Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What is your learning style?

Wisdom from the Sages

In this age of shifting educational philosophies and methods I hear a lot about various learning styles. It seems that I am expected to find a way to deliver information to a variety of types learners. This means I am constantly asking myself if I should use PowerPoint, a YouTube video, a podcast or just go for the traditional lecture. All of this, no matter how frustrating at times, helps to make me a better teacher. But I was reminded recently that the student shares some of the burden in the learning process. This reminder came not from some modern professor with a PhD issuing ever changing directives on learning styles, but from the ancient rabbis.

Pirkei Avot is the collected sayings of the rabbis from the first centuries of the common era. From time to time I read through this slim volume to benefit from the wisdom of these ancient sages as they comment on Scripture, Jewish Law and life in general.One of my favorite quotes is about the four type of students. It reads:

There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, and the sieve.

"The sponge," who soaks up everything. "The funnel," who takes in at this end and lets out at the other. "The strainer," who lets out the wine and retains the dregs. "The sieve," who removes the coarse meal and collects the fine flour.

In this age of information overload, I wonder what kind of students and stewards of information we are becoming?

Do we soak it all in uncritically?
Does it go in one ear and out the other?
Do we attempt to sort it but only end up holding on to that which is useless?
Or do we carefully sift through everything we read, hear and learn to determine not only what is true but also helpful and even edifying?

You may already know your learning style. But what kind of student are you?

If you are interested in reading more from the sages click here.


  1. I'd like to think you have helped me be like the sieve. I'm enjoying the blog, thanks!

  2. I do not disagree with your point that students bear a significant burden in regard to their own learning. I was often frustrated in class with other students who I did not feel were putting the most into their own education (note: I was quite guilty of this during my undergraduate education, or lack thereof). However, I often also observed that, although very well trained in the particular areas (e.g., New Testament, Greek, Theology, etc.), many professors do not have a systematic teaching methodology. That is, while by and large experts in a particular field, many professors did not do any study in the field of education. I think that some formal training, at least, should be required of anyone teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels. I could be off the mark here, please correct me if I am.

  3. Jason,

    I agree with you. While a PhD program prepares you to research, it does not prepare you to teach. One of the best professors I had was my Greek teacher. What made him so good was not just his knowledge of Greek and the NT, but his degree in elementary education. It helped him to find ways to deliver the information in an accessible way.


  4. Understanding your learning style could help you a lot in grasping new information easily.