The Four Adult Learning Styles

By Eugene Wood

We all have a favorite way to process information. Adult learning theory has shown that there are four major learning styles. We all use each of these styles at different times and in different settings; however, we learn information more quickly and effectively when the educator presents information in the learning style that we use (and like) the most. We as educators also have a favorite style of teaching. 

Before developing lesson plans, educators should avoid these three assumptions when it comes to evaluating their students: 

1. Assuming all students process information and approach learning the same way you do
2. Assuming your students "know" how to learn
3. Assuming that you can easily determine the learning style your students use the most

No classroom will have just one type of learner. Therefore, it’s crucial to switch up your teaching style and integrate different methods of training to accommodate all of your students. Take into account the characteristics of the four learning styles detailed below before developing any presentation. By taking this strategic approach, you’ll connect with more students and ultimately reach the most learners possible.

Reflective Thinkers

Reflective thinkers look at things subjectively, relating new information to their own experience and constantly considering how they feel about what they are learning. They are active and verbal. They’ll want to know “why” and will frequently comment on what you are presenting. They generally learn best when the information is conveyed using a story. They dislike passive instructional methods such as watching a video or listening to a lecture. They will join study groups and will initiate an after-class discussion with the teacher.

Conceptual Thinkers

Conceptual thinkers want the whole picture and seek to understand not just what’s being presented, but what’s going on behind the scenes as well. They like a lecture, as long as all of the information is presented. They might ask questions that will force the teacher to cover a topic in more detail. They take prolific and meticulously organized notes

Practical Thinkers

Practical thinkers want facts. They will ask questions such as, “How will I apply that information?” Practical thinkers prefer guided practice and activity, rather than lecture or theory. They learn best in hands-on classes.

Creative Thinkers

Creative thinkers thrive on change, love to play and become bored easily. Their chief question is “what if?” They prefer to explore on their own. They may challenge the teacher by introducing unrelated topics or launching their own unguided practice. They have difficulty learning within an established structure and may require some one-on-one time with the teacher. You can engage creative learners by allowing them to partner with a classmate and create their own learning experience.

Keeping in mind that your classroom is made up of a variety of the types of learners described above will help you develop a program that will resonate with each of your students. The more students that you are able to engage, the more effective your overall class will be. What’s more, after completing your course, your students will be armed with the right tools and skills to move on to that next stage of their program or career.


Eugene Wood has his B.S. in Psychology and twenty years of experience in adult learning, having worked in corporations ranging from American Express to Jive Records. He is certified by Microsoft as a Microsoft Office User Specialist. He is a New York State Licensed and Nationally Certified Massage therapist. He graduated from the Swedish Institute in New York City. He is currently Education Chair for the NY Chapter of AMTA.

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