—An AV Show-and-Tell Input-Output Model

You are an HR manager formally making and soliciting suggestions about creating a professional network. You hate writing and are not much of a reader. Do you make your presentation an oral/aural one, i.e., everybody just listens and talks, or do you circulate a document asking for written suggestions?

Is your choice based on your presentation format preferences, their preferences, a combination of the two, or limits of time and technology? Excluding the preferences of others and the limitations, which way would you do it?

To introduce a framework in which to analyze and make such decisions, and to illustrate its concepts, I will offer my own experience as a test case.

The Influence of “Learning Styles”

If you are like me and many people I know, you probably have a preferred “learning style”, e.g., learning by reading, rather than by listening. (As for forgetting, any style works for me.)

You may also have a preferred and opposite presentation/output style for presentations such as providing reports, namely, oral. This means that  in addition to favoring particular information-acquisition “input styles”, you may favor a specific identical or opposite information “output style” at work and more generally in your life as well.

Your teenage children are, of course, an exception to this pattern: They neither input nor output anything you say.

The VAK and AV Show-and-Tell Models

In my case and with regard to input, “visual learning” unquestionably has always trumped “auditory” and “kinesthetic” learning of information—the key triad in one of the most popular, although heavily debated “learning styles”  and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) models: the Fleming VAK (Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic-Tactile) model.

The model I have created, which I have called the “AV Show-and-Tell” model because it is a visual and auditory framework, just like the show-and-tell of your early school years,  builds on but then departs from the VAK model, in that it includes presentation/practice “output” (“O”) as well as learning “input” (“I”). In this new model, there are four types: VI, AI, VO and AO. All that follows will illustrate and clarify these concepts.

I am almost exclusively visual when it comes to learning and  simply cannot learn a language by listening to anything or anyone, nor can I remember even a single conversation I have ever had over decades in Japanese or Chinese. Similarly, I will learn a Chinese or Japanese name fastest and maybe only by writing it down. Otherwise, for me it’s like trying to accurately remember one’s own tattoo without getting it down on skin. This means I am definitely not an “AI-type” (“Auditory Input”).

Despite virtually zero auditory language-acquisition experience, I did manage to parlay all of my monkish Tokyo commuter-train visual reading (reinforced by auditory practice) into a job co-teaching metaphysics, logic and ethics in Japanese, at the college level—something I never would have been able to do by attempting to go against my grain and my visual-learner style, by, for example, trying to listen to language tapes, radio, pop songs or other people. This translates into my being a virtually pure “VI-type” (“Visual Input”).

Although I am equally comfortable with and enjoy both visual and auditory output, e.g., making my living writing and talking in front of a class or meeting, virtually all of my core learning is visual, as is my memory. Hence, I am a  0.5VO/0.5AO-type, following the scheme I’ve created to represent the four types in the image. That is, my propensities in terms of output yield a half “visual output” and “auditory output” profile.

Because office work and recruiting in general depend almost exclusively on visual and auditory performance, in the form or reading, writing, speaking and listening, in this discussion kinesthetic learning, i.e.,  muscle, motor and tactile learning of the kind involved in learning karate, auto repair and playing the piano, will play virtually no role. This is coded as being neither “KI” nor “KO” at work.

Whether your recruiting career choice is the cause, or the effect of V/A dominance, like it or not, innately or habitually, touchy-feely  K-learning is not part of your current work world.

This is clear from the fact that apart from the initial and final handshakes, not much that happens, much less what is learned, on the recruitment job is kinesthetic or tactile—although occasionally handshakes can be the most unforgettable and informative moments of the work day, second only to seeing no wedding ring on the hand you didn’t shake but would love to hold. Perhaps a KI/KO moment for at least one of you, but not enough to constitute a style.

Making the Most of Your “A-Type” and “V-Type” Tendencies

With this exclusion of “K”, the relevance of the truncated AV model to your job is fourfold:

1.       You may be acquiring, processing and presenting information in ways that don’t match your “natural” style or those of members of your “audience”.

For example, having lost your pen, you may be forced to try to learn a candidate’s name by hearing it, when writing it down would, for you actually be a much faster way to learn and remember it.  This is the compromise of using an AI style that clashes with your natural  VI style.

Similarly, you may choose to tell a candidate your name, when she’d really prefer to have your card and read it, to ensure she doesn’t slip up. Here, your AO style clashes with her VI preference.

2.       You may instinctively be favoring an input style that is different from your preferred output style, if you have one of the latter. As a result of this, you may be misunderstood by others as having a single preference for both. Example: Your boss knows you love to read; so he gives you the writing assignment. His mistake is that he has equated your VI style with a VO style.

3.       You may make erroneous, perhaps projective assumptions about what a client’s or colleague’s preferred styles are or what will be most efficient, effective and enjoyable for him or her. As a consequence, you may unwittingly handicap, corrupt or block his or her assimilation and appreciation of information you present. Example: The AO-type boss loves to talk, so he conveniently assumes his secretary is an AI-type. Hence, he thinks she loves to listen, and maybe even talk too…if given the chance to indulge her own AO inclinations.

4.       If your work style perfectly matches your learning and presentation styles and the styles of everyone you have to deal with, you are truly blessed. Maybe the Pope has that kind of job, since both lots of reading and lots of chanting are the norm for everyone at the Vatican.

