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Learning Styles

Learning Styles: Dependent, Collaborative or Autonomous

March 5, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Learning Styles

Once an individual has paid attention and listened or otherwise absorbed the information presented to him/her by a leader, coach or trainer perhaps, he or she needs to translate that information (or encode it) for themselves.  Everyone has specific preferences in terms of the language they prefer, the style of delivery (formal vs. informal), and the type of delivery (classroom vs. independent). These preferences tend to fall into the three categories that we will call the dependent learner, the collaborative learner, and autonomous learner.

Let’s look at the main characteristics of these three learning preferences:

Dependent Learners: A dependent learning preference generally prefers a leader to provide the vast bulk of the information, pretty much in a “one-way” format. Contributions by other learners or colleagues can cause them to worry about things getting off-track. They like focus and tend to prefer learning in larger groups because such settings require a more structured and formal approach. Note that being a dependent learner doesn’t mean being intellectually dependent. It’s more that we prefer material to be presented to us in an organized and structured way rather than being asked to seek it out or “build” it with others. So, in summary, they:

  • prefer leader-directed information with high structure and clear focus
  • prefer lecture-type information and tutorials
  • tend to prefer larger groups for the formality of the instruction 

Collaborative Learners: A collaborative approach generally prefers discussion-oriented sessions, where many individuals can “kick around” the information and learn from each other’s perspectives. Group projects, case studies, role plays and simulations provide positive learning experiences for people with a collaborative learning preference. Note that a collaborative preference doesn’t mean we necessarily rely on others intellectually, just that the interaction should be group-centered. So, in summary, they:

  • like to interact socially when learning though group-work, discussions, role play, simulations
  • like to talk with others when they are learning and share information and insights 

Autonomous Learners: A person with an autonomous learning preference likes to exercise his or her own influence over the information they are expected to absorb. They see the leader offering the information as a resource to be drawn upon as they need to. They tend to set themselves personal goals and often enjoy learning for learning’s sake (i.e., it doesn’t have to have any immediate “practical” application or necessity). Again, autonomous learners can and do learn in groups and from lecturers, but they are pretty comfortable “running their own show”. So, in summary, they:

  • prefer to direct their own learning and use others as a resource
  • like guided reading and distance learning
  • set their own learning goals and objectives

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Learning Styles Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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