My field of study is organizational behavior. Even though my field is not education, researchers in my field still explore concepts related to learning, especially in studies that examine knowledge transfer and knowledge management at work (Nonaka, 2005). People learn differently. How people learn depends in part on the type of knowledge that they receive, but it also depends on personal trends on how individuals experience information.
For example, I’ve played trumpet in the same band for 23 years, but I’ve never been what I consider to be an exceptional soloist. While we have not been performing over the past few months due to COVID, I’ve decided to try to learn more about how to solo more effectively, so I picked up a book on jazz improvisation that looked engaging. I am quickly reminded that the most effective method of learning for me is not reading. While the book is certainly interesting and helpful, it’s not enough for me to just read. I actually need to “do.” If I don’t pick up my horn and try new techniques out quickly, I will forget them.
In some ways, this seems odd because I read a lot. But, I often find myself not retaining all of the material that I read. On the other hand, when I listen to information (and especially when I take notes), it helps me to internalize the material. It helps me remember the new knowledge better. Perhaps this is why I like to write so much – I retain and remember the information that I write about. I also remember information when I present it or teach it to others. And, like picking up my trumpet to improve my improvisation, I learn by doing. What learning method works best for one person does not, of course, work best for everyone.
I recognize that each of my students in any one of my classes also learns differently. This is why I ask them to read, write, present and apply concepts. For example, students in my undergrad HR course listen to my lectures as well as those of industry practitioners, take notes on new information, read from our text, present summaries of related current events and analyze/create real-world HR deliverables via a hands-on simulation assignment. Because they each learn a different way, asking students to do all of these things likely helps to reach multiple types of learning styles present in my classes.
One last note on learning – many types of knowledge transfer (formal classroom education included) focus on examining theories. It’s important to learn theory because it can generalize to many contexts. But remember, each context is also unique. In the social sciences (such as in organizational behavior), very few situations represent a “true” average, so, after understanding a theory, the best way to apply it is by figuring out how it works in your own situation. What are the theory’s limitations? How can it be adapted to your context? Under what conditions does the theory work best? Once you are able to have such a reflection, I believe, is when learning actually occurs. Like a trumpet solo, this is a type of improvisation, and it can benefit each of us to practice it.
Dr. Mike Urick
Nonaka, I. (Ed.). (2005). Knowledge management: critical perspectives on business and management (Vol. 2). Taylor & Francis.