Get a Grip! Action learning for Kinaesthetic Learners by Chloe Osborne

Kinaesthetic Learners are one of the four different learning styles popularised in the last 20 years by educationalists and psychologists:

Visual learners – Visual learners learn best by seeing. People who prefer this type of learning would rather see information presented in a visual rather than in written form.

Auditory learners – Aural (or auditory) learners learn best by hearing information. They enjoy and benefit from learning in a lecture style and are good at remembering things they are told.

Reading / Writing learners – Reading and writing learners prefer to take in information displayed as words. They access and engage best with learning materials that are predominantly text-based.

Kinaesthetic learners – Kinaesthetic (or tactile) learners learn best by touching and doing. Hands-on experience is important to kinaesthetic learners and focus can be supported by adding movement to any learning experience.

It is now well researched and recognised that people prefer a combination of these different learning styles and techniques yet, in mainstream education and the majority of Professional Development opportunities, there are dominant learning styles that are catered for and others that are forsaken due to limitations on planning time, resources, space and shared awareness.

As a kinaesthetic/visual learner, I find conventional learning environments challenging. Sitting still at tables for extended periods of time whilst looking through written documents, despite years of practice, is still problematic. I’ve spent the last 15 years working on it though, and, after researching child development psychology and training in arts facilitation, I have spent time developing a set of tools that enable me to hold and process information in a way that makes my learning style an advantage rather than barrier. I can ‘translate’ information that is delivered to me in a format designed for reading/writing and auditory learning styles into visual and physical patterns which help me to hold on to it better.

On approaching my role as an action learning facilitator for a mixed experience set, I was acutely aware of the challenges that the action learning process poses for Kinaesthetic Learners. I understood the need to accommodate a wide variety of learning styles and  wanted to utilise the techniques developed to aide my own learning, to create a supportive and accessible learning environment for the set – only with a level playing field could we hope to transcend the natural hierarchy of experience inherent in the group.

In a nutshell, a kinaesthetic learner needs to be actively doing something while learning in order to truly engage with and understand the materials and/or subject at hand. Often, those with a kinesthetic learning style have a hard time learning during sedentary things like lectures, presentations and talking-focused learning because the body does not make the connection that they are doing something when they’re listening. Much of the time, they need to get up and move to put something into memory.

Creating an even playing field for the set was going to involve some experimentation.


Some experiments in Kinaesthetic Learning

Mission: Explore new ways to adapt core action learning materials/introductory activities to incorporate movement and/or develop new strategies for supporting Kinaesthetic Learners to engage with the action learning process.

core ingredients – blank walls, thick felt pens, white tack, a room big enough to move around in, a range of different seating styles and floor cushions, multiple coloured pens in a variety of different thicknesses (stay away from standardised biros and thin ‘writing pens’), large paper sheets attached to the walls.

optional extra ingredients –  bright coloured string which can be trailed during the origins activity (think minotaur!), large blackboards and chunky chalks which can replace post it notes if you are unable to attach things to the walls in your action learning space.

Seat shifts

Each set member chooses the seat that they feel most drawn too.

The group is given written aides whilst being introduced to the action learning process.

Rather than relying on each individual to have pre-read these in advance of the session or to listen as the facilitator explains it – ask each member to read a small part each. Agree the seat that the facilitator is sitting on will be the ‘reader’s chair’.

The facilitator reads the first part and then everybody moves one chair to the left.

The set member now sitting in the ‘reader’s chair’, continues to read the next part. Repeat and Rotate.

The movement enables the group to explore sitting in all of the different styles of seats whilst creating associative movements linked to each part of the action learning process.

Think big

To generate a shared understanding of both the process of an action learning set and the individual and group objectives of the specific set consider drawing a large scale map rather than (or as well as) providing individual written resources.

There are many companies who specialise in visual minutes who may be able to help in this process[1]. It is important that the facilitator and all set members are able to witness the drawing process so the ‘mapper’ must be an external practitioner who is invited into the space for this introductory part of the process only.

