Making the Personal Connection

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this module, facilitators will be able to:

  • Recognize the three basic learning styles or learning preferences.
  • Understand the importance of using a variety of approaches to facilitate Sabbath School lessons.
  • Use major techniques to maximize members’ understanding and application of Sabbath School lessons.

Being wiped out by a computer failure can have you spanking the mouse. Ask anyone who has lost anything. However, common causes of this dilemma are not linked to rocket science:

  • Not saving the information properly.
  • Choosing a forgettable file name.

Each person chooses to save the file in the manner that best suits his or her needs. Those who find that they are consistently losing documents may need to develop a better system for organizing their files.

Computer losses are a useful analogy for a discussion about facilitating an adult Sabbath School class. Class membership is diverse— only in ability, age, and culture—but in the basic elements that enable members to store and retrieve the information so that they can use it. Facilitators must find ways to accommodate this variety, to individualize their approaches to meet the needs of all class members.

One way to do this is to understand that each student needs to process, file, and retrieve information according to his or her conceptual frameworks—the same way people personalize saving information on a computer. But there’s a major glitch: Class members may know their learning style(s). Facilitators must, therefore, use a variety of techniques to help members “save” new knowledge in the proper “files” so that they can retrieve and use it later. No one method of “storing information” is better than another. It just depends on what works best for each individual.

Learning Styles Defined: Visual, Auditory, and Tactile-Kinesthetic
So what, exactly, are learning styles? Anita E. Woolfolk defines learning styles as “characteristic approaches to learning” ( Educational Psychology, p. 135). This refers to the ways that people perceive, process, and communicate information. So the bottom line is that people learn in different ways. Educational researchers have identified three basic types of learners:

Visual learners process information best through the use of sight. In order for these learners to get maximum benefit from a lesson, they must see the teacher’s facial expressions and body language. These members usually sit at the front of the class so nothing will obstruct their view of what’s going on. These are the members with the annotated, highlighted, and underlined areas in their Sabbath School quarterlies. They may also take detailed notes to help them understand information. Moses is a good example of a visual learner.

In Exodus 3:2, the angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush that would not burn up. God showed Himself in a manner that Moses would never forget. There must have been many visual learners in the nation of Israel, because Exodus 19:9 describes God’s plan to “come to [the people] in the thick cloud,” so that they would know when He was talking to Moses and so that Moses would be a credible witness for Him. God wrote the commandments “in his hand,” so that the Israelites could see them (Exodus 32:15, 16). Additionally, the book of Daniel describes all the wondrous visions and dreams that God gave to His servant Daniel, who was obviously a visual learner.

Auditory learners use hearing as their main source of information. A preference for lectures, discussions, and listening to the comments of others all characterize auditory learners. They are interested in voice intonation and pitch and benefit from reading aloud or taping (the sermon, for instance) to play back at a later time.

When Samuel uttered the words “Speak; for Thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:10), God knew that He had reached Samuel through his auditory learning preference—even though it took God’s calling him four times! And what better example of an auditory learner than Balaam. In Numbers 22 the Lord used an articulate donkey to get Balaam back on the right track, to make him hear, to make him complete the mission that he had been assigned in the first place.

Tactile-Kinesthetic learners prefer hands-on approaches to acquiring information. They like to explore the physical world in which they live. Easily distracted, these learners need variety and activity. Saul was certainly distracted and blinded on the road to Damascus, forced to maneuver without sight for three days. He was led “by the hand” (Acts 9:8). As Saul stumbled around, existing in a world of darkness, the Lord knew his learning preference and affected change in his heart and in his name.

Keep in mind, however, that though many individuals have one predominant learning style, most learn well through a combination of styles.

Major Techniques
The best way for facilitators to ensure adult Sabbath School members’ maximum understanding and application of the Sabbath School lesson is to use a variety of methodologies. Doing so will accommodate the learning styles and preferences of all the members. Here are some things you may do to accommodate all members, regardless of their cognitive styles:

  • Small Groups—All Learning Styles: Establish small groups to discuss some aspect of the Sabbath School lesson. By working closely with other members in small teams each member of a group learns better. In addition, small-group interaction helps members to develop social and cooperative skills that encourage camaraderie and Christian fellowship. Members get to know one another on a personal level. Some feel more comfortable speaking out and answering questions than they would being in a larger group. And members who don’t feel comfortable in the closeness of a small group will not be in that situation long, because the entire session is not in a small group. Also members who may not feel comfortable with certain members will not be in that situation long. So also remember to find ways to vary the membership of small groups.
  • Visual Aids—Visual and Tactile-Kinesthetic: Use photos and line art, PowerPoint programs viewed on laptop screens in a small-group setting or on DVD for larger groups, outlines, art objects, graphs, previews, summaries, etc., to help class members see how the parts interrelate and relate to the whole. Tactile-kinesthetic would most likely enjoy doing the actual keyboard work, time at the whiteboard, or in other preparation and participation involving movement.
  • Role Playing—Tactile-Kinesthetic: Have members put themselves in the place of particular Bible personalities. When they have to “walk in someone else’s moccasins” to make decisions or solve problems from another perspective, they are more likely to develop feelings of empathy rather than just sympathize with others whose experience is foreign to them. Role playing helps members learn to be less judgmental and to be sympathetic toward the misfortunes and predicaments of others. Again, all members will not like to be involved in role plays. So make this a part of the class time rather than take up the entire session.
  • Case Studies: Simulate situations (as related to a particular Sabbath School lesson) and have members identify problems and possible solutions. This technique is a variation of role playing and is another opportunity for small-group work.
  • Modeling: Yes, this too, is an effective technique that can be used in virtually any area—particularly the adult Sabbath School class. Because behaviors and attitudes can be taught, this technique is, perhaps, the most important one available to Sabbath School facilitators as they seek to model Christ. The discussions that take place in a Sabbath School class—in any other Christian educational class setting—are critical avenues for the integration of faith and learning.

Facilitating opportunities for members to create and share original poetry, write music, build models, etc., can be worked into discussion time on Sabbath morning and in supplementary fellowship.

  • Discussion: Through discussion, facilitators can encourage members to think. They can encourage them to see the validity of viewpoints other than their own. At the same time the discussion brings out that every viewpoint is not sound, that all viewpoints should be evaluated using the eternal principles of right and wrong found in the Scriptures.

These are just a few avenues for ensuring that all members’ learning styles are addressed.

Facilitators should be careful not to teach solely to their own learning styles, but to vary their techniques. The best adult Sabbath School class is a member-centered Sabbath School class. The needs of the members take precedence. By recognizing this responsibility, class facilitators embrace the doctrine that we are “one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. . . . In Christ . . . distinctions . . . must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ. . . . We are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation”(Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, p. 170).

Finally, attention to the principles of this lesson will help to make your Sabbath School class a welcome place for members of all learning preferences. By using your knowledge about learning styles, you will be able to respond to the Creator’s edict to facilitate “in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Jesus Christ” (Col. 1:28).

Dorothy J. Patterson
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Self-Assessment 6
Write answers to these questions and then discuss them with an experienced teacher:

1. How important is knowing about learning diversity to your members’ spiritual growth and to their outreach effectiveness?
2. What is your specific responsibility, as a facilitator, to ensure maximum member understanding and application of every lesson?
3. How important is it to the success of your ministry that you conduct a member-centered Sabbath School class?