctQyGY4
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    Jul 6 2013: The secret of learning is humility; knowing that no matter how much you know, there is so much more to learn. We also have our areas of strengths and weaknesses; so focus on your talents, abilities and natural endowments. Seek to know more along these lines.
  • Jul 6 2013: If by this question you mean "is it possible to adopt strategies to improve learning", the answer is yes. In my experience, this involves: (1) developing an understanding of types of learning modalities and models, and (2) assessing which ones my brain is good at.

    There is much written about different learning methods/modalities: (1) learning by being told/rote learning/memorization, (2) learning of concepts by generalization or specialization (given training instances of problems, grasp the principles of the concept, or given the concept to be learned, try and recognize or create new instances, or (3) learning by analogy (which applies several different mechanisms). There's a lot written about these and other learning mechanisms. A lot of work was carried out in the 1980s in the AI research community to discern how humans learned, as the goal was to incorporate human learning mechanisms into machines (machine learning) or to use computers to teach (computer-based training).

    In today's technology, learning packages for languages (e.g., Rosetta Stone) presumably employ different learning methods, and a lot of immersion, to use different parts of the brain to enable efficient and effective learning of concepts (in this case, a foreign language).

    But a key point is that "one size doesn't necessarily fit all" when it comes to learning packages or courses, in that different people--due to their genetics or their environment--either don't have the brain machinery, or these areas are not fully developed. My PhD research advisor had a maxim that I've also used over the years: "train the brain, it's a learning machine".

    I've just provided some background. The quest to be a better lifelong learner is yours. Hope this is helpful. Best of luck.
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    Jul 6 2013: We are born knowing how to learn. Watch Dr Sugata Mitra's talks on how children teach themselves how to use computers. They even taught themselves English to better understand them.

    Maybe what you are talking about is learning some kind of tricks to keep the knowledge in your head for longer?
  • Jul 6 2013: I happen to stumble across this talk by the young and insightful Jacob Barnett, who has some interesting suggestions:
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    Jul 6 2013: Aren't children born with ability to learn? May be, the trick is not to forget the skill?

    Just watch a child learning to walk. She does not know she cannot walk. She does not know she can fall and hurt herself. She just does it.

    Reading all the comments, it appears to me that obstacles to learning are "learned" - fear of learning seems to come from past unpleasant experiences with learning. May be, instead of learning how to learn, we need to "unlearn what we have learned" - the fear, the idea that we are "unable", etc.

    I went to the swimming pool with my kids last weekend. We don't go to swimming pools often - this was, perhaps, third time in the life of my 6-year-old son. He was very excited and eager to go down the water slide, but his first slide ended up splashing into water where his feet did not reach the bottom, and he had hard time keeping his head up, although he had a floatation vest on. I picked him up within a few seconds, but he did not go down that slide again.
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    Jul 4 2013: Learning is such a difficult subject and going to school is not about learning but about parroting and remembering.
    Learning is based on the premises of not knowing, thus discovery is the premises of learning, not ingesting and regurgitating.
    What our society call learning is nothing but brainwashing.
    Learning begins with self-knowledge, self discovery.
    You can know the whole universe, but if you don't know yourself, you are a stranger. To yourself.
    Learning is not about grades and accolades but being free from ignorance.
    Ignorance rules the world at this hour.
    We live in darkness, ruled by thought. Or thought-based consciousness.
    Which is ignorance. We believe thought to be real but it is only a messenger.
    The source is deep, but we are ignorant, we mistake the message for the source.
    And in doing so we live shallow lives.
    Shallow means dissatisfying.
    And then we invent happiness, another word, and we chase it.
    Happiness is the source, the true I AM, not the word I AM.
    But we are afraid that without words we get lost.

    Gospel of Thomas:
    2 Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. 2When
    they find, they will be disturbed. 3When they are disturbed, they will marvel, 4
    and will rule over all."
    3 Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's) imperial rule is
    in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. 2If they say to you, 'It is
    in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. 3Rather, the (Father's) imperial rule
    is inside you and outside you. 4When you know yourselves, then you will be
    known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. 5But
    if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the

    Word merely point to something that is preceding experience, consciousness.
    But when words are self-reflective, the loop is closed and the Great Darkness descends..which is the Ego, self-reflective, narcissistic, selfishness embodied.
    Awaken, humans, awaken!
  • Jul 4 2013: Let me tell you my own experience of learning how to learn.
    1. Read whatever books or materials which are of interest to you. Now, in order to read as much as possible, you must train yourself to speed up in reading. You could either use "speed reading" technique, or train your self to a style that you glance over the material you are reading quickly because in an ordinary sentence , there are usually only portion of the words are crucial to the real meaning, the rest are actually just the grammatical or conventional words which are not crucial to the meaning of the entire sentence. Of course you have to be careful if you are editing an article, then you have to examine every word in it, otherwise you don't need to do so.
    2. When you read something involving logical thinking, such as math, proof/justification, etc., you should be able to work out the true or false in your head quickly without write them down in trial-and-error steps. Like a good chess player, you should be able to think at least 3 or 4 steps ahead. If you train yourself to do it routinely, then that will also speed up your pace of learning, as well as facilitate your own learning efficiency.
    3. There is a method of "pattern recognition" which can recognize one thing (mostly shapes) from another. You can extend the pattern recognition on different "shapes" to all kinds of numerical, logical or games when you always try to find patterns for a particular questions or challenges. For example, the spelling and pronunciation of a word almost always follows certain pattern with occasional deviation, so that the spelling bee winners can work out the answers depending not on memories alone. This actually is applicable to all topics in science, technology as well as in humanity and arts. For example an expert in certain field will be able to identify the "author" from only a part of the artwork, or a passage of an essay or music, etc. This ability will help you to "fill" the gaps of many academic activities.
  • Jul 4 2013: I watched the recommended video, it's wonderful isn't it? Almost the concept of being led to learn rather than forced to. Suggest that social dynamic plays a huge role in the willingness to learn. Yet still, I wonder if such techniques as the memory palace or a derivative coupled with deep learning couldn't be part of the curriculum. It seems that the abstract nature of maths is a stumbling block, where as the abstract nature of art isn't. Is this a difference between an open loop of learning and a feedback loop where the student sees results?
    • Jul 4 2013: Oliver, I agree. Math seems so abstract and boring. I mentioned below how much I have struggled with my daughter and her strong dislike of math. But then we went on the Khan Academy site to learn computer graphics and suddenly the whole concept of graphing clicked. It was wonderful.

