Looking at the riding instructor’s job from the outside in, the uninitiated might say, “Here’s the horse, here’s the student, put the student on the horse and just do what you do best…teach them to ride.” Okay, so they overlooked a few ‘nuances,’ like the complexities of posting the trot, performing flying lead changes, jumping the jump, and sidepassing, to name a few. To them however, your lesson group looks like a homogenous group, all about the same age, all with the same desire to learn to ride a horse. Should be easy some might even say. Riding instructors know it is not. It’s not for many reasons, an important one being that students learn in different ways, three different ways to be exact — in each lesson group you’re likely to have visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners.
In understanding that each individual learns best in one particular way, and in determining which way that is for each student, riding instructors can maximize their riders’ potential in each and every lesson. Recognizing different learning styles in your students will allow you to optimize lesson time for everyone involved, teacher included. Teaching methods designed to reach different learning styles will ensure a path of least resistance for students working toward the “I get it” goal. Simply, by providing the same instruction in different ways, you level the playing field for all students, giving everyone a chance to succeed with the least frustration possible.
What is learning style? It’s the way in which a person attends to, receives, processes, internalizes and remembers new and difficult information or skills. Everyone has the ability to receive and process information in a variety of ways, but each of us has a preferred way (a learning good side so to speak) which we are most comfortable with, particularly in a learning environment that supports it.
There are three distinct learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. When teaching riding lessons, horsemanship, riding theory, or general horse care, it’s important to offer the information in a variety of ways so that everyone in the lesson group is able to assimilate the information in the way they learn best.
Visual learners are typified by students who are busy taking notes on everything you say, wherever they can, namely classroom sessions or when they get home from a riding lesson. It is as if the concept is not real until it is down on paper. Their language is full of references to pictures as a visual learner often thinks in images instead of words. “I see”, “Oh! Now its clear” or “I get the picture,” are all phrases indicative of a visual learner. They are adept at seeing instructions in their mind’s eye, making the connection and applying it. You can reach the visual learner by supplementing your lessons with visual aids. Videos, photographs and demonstrations can be good learning tools for these students.
Auditory learners are the ones who are listening ever so intently to you. They learn best by hearing, seeing and saying the words. They’ll be the ones, for the sake of comprehension, repeating back to you what you just said to them or the group. They prefer face to face communication, and have problems paying attention and appear distracted if there is too much noise or other conversation. But if they hear it, these are the students who remember exactly what you instructed them to do. Telling personal stories that illustrate the points you want to make are welcomed by the auditory learner.
Kinesthetic learners are the fidgety students in the bunch, the ones you sometimes feel you’re simply not reaching. Confined to a classroom they are often the ones tapping the table and squirming in their seats. They are the “let’s just do it” learners, who can’t remember a phone number until you hand them a phone. Phone in hand, fingers over the numbers, they quickly remember the sequence. Because horseback riding is a skill that requires much practice to acquire, the kinesthetic learner relies on time in the saddle to best learn what you’re asking of him or her. They are physical learners, best assimilating information by doing, as if their muscles and bones are memorizing the feeling. For them, to try it is to learn it.
More often than not, your lesson groups are a mix of participants with these types of learning styles. Where possible, present your instruction in different ways each time, to reach everyone in your lessons.