Friday, 17 February 2012

The 4MAT system

The 4MAT system

The 4MAT system allows you to easily meet the learning styles of those you are communicating with. Many people find it useful because it is an easy structure you can incorporate into all of your presentations. One reason for doing this is to allow you to keep your audience engaged and make your communication even more effective. This article will explain what the simple steps are so you can use them straight away whenever you present. I’ll explain how to use the system with practical examples. And if you do you’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your presentations and your audience – and you won’t have to worry about meeting the needs of people with different learning styles anymore as the system incorporates these for you.
The 4MAT System and Learning Styles
The 4MAT System comes from a study of learning styles by Bernice McCarthy. She noticed that people with different learning styles learnt by asking particular questions.
Some people asked Why? Why are we doing this, why should I participate?
Some people wanted facts – they wanted information – and asked the ‘What’ question. What are we going to do? What’s happening? What’s this for?
Others were interested in asking ‘How?’ How does this happen? How does this work?
The last group wanted to explore future consequences, and asked What If? What would happen if I did this? What would happen if I did it that way?
There is clearly a relationship between these 4MAT categories and Jung’s psychological types, Kolb’s learning styles and the work of Honey and Mumford. These links are shown here-

Honey and Mumford
Concrete experience
Active experimentation
What if?
Reflective observation

So how can public speakers, trainers and presenters use this? When speaking, we can build the answers to the 4MAT question categories into our presentations to ensure we meet the needs of all of our audience and therefore all the learning styles. Here’s one way of doing this when you speak-
  1. Start by answering the question ‘Why?’, because until you give reasons answering the question “Why should I bother learning this?” the Why groups won’t engage in the learning. Until this question is fully answered, Reflectors won’t be ready to participate further.
  2. Then give the ‘What?’ information. Let the What group know there’ll be plenty of action. This group will also be satisfied by an activity – they’re Activist so let them loose.
  3. Thirdly, answer the ‘How?’ question and let the How group experiment with the content of the session. Pragmatists want to know how they will use the skill in a range of practical situations.
  4. Finally, answer the ‘What if?’ question by putting the skill in context. You can also engage the What ifs by inviting questions – “What did you discover? What questions do you have?” The Theorists will open up and ask questions as they build theories for the future.

So, for every major section of learning-

  1. The first thing to do is introduce it and then say “This is why you would want to know this”, and then give some reasons.
  2. And then, give the knowledge and information – “This is what you do, this is what it looks like, and these are the key points.”
  3. And then, invite your students to go away and learn/experiment with how to do it in different contexts.
  4. When they come back, tell them what will happen if they use it in real situations, and invite questions and feedback.

In your presenting, by taking your audience through this simple process you are giving them experience of every learning style, and everyone in the group, whatever their learning style is satisfied.

In Summary

I’ll finish with a practical illustration-
The reasons why you need to know this are that you want your audience to be fully engaged throughout your presentation. In the past, you may have had some people switch off, or at some point half way through ask ‘Why are we doing this?’, and it would be good to avoid such situations again, wouldn’t it? This is why you need to know this.
What this is all about is that people have different learning styles and assimilate information in different ways. These learning styles are generally satisfied when certain information or questions are answered. Each of us has a preference for one of these questions. This is what you are learning.
Think about how easily you can use this structure in your presentations and engage with all of your audience because you are answering the question they are thinking about (either consciously or unconsciously) before they have to ask it. How you will do this is by following the simple steps above. This is how you will actually use this in a practical sense, and how you will implement these ideas into your presenting.
And what if you’re thinking, “What if I started structuring my presentations in this way? What would be the consequences if I did this from now onwards?” One of the consequences would be that all of your audience would have been presented with the content of your session in a format that most suited them. As well as allowing them to assimilate the information they wanted in the way they preferred, you have helped them learn easily and given them experience of the other learning styles too. This is what will happen if you do this.

David Kolb
Learning Styles
Kolb's Model of Learning Styles

Kolb (1981) developed the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) to evaluate the way people learn and work with ideas in day-to-day life. He used the LSI to help people understand how they make career choices, solve problems, set goals, manage others, and deal with new situations. The instrument consists of twelve questions in which the subject selects one of four possible responses. The four columns in the instrument relate to the four stages Kolb identified as a cycle of learning: Concrete Experience (CE), Reflective Observation (RO), Abstract Conceptualization (AC), and Active Experimentation (AE). He paired AE and RO as polar opposites (doing vs. watching), and CE and AC as polar opposites (feeling vs. thinking).

According to Kolb (1981), Concrete Experience (CE) emphasizes active involvement, relating with other people, and learning by experience. Learners in the CE phase of learning are open-minded and adaptable, and are sensitive to the feelings of themselves and others.

Reflective Observation (RO) is the stage in which the learner watches and listens, views issues from different points of view, and discovers meaning in the learning material.

Abstract Conceptualization (AC) is the application of thought and logic, as opposed to feelings, to the learning situation. Planning, developing theories, and analysis are part of this stage.

