ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Say What Again —

It took me years to figure this out, so enjoy the hard-won information.

There’s been no small amount of study in the area of how people perceive the world. More specifically, there’s been rather involved research in how people ingest information or how they “learn”. A standardized “here’s a room with a person in front and yammer yammer yammer write write write oh boy a test” works for a large number of people in some predictable fashion and that continues to be dominant, but anybody who’s done research in this field tends to acknowledge that some people are different in how they might learn a given subject, and to what depth they’d take in what was being presented.

There’s all sorts of stop-gap handling of this in educational systems, ranging from specialized tutoring and learning materials, down to “let’s ignore bo-tard until he goes away”. There’s also alternative learning systems and thoughts on better ways to present subjects so the student, young or old, can not just rote-recite a subject, but fundamentally understand the principles involved.

So one of the things that’s come out of all this study is the theory that people actually learn better based on different input methods – some handle physical demonstrations, some read better, others listen better. While it’s good to have skill sets that encompass all these methods, you tend to learn best through a specific method.

Some time ago, I realized I have real trouble listening.

Reading, there’s no problem there. If you write me something, I can refer to it, deal with the information, process it. But say something to me, and you might very well be talking down a hole. I have spent some time trying to improve this, because I’m a conversational person, but the fact is, there’s a good chance that I will walk away with very few pieces of a spoken set of instructions. I’m good for about 3-4 facts. Give it to me in a written form, and I’ll be able to nail most of it for the next time I’m asked to recount it.

In fact, I’m perhaps too good at collating incoming information that I can convert to written form; I just had a conversation with a couple friends over lunch in which I was just blowing out trivia fact after trivia fact based on a general “what do you know of this” question. When the response was to a specific subset of those facts, I could keep going, focusing on the trivia facts that fit under that constricted software. It’s effortless for me.

But if someone asks me “what did I just say” to something they just said, I dodge and weave and parry and can’t quite recall it. My brain has a blind spot to it.

For what it’s worth, it’s not interpersonal; I seem to have the same issues with colors, and can’t at all remember them unless I can relate it to something or write it down. So right now I couldn’t tell you the color of a single house that isn’t my own, and I can only tell you the color of my house because I did some investigation into having it painted a new color – so I needed to know the old one in some way.

I suspect this is why I’ve always enjoyed sorting text and files – they’re static sets of written information, and I can recall vast amounts of their contents in classifying orgies that last for weeks on end. I enjoy it as much as anything else, and I know for others it’s horrible drudgery. Not so over here.

Anyway, once I realized this, once I started asking people to write me things like instructions or directions or lists of facts, a weight of sadness fell off of my shoulders. I could recall what people were up to, what they wanted, what was left to do. I was engaged and happy.

I wonder how many people are wandering around, miserable, without knowing why their attempts to learn don’t stick.

Categorised as: jason his own self

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  1. Chris says:

    Hey, Jay…remember when I saw you last and I said I needed to borrow 10 grand and you said sure? I need that money now.

  2. Brice says:

    Good post. I recently wrote an entry on my blog about how I think games could be used to teach better. Learning games could ascertain the learning style of the student and adjust the curriculum.

    But if something like this was going to be done, there would need to be a tried and true way of learning what style the student has. Do you know of any testing systems?

  3. Byron says:

    This is pretty well established stuff in education circles. It has been known for decades, researched to death.

    The problem is that noone really tells the learner about this stuff. Or if they do tell the learner about it, they do so literally. So the message never really reaches the visual or kinesthetic learner. Which is kinda pointless, because teaching is usually geared towards the auditory learner to start with.

  4. Dunvi says:

    Sounds almost exactly like me. If I read a book, I’ll finish it in half the time and remember what happened no worse than the best reader in the class. If someone reads the book to me, though, while I can copy down their words without thinking, I’ll stop two pages in and say, “Wait a minute, is Jason talking here or the other person? Why are they on a dock? Who pulled the gun again?” It takes me only that much time to completely lose track of spoken words.

    But oddly enough, music that I’ve heard is remembered perfectly for the next few hours, if not the next few years (depends on whether I do it next, and how much). With singing, I can anticipate the next notes of a piece I’ve never heard, by analysing on the fly the chords and line of the music (though I prefer having sheet music to read). But I can’t remember the words to go along unless I see them.

  5. Jim Aikin says:

    Just curious why you linked to my blog under the word “miserable.” For one thing, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about learning modalities, or my own difficulties in learning stuff.

    You’re undoubtedly right about different people finding different modalities easier or more difficult to use.

    I did mention that I learned to play piano as an adult. That’s a slightly different issue: The brain becomes less able to absorb and retain certain types of complex information as we get older. Language learning, for instance, is much more difficult for adults than for young children. As is learning the complex coordination required to play a musical instrument. But that’s probably (I would speculate) true irrespective of your brain’s preferred learning modality.