Setting yourself up for learning success : First, know thyself


In my last article, I mentioned my idea that the best way to learn Chinese herbs is through what I’m calling the “relational method.” Before we can dive headlong into the process I am describing, we need to prepare some ground. Today, I want to talk a little about learning in general, relationship styles and relationships skills. My motivation for doing this is twofold.

First, I really believe that an astonishing number of people looking to learn aren’t really sure how they do that best. Yes, folks, there is more than one way to take in information. The way you learned in grade school is NOT necessarily the best one. Second, the nature of my developing theories on teaching and learning are deeply interwoven with the relational method of learning Chinese herbs. I think you’ll see how that works as time goes on.

As I’ve made clear in other posts, I’m a big fan of the concept of learning styles.

I think that the material associated with this concept can help stuck students get unstuck pretty quickly. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I was quite sure that there was only one way to learn – words, words and more words. Fortunately, I’m good with them so I didn’t suffer TOO much. However, some people learn more readily by using their bodies in the learning process. Others really excel when listening, even music, is involved. Still others are visual – but not so verbal – they like pictures and diagrams. These are the basic learning styles most frequently discussed in the literature. Obviously, we’re missing some important learning methodology that we will use in our study of Chinese herbs – the more subtle faculties that have been the tools of herbalists for centuries.

In addition, I find that different types of material often require different methods. That’s actually one place I diverge a bit from the traditional “learning style” literature – I don’t necessarily think that every person has a single method that works well in all cases. Some material lends itself better to one method or another, or a combination of methods. One person may find that using sound to learn herbs is the best method, others may find it to be completely useless. Yet, that same person might find that they can’t use sound to learn points at all. Further, there are some teaching and learning strategies that seem to work well for everyone – for instance associating very vivid imagery with something you are trying to remember. All of that aside, the core of what I’m saying is simply that there are a lot of ways to learn new information.

The first thing you need to do is figure out how you learn best.

Now, some of you will scoff – thinking that such material is below you, you “instinctively” know how best you learn. Fine. For most of you, however, you’re a little bit intrigued by the idea and want to know more. You’re the ones I’m talking to. :) There are a variety of great tools out there to help you investigate your own learning style. One of the simplest is here. I encourage you to give it a try. Answering the questions honestly is very important – and note that you can tick more than one box. The results of this simple quiz will help you get started in your quest to understand your own learning style. You will get a list of your preferences for free – showing which are the strongest preferences. You can also purchase a downloadable report and e-book to learn more information. I have not tested either of the paid options myself, instead researching more about my preferred learning styles (Read/Write and Aural) on my own using Google. :)

An online quiz won’t give you all the answers, of course. Fortunately, most of the deepest information is readily available to you – in your memory. You need to reflect on your prior learning experiences. Sit for a minute and think about your prior learning experiences – positive and negative, formal and informal. Accept the possibility that you have a unique learning style – be curious about finding it. Consider this a voyage of internal discovery that will help you to excel, not just in Chinese herbalism, but in anything you choose to learn. Here is some guidance you can use in your quest.

  • When have you really excelled in a learning situation?
  • Better yet, when have you been so immersed in your learning that it didn’t feel like work – you couldn’t even stop if you wanted to – and you retained the information?
  • Maybe it was a situation where you were able to explore a topic of your choice in as much detail as you wanted. On the other hand, perhaps it was in a multiple-choice testing environment.
  • Perhaps it was during a lecture where the teacher was very animated, using lots of examples and stories. On the other hand, maybe you prefer being nestled deep in the library stacks with a book.
  • Perhaps you always study best when there is music playing, or when the information is presented in a musical way?
  • Try writing a really vivid description of the times you have enjoyed the most in learning – and make a list of the characteristics of that time. Reflect on those characteristics and try to get a sense for yourself, in general, as a learner. This is also a good time to reflect on those characteristics you prefer in instructors – both formally and informally.

Give yourself time with this exercise, perhaps reflecting on what you’ve found over a couple of days. This information will become useful as we continue.

Leaving that important information aside, I will ask to delve into your own habits and talents yet again.

This time, I would like you to focus on yourself as a person in relationship. When you meet someone for the first time – what do you do? How do you interact with them? Are you forward, asking lots of questions? What kinds of questions? Are you more reserved, responding to questions and observing? What are you looking for? What is the most basic information you feel like you need about a person before you feel that you “know” them on some level? What kind of deeper information do you require before you consider a person “a friend?”

There are lots of possibilities here, I’ll mention just a few to get you started:

  • When you meet someone and are getting to know them, are you always fascinated by where they have lived and travelled, and want to know more about their hometown, or where they hang out in the current town where they live?
  • Do you prefer to talk about people’s families – their parents, partners, children and friends? Are you always excited to talk about their relationship problems and how they are making things work within their significant relationships?
  • Perhaps instead you are attracted to people based on what they do – their activities and work, their function in the world?

There are many ways to know people – some easier to explain than others. Just give it a try – think about the last 10 relationships you have formed (whether shallow or deep relationships) and consider how the relationship developed. What do you talk about? Do you notice any patterns? For those people with whom you share a close bond – how do you know that this bond is close? What do you know about that person, what types of experiences have you shared, that make that a very special relationship?

Obviously – one of the reasons we go from acquaintance to friend often has to do with shared experiences – that will come into play as we continue to talk about a relational method of knowing Chinese herbs. For now, just keep it in mind. Allow yourself to reflect further, both on your learning style and your relationship/communication style. Think about the interactions you have with other beings, even your pets. Jot down what you notice in a journal, and feel free to share it with us here, in the comments.

The next post will discuss how to use what you’ve noticed to go from stranger to acquaintance with our herbal friends. I’ll use myself as an example and my very favorite herb. Look forward to it soon.


If you are interested in reading more about learning styles, I can recommend the books below:

“Learning Styles” (Marlene LeFever)

“So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences” (Harvey F. Silver, Richard W. Strong, Matthew J. Perini)

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About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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