The last stage is Active Experimentation (AE) and involves testing theories, carrying out plans, and influencing people and events through activity. Kolb believed that a complete cycle of learning involved each of these stages.

Since people use all four stages in many learning situations, Kolb (1981) used combined scores to determine which of four learning styles an individual preferred. He encouraged learners to become familiar with their own learning style, including its strengths and weaknesses, as a means to getting more out of each learning experience. The combined scores are derived from the polar pairs (AC minus CE) and (AE minus RO). The results are then plotted on a two axis grid, and finding the point of interception in one of the four quadrants.

Hashaway (1998) described Kolb's four learning styles. Divergers combine Reflective Observation (RO) and Concrete Experience (CE); they can see situations from many perspectives, and chunk up to forma a "gestalt". They do well in idea-generating processes such as brain-storming; they are imaginative and emotional. They tend to develop broad cultural interests, and specialize in the arts, humanities and liberal arts.

Convergers combine Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. They have the opposite style to the Diverger. These learners do well in conventional testing situations and other contexts where there is a single correct answer or solution. They use hypothetical- deductive reasoning, and can focus on specific problems. They are relatively unemotional, are highly procedural and prefer to work with inanimate objects than people. They may have narrow interests and often choose to specialize in science, engineering, and other exact fields. Figure 1 illustrates the quadrants for the Diverger and the Converger.

According to Hashaway (1998), Assimilators combine Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualization. They excel at creating theoretical models. They have a tendency toward inductive reasoning (chunking up), and are more interested in abstract concepts than in application or in people. Basic sciences and mathematics attract Assimilators, who excel in these fields of study.

The Accomodator's strength is doing things, carrying out plans and performing experiments. They like novel experiences and adapt to change easily. Of the four types, Accomodators are highest in risk-taking and most easily adapt to immediate circumstances. They solve problems in an intuitive, trial-and-error manner. They rely on other people for information more than their own analytical ability. They can appear impatient or pushy.

Kolb (1981) believed that the most effective problem solving and learning occurred when people used the skills of all four types of learners. Nearly every problem requires (1) Identifying a problem, (2) Selecting which problem to solve, (3) Considering a variety of possible solutions, (4) Evaluating possible results of the solutions, and (5) Implementing the solution of choice. Figure 3, which is adapted from Kolb, shows how this cycle of learning and problem solving moves through all four of the learning styles, and utilizes all four stages of learning.

McCarthy (1987) developed the 4Mat system based on Kolb's learning types, and recommended teaching in a cyclical process that addresses each phase in the cycle of learning, and each of the learning styles in the instruction of any subject matter. Her method of teaching started with the Diverger (values and meanings), then Assimilator (conceptual connections), then Converger (problem solving skills), and finally Accommodator (new creations). Movement around the circle includes all learners in their natural preferences, and encourages them to develop skills in the other three styles. It respects the natural cycle of learning suggested by Kolb. (1981). McCarthy's system was to teach to each style in sequence for each lesson or content chunk. For each lesson or content chunk the teacher was to answer the question most relevant for each quadrant: “Why?” (relevance), “What?” (facts and descriptive material),” How?” (methods and procedures), and “What If?” (exceptions, applications, creative combination with other material). McCarthy offered additional insights into the four leaning styles.

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4 MAT’S Learning

Dr. Bernice McCarthy

Dr. Bernice McCarthy

After extensive teaching experience in all grade levels, including special education, and her doctoral studies at Northwestern University, Dr. Bernice McCarthydeveloped an instructional model to connect all types of learners. She was convinced that the diversity of learners called for an all encompassing learning cycle. Bernice McCarthydrew on the research of Jung, Paiget, Vygotsky, Dewey, Lewin and Kolb to create an instructional system that would progress through the complete learning cycle using strategies that would appeal to all learners. This innovative approach, the 4MAT System, was the basis for the founding of her company, About Learning, Inc. in 1979.

The 4MAT System began in education and quickly spread into corporate and government as the value of this model became more widely recognized. It applies to two levels within these organizations, teaching and training and administration and leadership.

Bernice McCarthy encourages organizations to use multiple methods of problem solving and communication to help tap into the full potential of an individual. Instructional design, team processing, leadership skills, communication, conflict resolution, decision making, problem solving, and creativity are all encompassed in the 4MAT Model.

Bernice McCarthyis a prolific author and presenter and has conducted workshops and keynote sessions on effective learning at organizations worldwide including school districts across the U.S. and Canada as well as in higher education and government.

Dr. Bernice McCarthyconducts online training courses in partnership with About Learning's Corporate Division, most recently for the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bernice McCarthyis a nationally known author on instructional design. She has written seven books including The 4MAT System (1987), About Learning (1996), 4MAT in Action (2000), About Teaching (2000), The About Teaching Companion (2003), Teaching Around the 4MAT Cycle (2006), and Hold on You Lost Me: Using Learning cycles to Create Training that Sticks (2007).

Historical Perspective

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