“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” – Aristotle

Kinaesthetic learning is an approach that emphasises the use of physical movement and practical activities to acquire knowledge and skills. It's an effective learning method, as it engages the body and the mind in the process. Understanding whether you're a kinaesthetic learner, and the core principles of this learning style, can be a huge asset to your career.

In this article, we explore the concept of kinaesthetic learning in more detail, including examples of kinaesthetic learning, its benefits, and how to develop your hands-on learning style to boost your career.

What is kinaesthetic learning?

Kinaesthetic learning is a type of learning that favours physical movement and hands-on experiences. Body movement, physical sensations, and gestures are used to understand and remember new information. This type of learning is also known as “tactile learning” or “physical learning.”

Kinaesthetic learners learn best through activities where they can move their bodies, like physical demonstrations and real-life experiences. This is rather than passive means, like reading, listening to lectures, or watching videos. 

Often, kinaesthetic learners value practical information over theoretical and are more likely to actively work through problems via trial and error, rather than assuming an instructor is correct. The phrase “I won't know it until I try it” may be a common utterance and these learners will likely retain and recall information better in a non-traditional environment.

Kinaesthetic learning is part of Neil Fleming's VARK model, which is a questionnaire that identifies a person's sensory modality preference in learning. The model includes four different learning modes:

  • Visual learning

  • Aural/auditory learning

  • Read/write learning

  • Kinaesthetic learning

Kinaesthetic learning can be simply described as learning through doing, as opposed to learning through reading or hearing instructions.

What are examples of kinaesthetic learning?

There are many ways a kinaesthetic learner can pick up information. To better understand something, kinaesthetic learners need to use body movement to interact with their surroundings. Here are some examples of the best ways kinaesthetic learners learn:

Practical training sessions: Hands-on training sessions, such as using equipment or software, can develop new skills in a tangible and immediate way.

Team-building exercises: Physical activities like trust exercises or obstacle courses can help build teamwork and communication skills in the workplace.

Virtual reality simulations: Virtual reality simulations can provide a physical and interactive experience for learning about complex concepts or new technology.

Physical demonstrations: Demonstrations of procedures, such as safety drills or mock emergencies, can improve understanding and retention of the steps involved.

Role-playing exercises: Role-playing exercises, such as customer service scenarios or mock sales presentations, encourage skill refinement as learners practise their skills in a hands-on way.

Outdoor training: Outdoor training activities, such as wilderness survival exercises or rock climbing, can develop leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.

Building with hands-on materials: Hands-on activities, such as constructing a prototype, can help learners to understand complex concepts or designs in a real way.

Animations: When hands-on simulations aren't possible, animations are a great alternative. Trainers can use technology to create animated representations of processes, tasks, and concepts.

Interactive documents: Interactive features, like multiple-choice questions and drag-and-drop tasks, can make presentations and documents more palatable. Learners can read passages of information and then complete an assessment, which can boost task recall and understanding.

Micro-learning lessons: Micro-learning compresses education into short, interactive sessions, lasting three to five minutes. The most critical and meaningful information is delivered in short bursts, helping to improve concentration and retention.

What are the characteristics of kinaesthetic learners?

Chances are, we know what kind of learner we are from our experiences in school and have a preference for certain learning methods. If you're not sure, here are the core characteristics of kinaesthetic learners. See which ones resonate:

  • You have a strong sense of touch and often remember things better when associating physical sensations with information

  • You like to work through problems by physically manipulating objects or experimenting with different approaches

  • You like to find new and innovative ways of doing things

  • You understand concepts better when they are demonstrated or explained through real-life scenarios

  • You like hands-on activities and projects

  • You're an active participant, rather than a passive observer, when learning

  • You become easily bored in passive learning activities, like watching a presentation

  • You talk with your hands and are expressive in nature

  • You often fidget, tap your feet, or pace when you're learning, and you can have trouble sitting for long periods of time

What are the benefits of kinaesthetic learning?

Everyone has a dominant learning style. However, we lean on other styles in the VARK model too. This means that an aural learner, for example, may also benefit from kinaesthetic learning activities. Some of the benefits of this hands-on learning style include:

Active engagement: Kinaesthetic learning encourages engaged participation. Moving can increase energy levels, which helps to maintain concentration. Active engagement can also help to reinforce verbal or written instructions.

Hands-on experience: Abstract concepts can be hard to understand through reading or listening to training material. Hands-on experience can bring theoretical notions to life, making them more tangible and easier to work through.

Build muscle memory: Kinaesthetic learning often involves physically repeating actions. Action commits motor tasks to memory, thus building muscle memory and improving information retention.

Improved retention: Any movement or physical interaction can help to improve information retention. When you experience something, you're more likely to recall it later.

