Are you a PRAT?

Published by Jackie Barrie on

Learning stylesOver 20 years ago, when I was a senior manager in corporate life, I underwent a great deal of management training.

One of the things they taught us was that people have distinct learning styles:

  • Activist
  • Reflector
  • Theorist
  • Pragmatist

We can all do all those things, however, most people have a stronger preference for one or two styles over the others.

Activists like to learn by doing. Susan Armstrong of GTT Worldwide says this is the preferred style of 46% of people. As that’s almost half your audience, it’s why the activities in my Experiential Speaking book (and upcoming ebook) are so useful.

To engage activists, you need to give them something to do. Online, Susan recommends Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT), which includes 70% interaction and 30% sharing of information.

“I believe we need to educate people on what good training looks like, and convince them that “telling” isn’t teaching – nobody learns anything from a lecture.”
Susan Armstrong, GTT Worldwide

Reflectors like watching and thinking, which is why you always need to give people the chance to opt out of any activities you facilitate. Give them the option to ‘play’ or ‘pass’. Online, invite them to turn off their camera or mute their audio. Offline, give them the role of observer rather than performer.

Theorists, unsurprisingly, like to understand the theory behind what you’re teaching. To engage them, you need to tell stories and share facts – which is another form of engagement.

“After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.”
Chip & Dan Heath in the book ‘Made to Stick’

Pragmatists need to know that what they’re learning has a practical application. It’s why I recommend the activities you use are adapted to your own learning outcome and that you always make the point clear to your audience. 

So, are you a PRAT?

When I did the learning styles questionnaire all those years ago, my answers were more-or-less equal. This result caused my colleagues to call me a ‘PRAT’. Then we found out that most of the Board members were also PRATs, which made my workmates laugh even more.

I found it encouraging. I may not have been a Board member at my £multi-million employer, but I reported directly to them. I knew I had same the learning style as them. And now I’m my own boss, and still learning all the time.

The idea is that, when you become aware of your personal preference, you can work to develop the other styles. Being a PRAT stops you repeatedly making the same mistakes, as you don’t get stuck in one style and you continually learn and grow.

First, you have an experience (activist), then you think about it (reflector), then you form some ideas around it (theorist), finally you make a plan about how to deal with a similar situation next time (pragmatist) and the cycle repeats.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these styles? Which do you need to develop? How can you adapt your presentations to suit all kinds of learners?

Source: This model was developed by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford in 1986, based on the work of Kolb.

Disclaimer: The science around learning styles is often disputed. If nothing else, it can be a useful discussion starter.

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