If it was not for the RDR rearing its head when it did, it would have been many years since most of us gave any thought to the way in which we learn and retain information. With the average age of advisers currently standing at 58, those that had not actively pursued non-mandatory professional qualifications during their career could have had a gap of around three-and-a-half decades in between exam revision sessions.
Over the past five to 10 years, there has been a real interest in the ways in which people learn and remember information. There are a number of varying theories but the majority of them have the same four learning styles at their core:
- Visual: in which pictures and images would be the most effective way of communicating information.
- Verbal: where words and sounds are the best way to make things stick in the brain.
- Emotional: in that feelings and emotive reactions are the most powerful way in which to express details.
- Physical/kinetic: where a sense of touch and physical expression is the best way to communicate information.
It is rare for someone to only be able to absorb data through one of those styles but people do usually have a dominant preference. If you think back to the last pre-RDR examination you sat, I am sure you will be able to recognise some of these traits in your approach to studying, even if you were unaware of them at the time. Verbal and visual learning are much more common and therefore what I will focus on in this article.
Verbal learners are more likely to benefit from repetition and working with long sections of text. You are likely to see verbal learners pouring over great swathes of text with certain words underlined or highlighted for emphasis. It is probable that mnemonic devices are also going to be more effective for verbal learners than others.
Named after Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory, these devices are most commonly a form of acronym in which easily remembered phrases are used to recall less memorable strings of information: for example, “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to remember the colours of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).
Visual learners are more likely to use graphs, charts and diagrams to memorise information. They find pictorial information much easier to recall. As a visual learner myself, I often use lists with columns as aide memoires. Given a long sentence or string of words, I will struggle to remember the information exactly. However, if I can picture a number of lists in columns I will find it much easier to recall exactly where each word was on the page and in relation to others to which it is close.
Identifying and catering to your style of learning can be immensely useful, not only in exams you take but also the way in which you undertake the attainment of your structured CPD and even in how you produce reflective statements to make them most valuable to you in the future.
What is more, it can be hugely productive for advisers to understand the way in which your clients take information on board most effectively.
Again leaving aside the physical style of learning (which could be a difficult one to trial with the majority of clients) it should be relatively easy to pick up whether they have a predominantly visual, verbal or emotional brain, simply based on the type of language and behaviour they demonstrate during their interactions with you.
Visual learners will draw you pictures, either literally scribbling down images to explain something to you, with their words or even with their hand gestures and body language. Those with verbal brains are likely to pick up a lot more from conversation, sometimes going back to phrases or terms you used much earlier and the written word. Emotional thinkers may be the easiest of all to spot as they tend to use a lot of emotive language: how they feel, what they believe, and their dreams and aims for the future.
Of course, the way in which we communicate with clients about their financial plans and our recommendations are heavily regulated and templated, which is absolutely the right way in which to ensure there is a consistent level of information given across the industry.
However, when ensuring clients are fully considering all aspects of their financial situation, or understand the decisions they are making and the potential outcomes of those choices, then a firm knowledge of the way in which they are absorbing and processing information can be an invaluable tool.
Tom Hegarty is managing director at New Model Business Academy