From Ron Gross' book, Peak Learning: How to Create Your Own Lifelong Education Program for Personal Enlightenment and Professional Success comes this learning styles inventory designed to help you discover your preferences for dealing with facts or feelings, using logic or imagination, and thinking things through yourself or with other people--reprinted with permission.
The exercise is based on the pioneering work of Ned Herrmann and his Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). You'll find more on Herrmann's work, including info on his Whole Brain Technology, assessments, products, and consulting at Herrmann International.
From Peak Learning:
Herrmann expressed his personal credo in a colorful book, The Creative Brain, in which he tells the story of how the idea of stylistic quadrants first came to him. It's a vivid example of how one's preferred ways of knowing can lead to fresh ideas. Herrmann had been intrigued by both Roger Sperry's work with two different brain-hemisphere styles and Paul MacLean's theory of the three-level brain.
Herrmann administered a homemade test to fellow workers to see whether he could correlate their preference in learning with the idea of brain-hemisphere dominance. The responses seemed to group themselves into four categories, not two as he'd anticipated. Then, while driving home from work one day, he combined his visual images of the two theories and had this experience:
"Eureka! There, suddenly, was the connecting link I had been searching for!… The limbic system was also divided into two separated halves, and also endowed with a cortex capable of thinking, and also connected by a commissure-just like the cerebral hemispheres. Instead of there being two parts of the specialized brain, there were four-the number of clusters the data had been showing!…
"So, what I had been calling left brain, would now become the left cerebral hemisphere. What was the right brain, now became the right cerebral hemisphere. What had been left center, would now be left limbic, and right center was now right limbic.
"The whole idea unfolded with such speed and intensity that it blotted out conscious awareness of everything else. I discovered after the image of this new model had taken form in my mind that my exit had gone by some time ago. The last 10 miles had been a total blank!"
Note how Herrmann's preference for visual ways of thinking led him to a spatial image, which sparked the new idea. Of course, he followed up on his insight by using his analytical and verbal skills to delineate how the quadrants might work. The moral, notes Herrmann, is that if we want to learn more creatively, "we need to learn to trust our non-verbal right brain, to follow our hunches, and to follow them up with careful, highly focused left-brain verification."
The Four Quadrants Exercise
Start by picking three learning areas. One might be your favorite school subject, the one you had the most fun with. Try to find another that was different-perhaps the subject you hated most. The third should be a subject you are currently starting to learn or one that you've had an intention to begin for some time.
Now read the following descriptions of four learners' styles and decide which one was (or would have been for the subject you hated) closest to your most comfortable way of learning the subject. Give that description the number 1. Give the one you like least a 3. Of the two styles remaining, decide which one might be slightly more enjoyable for you and number it 2. Do this for all three learning areas on your list.
Remember, there are no wrong answers here. All four styles are equally valid. Likewise, don't feel you have to be consistent. If one style seems better for one area, but not as comfortable for another, do not give it the same number in both cases.
The essence of any subject is a hardcore of solid data. Learning is built up logically on a foundation of specific knowledge. Whether you're learning history, architecture, or accounting, you need a logical, rational approach to get your facts straight. If you focus on verifiable facts on which everyone can agree, you can come up with more precise and efficient theories to clarify the situation.
I thrive on order. I feel most comfortable when someone who really knows has laid out what's to be learned, in sequence. Then I can tackle the details, knowing that I'm going to cover the whole subject in the right order. Why flop around reinventing the wheel, when an expert has been through it all before? Whether it's a textbook, a computer program, or a workshop-what I want is a well-planned, precise curriculum to work my way through.
What is learning, anyway, except communication among people?! Even reading a book alone is interesting primarily because you're in touch with another person, the author. My own ideal way to learn is simply to talk with others interested in the same subject, learning how they feel, and coming to understand better what the subject means to them. When I was in school my favorite kind of class was a free-wheeling discussion, or going out for coffee afterward to discuss the lesson.
The underlying spirit of any subject is what's important to me. Once you grasp that, and really feel it with your whole being, learning becomes meaningful. That's obvious for fields like philosophy and art, but even in a field like business management, isn't the important thing the vision in people's minds? Are they simply pursuing profit or do they see profits as a way to make a contribution to society? Maybe they have a totally unexpected motive for what they do. When I study something, I want to stay open to turning the information upside down and looking at it in a brand-new way, rather than being spoon-fed specific techniques.