Test Yourself

Picking up where the hypothetical situation at the top of this article left off, consider the following scenario: Because your engineering recruitment agency is getting a lot more Chinese applicants these days, you’ve decided to give Mandarin a go, instead of your customary pass. So, assume you are going to choose between one language-learner’s kit that is 90% printed text-based material and 10% tapes, and a second kit that is 10% printed text-based material and 90% tapes (the percentages reflecting the proportion of the total time that the average user will probably have to allocate to each to master both). Which option will you choose?

Situation #3: To get a better feel for your general learning style, beyond the confines of the office, consider this additional scenario—You’ve  decided that, after all these years, you really want to know and possibly learn the lyrics to “Hotel California” and can choose between listening to them as much as you wish to or reading them as a way of learning them. If you opt for listening and are lucky, some sweet-voiced sweetie can sing it to you; unlucky, it’s a mariachi band hovering like hummingbirds over your restaurant table.

A Matter of Extremes and Degrees

In each of the foregoing scenarios, which alternative will you choose? Which would be the more efficient, effective and enjoyable for you and provide the optimal mix of these “3E” characteristics?

Your inclinations may be mixed: First,  as previously noted, you may prefer to input information visually, but output it orally, e.g., like to read, hate to write; secondly, and equally importantly, you may also have mixed input preferences and/or mixed output preferences, such as preferring a mix of visual and auditory learning, e.g., reading a resume and discussing it.

Like many dichotomies, the auditory learner vs. visual learner distinction can be a matter of degree for any one person, some being closer to a pure input or pure output type than others. I worked with a very bright account executive in Tokyo—from Chicago—who was articulate and a very acute listener, but, who, because of dyslexia, was very leery of written communication in any language, as output as well as input.

For him, the visual input of text and writing took a very removed backseat to listening and speaking. As a result of his dyslexia, he was a virtually a pure  AI-type auditory learner, in terms of the  greater efficiency, effectiveness and enjoyment that characterized his predominantly auditory learning strategy. I, on the other hand, am his direct opposite: a nearly 100% through-and-through VI type.

Obviously, the dominant sense, viz., sight vs. hearing, used to input information and utilized for learning, may be dominant only in terms of a job requirement, rather than in terms of a personal propensity and preference. The fact that you may be staring at and writing on a screen all day as your job doesn’t mean you are a visual type. It merely means that your job is visual and that it goes against your natural grain, if that grain is the AI/AO type. Accordingly, your job can be categorized as a “conflicting VI/VO type”.

With respect to language acquisition, the distinction  between A-listening (AI) and V-reading ( VI) types is not only valid, but also complete. Self-described “oral” learners—those who claim they learn by speaking, which does have kinesthetic elements—misinterpret their own learning methods.

Speaking is never the initial input channel for language acquisition; it is only the “practice channel”. Hence, there is no S-learning type (“SI”, speaking-learning type).

The initial input must be visual or auditory (aural)—except for rare souls like Hellen Keller. By definition, speech is a learner’s output channel (which includes AO baby-babble), unless it’s the speech of others, e.g., imitated parental input speech—which then makes it listening, i.e., AI. Accordingly, even though speaking is good kinesthetic practice, it is not kinesthetic initial acquisition. Hence, it does not count as an input learning method, even though it is learning practice.

Other Correlations

It may be tempting to imagine that predominantly VI types are bookish introverts. However, whether being a visual-text learner correlates with any other traits, e.g., introversion, is moot and, in any individual case, a conjecture to be framed with great caution.

Similarly, the hypothesis that a young immigrant or foreign applicant whose listening comprehension is nearly perfect probably has a strong interest in your pop culture is also just that—a hypothesis to be considered in general, but not accepted in any specific instance, even though I have anecdotal evidence supporting it.  To make that inference would be like concluding that just because somebody has bullets he or she must have a gun.

It is worth noting that, switched around, these speculations could apply to you and your forays into a second or third language too.

The Radio Test

To facilitate the sorting of applicants, colleagues, clients or yourself into auditory vs. visual types, there is a single short question that  I believe helps a lot: “Do you enjoy listening to radio?” A “yes” response is an indication that you may be interviewing an auditory learner—AI—and accordingly someone who may be clearly understanding much more of what you are saying than you imagine or that is suggested by her lower AO-level of spoken English.

Answering the question for yourself may give you a big clue as to which type you are, and therefore make you more aware of how to best achieve the “3Es” of learning, mentioned above.

This is not just a hunch. In most of my undergraduate and graduate-level university and college classes in China, Canada and Japan, I asked my students that question and found a very strong, often perfect, albeit informal, correlation between the “yes, I like radio” response; their preferred way of learning, remembering and inputting English; and their language-performance/level skills, communications goals and interests mix.

A Suggestion or Two

One final suggestion: In your own interviewing and in the absence of foreknowledge of an applicant’s, client’s or co-workers’ learning style, you should, as backup, precaution, self-test or self-stretch, try to present crucial information both visually and orally—a suggestion I made, but for different reasons, in my previous article about left-brain/right-brain learning and stimulation.

Otherwise, if the information I’ve provided hasn’t sunk in, just let me know. Even better give me a call.

I’ll leave this article as a voice-mail greeting.

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