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Thinking Like A Learner - Part 3

Woman thinking in front of a blackboard

Note: This is the second of a three part series. You can view part 1 here or part 2 here.

In our last two blogs we've been looking at learner thinking styles as outlined by Elliot Masie in his book The Computer Training Handbook back in 1995. So far we have looked at the reflective thinker, the conceptual thinker and the practical thinker and the implications that these ways of thinking by the learner has on your teaching. In this blog we'll examine the creative thinker.

The creative thinker

According to Masie creative thinkers are players and tinkerers. They like change and hate boredom. They like to push systems and software by constantly trying things out. If you tell a creative thinker that F2 is the edit key they'll find other ways of doing it and challenge you with this finding.

Masie believes that creative thinkers like to challenge and experiment. Their questions usually begin with "What if...?" They'll push applications beyond their intended use. Give a creative thinker a spreadsheet application and they'll use it as a word processor just because they can.

So what are the implications for training? Masie believes that creative thinkers tend to:

  • Prefer an unguided approach to training;
  • Get bored easily and try to avoid this by introducing unrelated topics or doing their own examples and practice in class;
  • Thrive on plenty of practice time;
  • Have trouble in a structured learning environment;
  • Require some one-to-one time with the instructor;
  • Appreciate opportunities to design their own learning experiences through individual learning contracts.

From a support perspective creative thinkers are a nightmare because by the time they call for support they've generally got themselves into deep trouble. According to Masie they'll hide their desperation by asking for suggestions. They generally like outside-the-box types of solutions to their problems that will give them a chance to be creative.

With regard to online learning creative thinkers need plenty of freedom and approach. Forget a tightly controlled sequence of events - the creative thinker likes to surf through many different types of resources. With the creative thinker you need to give them lots of resources and documentation to wade through.

Teachers and their thinking styles

Teachers are learners too. According to Masie teachers exhibit the same thinking styles as learners and this naturally impacts upon how they teach. Again Masie claims that teachers, like learners, drift in and out of the various thinking styles, but that there is still a dominant one that appears for a great deal of the time.

Here are Masie's description "in the extreme" as he puts it for teachers and how they operate within the four thinking styles.

Reflective Thinking Trainers

Reflective thinking trainers are personal in their delivery. They are very social and empathetic in the classroom and are concerned about learner success. They want their learners to like the products that they are teaching.

Conceptual Thinking Trainers

Trainers that think conceptually want their learners to understand how the software and systems work. They tend to go into an inordinate amount of detail believing that if the learner understands how the whole system works they'll be able to apply it back at work.

Practical Thinking Trainers

Practical thinking trainers according to Masie aim to ensure that the learner can use the content covered in the course. To do so they'll often over-simplify the material - they are more focused on learners being able to do the job rather than the concepts behind it. They'll also prepare additional cheat sheets for the learners.

Masie feels that at the extreme these types of trainers stifle individual thinking amongst learners and make them very procedural in their approach.

Creative Thinking Trainers

These types of trainers keen to show the whole system to learners believing that learners should feel free to wander and experiment with all facets of the software or system. They often vary and deviate from training and lesson plans, frustrating more procedurally oriented learners.

In conclusion

Elliot Masie certainly postulates some interesting theories about thinking styles and how they apply to learners and teachers alike. In reviewing them you need to be aware that he developed them back in 1995 (and probably earlier) and that they would have been developed in predominantly a classroom environment. Nevertheless I can honestly say that I've seen these traits in the learners I've taught over the years, and I can see the various thinking styles in my approach to training.