Increased motivation: Interactive learning can be fun! Especially if most of your work is completed behind a screen. Kinaesthetic learning can increase motivation and engagement in the learning process, as you break away from a digital space.

Better physical skills: Movement and tactical learning can help to improve physical skills, like dexterity and coordination.

Enhanced problem-solving skills: Kinaesthetic learning activities, like trial and error experimentation, often require critical or creative thinking to solve problems. Encouraging learners to find the answer themselves enhances problem-solving skills.

Better observation skills: A hands-on activity requires skilful engagement with surroundings and materials. This can improve observation abilities, as learners notice the finer details through concentration, engagement, and interaction.

Improved confidence: Kinaesthetic learning allows learners to be more autonomous, as they actively discover and practise new things at their own pace. This process promotes personal growth, pride, and confidence as learners connect with their own journeys and successes rather than compare them to others.

Stronger creative thinking: Kinaesthetic learning develops creative thinking, as it requires a curious mind to work through activities. Kinaesthetic learners may adopt different perspectives as they try to understand new concepts, which also encourages a creative mindset.

Developed social skills: Physical interactions in team building activities or role-play exercises require communication. This fosters positive social interactions that promote the importance of teamwork and cooperation.

Stronger team relationships: Kinaesthetic learning can create stronger team relationships, by encouraging individuals to collaborate and work towards common goals. This in turn enhances trust and improves teamwork.

Relevance to the job: Hands-on activities and simulations that are relevant to a professional's job can help them to better understand and retain information related to their work, which is essential for professional development.

What can hinder a kinaesthetic learner?

There are plenty of benefits to kinaesthetic learning. But if you define yourself as a kinaesthetic learner, there are times when your primary learning style might be a challenge in the workplace.

Firstly, kinaesthetic learners prefer to actively work through a scenario to learn. But the trial and error process can take time, which is not always available. If time isn't available, and the learner needs to draw a conclusion based on the information they have rather than personal experience, this can create a sense of uncertainty and doubt. Equally, if a kinaesthetic learner is struggling with not being able to actively work through a situation, they may come across as stubborn or difficult to work with.

How to develop a kinaesthetic learning style

If kinaesthetic learning is your secondary or tertiary learning style, you may want to incorporate more hands-on activities into your learning practice to see additional benefits.

If you want to learn by doing, you need to start doing. Think about what you can test for yourself. For example, if your boss has given you the additional responsibility of budget management, which involves raising purchase orders and creating receipts for invoices, you'll likely have to learn the software that comes with this. Rather than reading a how-to guide or standard operating procedure, walk through the tool yourself and experiment with it.

If diving into the deep end scares you a little, you can opt for a demonstration. Ask a colleague to give you a tour of the software. Showing you how it works in a hands-on way, rather than telling you, will help you to get more comfortable with the process and kinaesthetic learning.

If you're a remote worker or spend a lot of time at a desk, you may benefit from incorporating movement into your learning process. For example, if a colleague is explaining a new concept to you on a video call or in a meeting room, why not take a walking meeting instead? You might find that putting your body in motion encourages important parts of the conversation to latch, or at the very least energise you so that your brain is ready to take on new information.

If you're not inherently a risk taker, you might find the trial and error process daunting. Get comfortable with making mistakes and remember that getting things right and wrong is all part of the process. Kinaesthetic learning can cause you to learn hard and fast, but that's often a blessing in disguise. After all, if you make a mistake, you're far less likely to make it again. Think of it as accelerated growth.

How to apply kinaesthetic learning to your workplace and career

Kinaesthetic learners require a multi-sensory learning environment for deep learning, as they understand through doing. This can be hard to do if you're in a desk job or are a remote worker. Plus, some workplaces may not be set up to accommodate a tactile engagement process - for example, if training materials are already established via presentations and handbooks.

That said, it's possible to incorporate kinaesthetic learning into your workplace and career. Here are a few ways to try:

  • Office furniture: Request office furniture that encourages activity, like a desk treadmill or standing desk

  • Work timer: Use a time management method, like the Pomodoro Technique, which promotes working in short, focused intervals

  • Walking: Walk around when you have tasks that don't require sitting, such as pacing while reading documents or taking a call

  • Visuals: Tangible documents, like a whiteboard or record cards, might help you to plan or problem-solve in a new way

  • Participate: Get physically involved with demonstrations, fieldwork, offsite meetings, and workshops - anything that encourages active participation and communication outside of the office

Understanding what kind of learner you are, and how to incorporate kinaesthetic learning into your career, is guaranteed to help you climb the ladder. If you want to show prospective employers that your hands-on approach to learning and work makes you an asset, why not submit your CV for a free CV review

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