The Four Learning Styles and How They Can Help Team Progression

Are any of these familiar?

  • Some of your players simply never seem to read strategies posted to the website?
  • Some others, no matter how, will always forget about vital buffs or die to ground fire at least once?
  • When you explain tactics over vent, some people may be heard sighing after a while, grow restless and want to just go on with it?
  • After a wipe (or an arena defeat), part of the team wants to jump straight back into the fray while others want to analyze what just happened, seemingly to death?
  • Do some people seem to have a hard time remembering when to blow their trinket cooldowns in the heat of battle, finding themselves short at crucial times?
  • Do you find that your arena team is split between those who want to immediately queue up for the next match and the guys who want to discuss what just happened?

If it does, the above symptoms are just a reminder that people learn things in different ways.

Two Psychologists, Peter Honey and Alfred Mumford, expanding upon the earlier works of one David Kolb, have identified four major ways by which people acquire new knowledge:

  • Activists are people who respond best to Scout Movement founder Lord Baden-Powell‘s credo of “Learning by doing”. These players will learn a new encounter or a new arena tactic best by simply experiencing it. They are the people most likely to interrupt a strategy session with “let’s just do it”, they want to be in the thick of things and will learn best through practice.
  • Theorists are on the opposite side of things. Half of what we’d call our Theorycrafters stem from this group, they have to model something in their head to grasp it completely. The better the model they build, the better their practical execution later on. These players will usually respond best to long and detailed boss strategies, the more the information you provide them with beforehand matches the reality of a fight, the better they will respond.
  • Reflectors mainly gain their understanding from analyzing and reviewing their experiences. The second half of the Theorycrafters belong in this group, as they will tend to collect as much data as they can to support their analysis. Players in this group, more than any other, will be ready to spend hours on training dummies running large sequences of tests and changing tiny elements just to find out the single most optimal cookie-cutter approach to whatever they are reviewing. Where the theorist will be content to calculate the best possible output with maths only, a reflector will thrive on maths derived from hard data.
  • Pragmatists will learn best from information which is directly tied to practical use. Contingency planning, adapting to the situation in the thick of battle is something they love, endless strategy sessions and what-if-scenarios tend however to quickly bore them unless you can tie every aspect of it to direct and concrete use. A pragmatist would be quite likely to ask “can we do it with one less?” and willing to go through with it.

Learning styles aren’t mutually exclusive. In general, people will respond strongly to one learning style and a bit less to the others in various degrees. Studies in the past tend to demonstrate that the best learning effect is achieved when many or even all learning styles are being catered to.

That’s All Fine But How Does That Help My Groups?

A fine type of pragmatist question, raid leaders and battlegroup tacticians may want to make their briefings appeal to a wider type of learning styles to maximize their progression speed:

  • Theorists will continue to thrive on strategies posted on the guild website. Keep it up, you’re most likely already catering to them
  • Activists can greatly benefit from videos implementing the strategy (if available). To help their learning, post them in a thread separate from your strategy post
  • Reflectors can be brought up to speed by linking to existing parses and combat logs.
  • For the Pragmatists, building a checklist with a direct link to in-game effects can work well. Eg: “Keep your trinkets up for phase 2 because we need to produce XXX dps in 30 seconds otherwise we wipe”.
  • After a wipe, instead of running straight back into the fray the moment everyone is rezzed and rebuffed, leave some time for the reflectors to review their combat logs, they might not only improve their own performance but also find out exactly what went wrong on the last attempt
  • Make sure you foster a climate where Activists and Reflectors in particular aren’t being singled out: both of these more than the other two will really need to experience things in order to truly understand them. Yelling at an activist because he hasn’t read your 10’000 words of strategy explanation won’t help him get better but rather discouraged, but after two or three attempts, he will probably understand the flow of the fight better than anyone else.
  • Theorists and pragmatists are the most likely to come up with intellectual leaps of faith going against the official strategy – if yours just doesn’t work, try it out their way. They might just have thought of a way to get around whatever roadblock your team is encountering.
  • Keep your pre-encounter briefing short and to the point. The theorists and reflectors will have done their preliminary research, the pragmatists only want the telegraphic style short overview and the activists want to rush straight into battle. Long explanations will just waste everyone’s time for little concrete benefits.

These, and more, can all help speed up the time your group needs to adapt to a new strategy and put it to successful use. Being mindful of the four different learning styles, and trying to cater to all of them, can speed up your preparation time and help you conquer new content faster.

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11 Responses to The Four Learning Styles and How They Can Help Team Progression

  1. Matticus (15 comments) says:

    I’m a combination of the Activist and Pragmatist for sure.

  2. Gwaendar (217 comments) says:

    I’m a very strong pragmatist, strong theorist and weaker with the rest. There’s actually tests to find out how you are balanced in the four styles but they’re all copyrighted and cost a chunk of money.

    Bring the open source…

  3. Ironhelm (2 comments) says:

    Excellent post! Too often we forget that we are leading people and that the well known and established leadership trends and principles apply. Almost always, I see raids ‘hurry up and wait’. They rush rush rush to clear to a boss, then wait long enough as someone (or multiples) explains the fight, assigns roles and sets up a macro and… can we start already?! Who did not prepare ‘their own way’ for this fight?! Leave them off the inv list next time! Activists prepare by showing up. And taking 10 mins to explain the fight to them is lost on them, they are usually doing something else by then like AFK to get a beer.

    I’ve found that if I take 5 mins at the beginning of a raid before the first pull, while folks are making pots and consuming them, to talk about the overall general things for that specific raid group (e.g. moon is sheep and assigned to Joe, Star is sheep and assigned to Suzie) and to mention key points (e.g. John, when we get to XYZ in Gundrak, dismiss pet so that it does not path and pick up all the mobs when we jump down from the balcony), that it works best. Those that are interested, dial in, sometimes ask questions for more info, those that don’t care, are off at bio or getting a beer.

    When the schnitz hitz the fitz and itz wipez timez – we laugh, recover, quickly re-focus everyone, ask if there are any vital questions before we hit it again, then hit it. I don’t leave room for recriminations. Simply put, some people need to die in the fight in order to be able to do the fight without dying — and not everyone gets this. So when we die, it is important to tell the pissed off folks that it’s ok, now we ALL know the fight. Lets get on with it.

  4. ApathyInc (5 comments) says:

    Activist + Pragmatist, with a bit of Theorist mixed in. :P

  5. Zahrah (3 comments) says:

    Serious <3 for bringing this up..
    Its so true, and I think every good raid leader/gm needs to have at least considered that a single approach is not the best way to reach all the people.
    In addition Some people aren’t aware of their own learning styles – and a change in the approach to how you learn can have a massive impact of the quality of information you absorb.

  6. artorin (1 comments) says:

    I’m linking and posting a copy of this on my guild forums I hope you don’t mind.

  7. Gwaendar (217 comments) says:

    I most definitely do not mind :)

  8. Sebastian (3 comments) says:

    That’s a great post! Nice to see some other people are writing on similar, contemporary topics as I am.

    Maybe next up you can use Bartle’s player-type test! (

  9. Sebastian (3 comments) says:

    Hah :) Well, I meant more as members of a guild roster, and what that means for the poor guild leader!

    Bartle was my lecturer at university, incidentally!

  10. Sebastian (3 comments) says:

    I just finished an article on a similar subject — I’ve kind of expanded some of your ideas and added my own experience, and directed it more towards hardcore raiding guilds.

    Take a look, it might be interesting :)