      That video has changed the way I deal with my children and guiding them in their learning process. ( They attend a school, but now homework and summer work is approached completely differently. )
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    Jul 4 2013: Asking question is great way to open door of learning.
    One can practice questioning , but great questions comes out curiosity. Staying curious is the key than to be able to ask great questions ..........
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      Jul 6 2013: Good point.

      Learning to ask questions is more important than learning the answers.
  • Jul 4 2013: There is a book I read, which I'm a lot of you are familiar with, which is called the talent code. From my layman's perspective, this said we need passion and deep learning, so the ability to love the concept and not be afraid of going back over what we keep failing at is the key. There is a physiological effect of this called miolin, sorry, the spelling may be wrong, I'm blind so listened to it on audio book, but the effect is a sort of insulation which allows faster processing of our thoughts. There are some amazing ideas in this thread, how do we now get this into education... probably too late for a lot of us due to the decrease in brain plasticity, but surely there should be some more strategic way of developing this in our young.
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      Jul 4 2013: "There are 3 basic learning styles and teachers need to be aware of a students learning style and may have to adapt the lesson so it fits more learning styles or some students will struggle. Once a student understand their learning style they can find ways to learn any subject that might interest them."

      That is exactly what I said.
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    Jul 3 2013: It starts with the person's own interest.
    • Jul 3 2013: I am interested in Math, but I dont know how to learn it
      when I see all that formulas it scares me to hell, I close the book.

      Interesting point, just wonder how can it work.
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        Jul 3 2013: If you tell me what you want to learn about math and where you would say you are in your understanding, I can probably give you some ideas on where to start, both review materials and new.
        • Jul 3 2013: Fritzie,

          Thanks for your offer...
          I am not a student any more.
          a few years ago, I gave up Computing Science (IT programming) for one reason... I couldn't understand math, (yet it was Statistic Mathematics and in Dutch language (which is not my mother tongue))

          nowadays, when I open any Negotiation Books which explains Mathematics in Negotiation, it drives me crazy...

          I am good at languages... give me a book, that it written in Chinese or Arabic, I will tell you what the book was about in six months or so. (I am not familiar with those languages).

          now ... I just want to know HOW much Interest has got to do here? what about the ability?
          I cant play any musical instrument, yet I love guitar, piano, violin...

          Is there something wrong with my interest of ability?
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        Jul 3 2013: I would respectfully suggest that those who work or do research in education know that interest is not enough. It is a very useful condition for learning, but some people can learn material well while having no interest in it and others struggle even though they are interested.
        • Jul 3 2013: that is what I was saying, Fritzie,

          Interest ONLY isnt enough.... ability play role too,

          and above all, Communications between teacher and student.
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        Jul 3 2013: Go to Kahn Academy, sign in & rock out. They have a math tutorial program that is really cool. Keeps me engaged for hours.
      • Jul 4 2013: The problem is that it scares you to hell. If you really want to do this, start with the most simple arithmetics, follow the process step by step, try and remember what it was (or do it for the first time), to understand first addition, subtraction, then how multiplication builds on addition, etc. Math builds on previous math.

        I was kinda gifted with math. Yet, I left math for such a long while that later I developed fear for equations, I would truly miss the whole point of some article because it had equations. That experience allowed me to understand that fear is a main factor why students fail at math. Anyway, I made a conscious decision to look patiently and carefully, and the old me started coming back. Now I have no fear. I discovered that part of the problem was that I lost the patience that I had when I was younger. Math formulas have to be looked at carefully to understand where each term comes from, etc. Rushing lead me to fear. Leaving the fear out of the equation and arming myself with patience paid off.

        Maybe this is a good point to make. If people want to learn to learn, work towards being patient and to look carefully. Aim at understanding even if that will take time training yourself to pay attention for long enough periods of time.

        Interest, patience and persistence.
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        Jul 6 2013: Are you interested in math or in something else for which you need math or someone convinced you that you need math?

        Why would you need math to learn how to negotiate?

        When a child learns to catch a ball, he knows nothing about mechanics, gravity, aerodynamics, or calculus. It seems to me, math is not necessary to understand rather complex physical and social processes. I'm sure, most poker champions have a very vague idea about probabilities, permutations, and such. It seems to me that understanding of a subject does not come from learning the underlying math. Perhaps, understanding of the underlying math comes from understanding the subject first.

        I believe, I read somewhere than Einstein struggled with math as a school boy. Here are a couple of his quotes:

        ""Do not worry too much about your difficulties in mathematics, I can assure you that mine are still greater."

        "Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity, I do not understand it myself any more."
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          Jul 6 2013: Good point if that were true Keynesian economics would work.
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    Jul 3 2013: Yes, it is possible. I believe the first step is to identify the students learning style of preference. There are a few models with their own questionnaires to figure this out. It would be beneficial for an individual to know if they prefer any of the following styles: activist, reflector, theorist, pragmatist, visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, extrovert, introvert, sensor, intuitor, thinker, feeler, among many, yes many, others.