A kinesthetic learner teaches a physician

classify: kinesthetic learnerCreative Commons License Sohel Parvez Haque via Compfight

You can discover your learning type online for $11.50. (The Learning Type Measure, Learning Measures Online). I felt that it was a  bit of a scam, but did it, and hoped that using this would teach me otherwise. I wanted to learn how to teach people, patients and students, that have different approaches to learning than mine. After leaving this site, I still felt, well, scammed, and disbelieving in all the categorizations. Then I met my patient needing help, so clearly it seemed, type 3. But first, my scores!

Unfortunately, despite being cast as “type 2”, my graphic depiction of learning style fell right smack dab in the middle of all four quadrants. No, not exactly, of course. My least preferred quadrant was 1, and my “watching/ doing” score was -7, putting me on the “reflective end of this continuum”. (Graphically it looks identical). My individual quadrant scores were 1: ~ 32;  2: ~ 42;  3: ~41; 4: ~35. Looking at the “experiencing/ conceptualization” continuum on the graphical representation shows me shifted slightly towards conceptualization; no score was given for this continuum.

The 4 learner types are not reviewed on the 4mat site. Bernice McCarthy (1997), who developed this system in 1979, encapsulates the type 1 learner as the “highly imaginative student who favours feeling and reflecting”; the type 2, “the analytic student who favours reflecting and thinking”; the type 3 kinesthetic learner “the common-sense learner who favours thinking and doing”; the type 4 “the dynamic learner who favours creating and acting”.

McCarthy (1997) goes on to flesh out these descriptors. She paints clear, vivid, colourful caricatures of these learners. The type one seems a wild flower, withering in the harsh sunlight, needing protection. The type two appears an aggressive “basketball player who knows if they can just get their hands on the ball, they can sink it”(McCarthy, 1997). Type 3’s are the innovative mechanics, the ones that can make the cars jump up and down on their suspensions at traffic lights. These creative grease monkeys are largely less verbal. Type 4’s seem free spirits, not just an “actor”, but someone who must act, engage, who struggle with rigid routine.

On the face of it, if any one student was completely of one type, there of course would be conflict. A type 1 student, a person who prefers to problem solve through relationships, a person that needs nurturing and prefers to make a decision based on subjective feelings would be like oil to the water of a type 2 analyzer, or a 3 tinkerer. Those latter two “types” want data, problem solve based on fact, and want to work alone. 2 and 3 may actually experience conflict in a team situation, as they are both independent, 2 reflecting before action, and 3 vice versa.

Type 4 and type 1 might get on for a while, as both are strong interpersonally; 1 may want to “nurture” 4. However, the more energetic learning style of 4 may overwhelm 1.

But of course, no person is entirely one type! We are all multifaceted, and it is a teacher’s job to present materials to a student well within the comfort zone, but also to encourage a learner to bend a little, then a little more. An energetic 4 can learn to sit and reflect. A type 2 independent worker can learn to take some risks, and work with others.

McCarthy (1997) discusses that in her theory, students move from feeling to reflecting to action. This is similar to Lickona’s (1991) moral knowing-> moral feeling-> moral action, and similar to cognitive behavioural therapy’s (Padesky, 1995) thought <-> feeling <-> behaviour. Perception (McCarthy, 1997) is described as being comprised of feeling and thinking. Experiences are “processed in one of two ways, by reflecting on them, and then by acting…”

She infers there can be movement between learning “types”, a growth process.

An experience that illustrates some of this material actually happened in clinic one day. Details have been thoroughly changed to ensure anonymity. A man came to see me to consider hypnosis for “flushing”. He was in community college, teaching himself bass guitar. He told me how he would make a beautiful object out of, in essence, garbage, while he was in high school. He had excelled in art, and struggled in English. He grew up “needing” to hold an object in at least one hand, be it a building block or a piece of material with a particular texture. In the past, as a youngster, he became quite distressed when he couldn’t have that object: his aunt actually gave him a container of the material he enjoyed to hold. He loved taking things apart, but struggled in math while growing up. This man seemed  clearly a type 3 kinesthetic learner. He was there, sitting right in front of me, minutes after I had read reviewed this theory, convinced that a clear “type” could not exist. And this man wasn’t either, as no human being can be; he was just presenting to me, full of faith that I could help him, his problem.

I let him hold my plastic brain and take it apart. He was the first person in years that could point out the one part of the brain that was central, that was not represented on both sides (the pituitary). He was able to identify the cut edges, and the uncut edges, and could actually demonstrate how the brain was made of two separate brains.

A large part of the flushing was due to embarrassment over the flushing! We talked about how the flushing actually occurred, how it worked, and how to extinguish it by paradoxically trying to flush. He seemed to actually understand how the process happened. It was as if he had to take it apart, and look at the pieces. It further delighted him to know he actually wasn’t stupid in math, and that if he drew some pictures while doing a problem it might help him. To find out that he had real learning prowess and strength delighted him! He left with real tools, a strategy, and a bit of an understanding of himself. We discussed his feelings, reflected on his situation, and created a plan of action.

He left, with me shaking my head, alone in the exam room. Perspectives from different disciplines and their impact in medicine…




Learning Assessments Online: Celebrating Differences in How People Learn. The Learning

Type Measure. (n.d.) About Learning. Helping teachers and students with learning that

  matters. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2012 from http://aboutlearning.com/


Lickona, T. (1991) Educating for Character: how our schools can teach respect and

  responsibility. New York: Bantam.


McCarthy, B. (1997). A Tale of Four Learners: 4MAT’s Learning Styles. ASCD:Learn, Teach,

Lead. Retrieved Dec 16, 2012 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar97/vol54/num06/A-Tale-of-Four-Learners@-4MAT’s-Learning-Styles.aspx


Padesky, C and Greenberger, D.(1995) Clinician’s Guide to Mind Over Mood. New York: The

Guilford Press.


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