What is a dominant learning style, and why is it important to consider as a trial lawyer who must persuade judges and jurors?
According to the University of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, a learning style is how we “gather, sift through, interpret, organize, come to conclusions about, and ‘store’ information for further use.” In other words, it’s an individual’s natural preference for acquiring and processing new information.
There are four generally accepted categories of learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic (known as the “VARK” model).
Visual learners prefer the use of images and graphic organizers to access and comprehend information.
Auditory learners best understand new content through verbal communication – listening and speaking.
People with the Reading/Writing preference learn best through written communication – words on a page.
Kinesthetic learners are “hands-on,” retaining knowledge through tactile representations of information.
Why is it important for litigators to consider learning style when presenting their case? Because your jury is bound to consist of people with different ways of taking in information and assessing it. And if some of those jurors don’t understand the story you’re trying to convey, they’ll be less inclined to take your client’s side. Persuasion typically comes only with real understanding.
The solution? If possible, teach to multiple learning styles simultaneously. According to the National Institutes of Health and other sources, the majority (65%) of the population is likely to understand and remember your presentation easiest through visual learning. It’s a safe bet that roughly 8 of your 12 jurors fall into this category, so using charts, graphs, timelines, pictures and other visuals is essential to cover the majority.
What about the other four jurors who may have a preference for the other three learning styles? Weave in stories and analogies to reach the auditory learners. If possible, allow the jury to look at and touch an object, or scaled model of an object, that is a subject of your case to impact the kinesthetic learners. Yet others – in the reading/writing category – may understand best by reading documentary evidence you present on a screen or document camera.
Revered basketball coach and master teacher John Wooden’s fundamental principles of effective teaching are described in the book, “You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned.” By acknowledging that your preferred teaching style may not match others’ preferred learning styles and adapting accordingly, you will maximize the chance that all of your jurors will in fact have learned – hopefully translating to a positive outcome at trial.