Date posted: 11/09/2017 7 min read

What kind of learner are you?

How do you like to learn? Maximising your professional development is easier if you understand what type of learner you are.

In Brief

  • Collaborative learners enjoy self-discovery and shared study.
  • Informal learners prefer online study which fits into their own schedules.
  • Personalised "hands-on" learners like to learn on the job and through mentoring.

Collaborative learner
Ryan McCarthy CA, managing director of Stryker Medical 

“Before I truly understood how I liked to learn, my career was on a different trajectory,” says McCarthy (who was profiled in the February issue of Acuity).

When I realised how important it was to understand my learning preferences through self-discovery, my resolve, passion and outcomes for learning improved significantly.”

While there was no single moment of enlightenment, he recalls with ease the clarity felt once he understood what it meant to learn with his best interests at heart.

“Group collaborative-based study through reasoned and well-articulated discussion with peers, on a particular topic, is so much more valuable to me than reading a textbook and sitting in a lecture theatre.

I was told I was an interrupter
Ryan McCarthy CA Managing director of Stryker Medical 

“A group environment encourages people to put their perspective forward. The value is being able to then cherry-pick the views of others to inform your own opinion and articulate it.”

It is this theme of feedback McCarthy that believes is at the core of learning and informed his most memorable experience at a three-day high pressure business simulation course in the US.

It was an intense environment, but worthwhile, because it centred on trust, respect and a common goal. Feedback between group members was important and happened regularly over three days. However, on the last day he received some feedback that changed his life.

“I was told I was an interrupter – I didn’t let people finish speaking… it was akin to kryptonite in a collaborative working group.”

Informal learner
Angie Wan, intern at Macquarie Bank

Wan’s discovered what works for her, and sitting in a lecture theatre definitely doesn’t make the cut.

“I can’t concentrate or absorb the information that way, it’s not the best use of my time. I like to be able to access learning when I need it.”

For Wan, continuous learning has to fit around her job as an intern. She prefers informal learning because of the convenience of being able to fit learning online into her busy schedule, on weekends and in the evenings.

“Informal learning helps me learn content. Accounting and finance require technical knowledge – learning online helps me process the information better, allowing it to settle into my brain.”

Relevance and relatability are important to Angie in being able to see the relevance of what she’s learning and applying it to what she’s doing in life.

For learning to be a priority, we always have to question why and be comfortable with not knowing everything
Angie Wan Intern at Macquarie Bank

In order to stay motivated and curious, collaborative learning through discussion is imperative. A lot of that discussion is done through informal sessions and on the job learning, which employers now recognise as valuable for personal development.

“Part of staying curious is innate. It’s who you surround yourself with, engaging and discussing with people from different backgrounds who hold different perspectives.

“For learning to be a priority, we always have to question why and be comfortable with not knowing everything. You can do further research to deepen your understanding.” 

Her most memorable learning experience was when a teacher set up a Facebook group for students in the lead-up to an exam with daily practice question tasks for completion. Each day individual feedback was provided and suggested areas for improvement.

“It was amazing, I’ve never seen a teacher put so much effort into learning. It was so valuable to have that opportunity to practise for the exam, and it exemplifies what a powerful tool technology is to facilitate rich learning.”

Personalised learner
Colin Chisholm, provisional CA, Investment Manager at Ferio Limited

Having spent the past four years shifting from one learning experience to the next, including working in Shanghai, starting a business and working for a bank while studying, Chisholm is a case study in highly personalised professional development.

“Over the past four years, I put my learning in front of career development – sacrificing short-term pay for long-term personal growth. I have shifted my learning from studying accounting at university, and studying marketing in China, to my CA, and now into an alternative finance post-graduate degree.

“The key for me is that every form of learning should be personalised to an individual’s unique needs and circumstances. Being given an institutional curriculum to study that students are not personally interested in, in order to attain higher potential salaries, is counter-intuitive to personal growth and learning providers need to recognise this.”

I learn on the job, through direct mentorship
Colin Chisholme provisional CA, Investment Manager at Ferio Limited

He has realised that his learning style is more suited to a personalised learning experience through both need and circumstance.

“I am a hands-on learner… I don’t learn by reading a textbook. I learn on the job, through direct mentorship, and collaboration as part of a virtuous circle and feedback loop.

He studied alternative finance because he sees this will increasingly transform traditional capital markets and it is relevant to what he does now, which is creating new financial structures. 

However, this is a fairly new area, without a lot of formal learning. So he has learnt by putting himself in challenging situations and continually problem-solving.

As for the future of learning, Chisholm has strong thoughts on the role that both institutions and employers should play.

“A paradigm shift needs to occur when it comes to employers recognising and valuing personal development. The responsibility lies equally between learning institutions and employers. Communication between these parties to realign and prioritise key competencies is a good place to start.”

But employees need to know what is best for them in experiential and learning environments and if the employer is unwilling to meet these requests, be prepared to leave in order to continue to develop.

Related: CA Education Store

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