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Learning Styles

Learning Styles: Telescopic versus Wide-Angled

March 6, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Learning Styles

People use different kinds of learning styles depending on their preferences.  That is, we each have a preferred way of learning new things.  The more we can therefore appreciate about different kinds of learning preferences, the more we can begin to understand how we learn, and about how others around us best learn.

We all know that while you can “lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink” – if you try to force someone to learn you may be able to make them sit and listen but you can’t force them to engage and develop an understanding of what we are trying to say or get done. Learning is something that we have to be individually motivated to do – and we tend to have different approaches to this motivation. Some people only like to learn something if there is an immediate need, pay-off or application, while others are constantly trying to learn new things (taking “night-school” or weekend classes, for example).

There are three key factors affecting an individual’s motivation to listen or learn:

  • Interest or need – “what’s in it for me?” Sometimes this is obvious and sometimes we have to find a point of interest or need to stimulate our motivation.
  • Ability to persist with learning – the preference to cover everything or deal with “chunks” at a time?
  • Support needs – do you do best on your own or by drawing on others’ insights and help.

The context in which any learning takes place includes a range of factors, from physical comfort to individual motivation, the way written material is structured and our ability or commitment to concentrating.

One way to think about this is by acknowledging the different needs people bring to these important factors.

So-called “telescopic” learners are comfortable setting their own learning goals. Such people can usually focus on the core message without being too distracted by “interference” or things that don’t seem to “fit”. While this can be a strength, it can also mean that they miss the point or the application being taught. “Wide-angled” learners, on the other hand, will tend to need the purpose, goals and objectives to be clear and relevant in order to be motivated. Such people tend to notice everything in the wider environment but may not focus on the detail. Again, this can be a strength, but they can easily be frustrated by environmental distractions (either physical or mental).

Possible context issues that can also affect learning are things like light, comfort, noise, space, layout, visibility etc. All of these factors affect learning, but again, they affect some more than others.

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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