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Does the Bible expect us all to learn in the same way?

Christian theology applied.

We often amaze or confuse each other with just how different our ways of learning and working can be.

Planning, tetris or lego?

If you ever listen in on my conversations with my classmates on a study block week, you’ll frequently hear things along the lines of:

“I don’t get how you can spend that long planning an essay and not actually write a word of it. Once I’ve got a point I have to get the piece written!”

“I can’t imagine being able to just launch into writing even my first point or introduction without having planned out the whole thing and colour coded everything.”

“No honestly! Playing tetris, doodling or building lego bricks in lectures genuinely helps me to listen and take it in!”

There have been more examples I could give you, but you can probably already see the theme. We often amaze or confuse each other with just how different our ways of learning and working can be. There will be strategies and styles which work for some of us, and for others they just make things more difficult.

What do the experts say?

The ways in which people learn is something which I find really fascinating. In particular, since being diagnosed with a learning difficulty in my first year at Moorlands College, it’s a topic I’ve done a lot of thinking about.

Psychologists have many theories around learning styles. Some categorise learning styles into a model known as ‘VARK’ (visual, auditory, read/write, kinaesthetic)[1], whilst others would use Kolb’s model (convergers, divergers, assimilators, accommodators)[2].

However, what seems clear is that everyone thinks, takes in, and processes information differently. There’s no single style of learning which will work best for everyone.

This is something which I see being more and more acknowledged within education settings. One of the things I love about Moorlands College is that the lecturers use a variety of different tools and styles to suit different students’ learning styles.

How do we see teaching and learning in Scripture?

But, I sometimes wonder whether this way of thinking is common in our churches? Is it possible to unpick learning styles theologically? Is this just something for us to think about when learning academically? And when we’re learning about Jesus, we just have to stick to one style of learning?

Well, when I look at Scripture, I can’t see anything that tells us that we should only teach about God in only one method. In fact, when we look at the gospels, Jesus himself taught in a variety of different ways, which I think would suit a range of learning styles pretty well!

  • Sermons
    (Matthew 5-7)
  • Parables
    Teaching through stories and images (Luke 7:41-43, 10:25-37, Matthew 7:24-27 etc.)
  • Last supper
    A very visual and participatory teaching moment – although there’s a lot more to this passage also! (Matthew 26:20-30)
  • Miracles
    Teaching through demonstration (John 2:1-11, Matthew 8:23-34, 9:1-8, 14:15-21 etc.)
  • Sending disciples out
    Learning by doing (Matthew 10, 28:18-20, Luke 10:1-24)
  • Asking questions
    Jesus asked a lot of questions! He teaches by provoking people to think and discuss (Matthew 16:13-15, Luke 5:23, 10:36 etc)

It came as no surprise to me to find that Jesus taught in such a wide variety of ways. Because in doing this Jesus celebrates the variety of ways in which people learn. After all, God created us, as human beings, to be wonderfully diverse, and I think the ways in which we learn differently demonstrate that.

Karen Jones explains this area of diversity perfectly:

“Bearing God’s image doesn’t mean we should all ultimately act, think, and respond in the same way, as if we all rolled off an assembly line. God’s image allows for uniqueness and individuality in the way we relate, with different styles, and in our preferences, gifts, and abilities. Consider the very nature of God; God exists as three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, even in their perfect unity, each person in the Godhead reflects individuality, with unique tasks and ways of interacting with creation. It is only natural, then, that being made in God’s image, we would also experience the world in unique ways.”[3]

I believe that our God is one who loves and celebrates all kinds of diversity in his people – the variety of ways we learn being just one small part of that.

If God loves and celebrates our different learning styles, shouldn’t we do the same?

Carys is a student at our Midlands Regional Centre. Are you interested in studying applied theology in the Midlands? Check out our Locations of Study page.

[1] Fleming, N.D. & Mills, C. (1992). Helping Students Understand How They Learn. The Teaching Professor, Vol. 7 No. 4, Magma Publications, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

[2] Kolb, D. A., & Fry, R. E. (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning, MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.

[3] Karen Jones, Teaching the Next Generations: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching Christian Formation, edited by Terry Linhart, Baker Academic, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central

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