Show? Tell? Rehearse? What’s your learning style?

Ever leave your doctor’s office and feel like he/she talked at/you, but not with you? Or that you thought you were taking in the information that he/she went through with you, but now you can’t remember what the point was? Sure there are a lot of reasons why you might have left your doctor’s office shaking your head. But here is an idea to consider:


Getting, and staying, up to speed on your care is an ongoing educational process, and adult learners have their own unique way of processing new information. In other words, each of has a learning style. Are you and your healthcare team communicating in a way that accommodates your learning style?


To answer that question, consider which of the learning styles fits you best: visual, auditory, or physical.


Visual learners need to see new information, not just hear it. They need to have it mapped out for them in diagrams, or charts, or lists. They may blank out on a long explanation that isn’t focused around something a visual aid that they can follow and, hopefully, take with them to review.


Auditory learners respond well to discussions during which they can talk and listen. In other words, a conversation, in which they can talk out ideas, ask questions, explore alternatives. And take notes! They also respond well to podcasts.


Physical learners respond best to learning by doing, including discussions based on demonstrations, e.g. developing their own plan, examining a model, role playing, rehearsing, reviewing, under the guidance of the teacher.


So what is knowing your learning style worth in this environment of rushed healthcare providers with their own teaching styles and with limited resources? Good question. First, it might explain why you aren’t communicating as well as you think you should with your healthcare professionals. And, more important, knowing your learning style might help you to, in turn, help them to help you. Here are some ideas:


Visual learners. Ask your healthcare professional to “show” you what he/she needs. Ask: “Can you make me a little diagram?” To help them along, print out visual aids from the Internet and bring them in with you. Then ask if you can go over them together.



Auditory learners. Be the conversation starter by bringing a list of questions. Let your healthcare professional know that you have been doing some thinking and need to have a conversation, however brief. You may need to split the conversation between your doctor and his staff. It might also be helpful to find podcasts and Webcasts from reliable sources to reinforce your learning.


Physical learners. Try to get your healthcare professional to illustrate their information with specific examples or stories. For example, ask? “Could we make a list together?” or “Can you help me to complete the list that I started at home?” Bring in examples of situations that you have encountered, e.g. symptoms, and how you solved them, and discuss it as if it were a role play. Ask: “How did I do? How should I be responding when this happens?” Look for case studies with video clips from reliable Internet resources. Visualize your healthcare as an ongoing role play with your healthcare professional as your drama coach.


I know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that certainly applies to healthcare professionals. However, by being aware of your own learning style, you can at least give your healthcare professionals a subtle push here and there to make sure that the information they provide you is served up in a way that enhances your ability to take it in and effectively process it. It can’t hurt to try. And trying can certainly make everyone’s job easier!