The process of action learning is documented as a journey by the ‘mapper’, who incorporates the words and questions of all set members in the large scale drawing.

Once complete the group begins at one end of the room and walks through the process together, literally ‘walking in’ each phase of the process together and mirroring the process that will be shared by the group at each session.

The group’s aims are also drawn, on a separate wall, by the ‘mapper’, this helps the group to visualise how their individual and group objectives for the set can both co-exist and inter-relate within the space, The spacial, diagrammatic format of this large scale documentation aides Kinaesthetic learners to feel how each person’s contributions can be positioned, physically alongside each other, it helps them to hold onto the information by bearing witness to the process of mapping the aims in real space rather than solely listening to or reading them.

Please see examples, with agreement of the set members involved,  of both the action learning journey and a shared group’s aims for their action learning set.


Standing in diagrams

Rather than holding focus on one single flip chart/screen with action learning diagrams displayed, try to use the space of the room to create a physicalised version within which individual set members can place themselves.

This works especially well when looking at the Challenge/Support Matrix [2] in which the facilitator can invite set members to place themselves physically in the position that they feel a) currently in their place of work, b) with a group of their closest friends, c) in their ideal place of work.

The movement helps to internalise the learning whilst the physical exchange and proximity, between set members as they negotiate the different quadrants, helps to build trust in the group.

It can also be adapted to explore Johari’s window and to support the group to get to know one another in the origins activity – in which they literally walk the group from one side to the other whilst explaining the ‘river journey’ of their world to date.

Where are we at?

At the beginning of each session during the checking in round allocate a wall for each checking in proposal. The facilitator can develop a pattern of questions which will prompt the group to share with their set members, build the focus for the session and increase trust between set members.

i.e. On the eastern wall of the room place a post it note on which documents a winter memory from at least a year ago.

On the western wall place a post it which documents your most successful hour in the last month

On the northern wall place a post it which documents something you have seen/heard in the last week which you found inspirational

On the southern wall place a post it which documents something that you wished you had done but didn’t do yesterday

When everyone has created and positioned their four post its, the set walks the periphery of the room together, sharing the material they have chosen to share as we walk past their post it notes.

This activity develops a sense of ownership of the space, creates an unspoken contract of freedom of movement within it and supports Kinaesthetic Learners to learn about their set members more effectively.

Set members can also be asked to bring in objects in response to a specific prompts – these can then be positioned by individuals in a chosen place within the room and then curated by the group in order to create a physical gallery of shared experience within the space.

Thoughts on action learning for Kinaesthetic Learners [KLs]

  • If we recognise that each person prefers different learning styles and techniques then we have a responsibility as facilitators to design environments which engage multiple learning styles
  • Everyone has a mix of learning styles
  • Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles. Others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances
  • There is no right mix. Nor are your styles fixed. You can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles that you already use well
  • Using multiple learning styles is a relatively new approach and moves away from the mainly linguistic and auditory teaching methods which we recognise in traditional (Victorian inherited) learning environments
  • In order to create a non-hierarchical learning environment in which the action learning process can thrive, it is useful for the facilitator to be able to accommodate different learning styles
  • Information that KLs have learned via body movement is stored in the brain. By building associative patterns of movement into the structure of the set, it will not only help them focus, but will also help them remember what they learned in previous sets
  • Let set members move! If you tell them they can stand up, swing their legs, change their mind about sitting on the floor or a chair or even pace the floor as long as they are not disrupting the other set members, their ability to contribute meaningfully will improve
  • Using novelty and change in order to help break up long periods of time when set members would be sitting still will help the KLs to retain the learning.[3]

Chloe Osborne is an established participatory artist and creative producer who makes work designed to engage the public in issues that are important for social change. She works in collaboration and partnership with like-minded artists and organisations to design creative projects and arts experiences in the public realm. She trained as an action learning facilitator with ALA in 2015.

[1] We worked with the wonderful Jonny and Raquel from

[2] Adapted from Learning in Action A Guide for Facilitators, published by Centre for Management and Policy Studies

[3] If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore your own preferred learning style there are many online resources available.

This is a good starting point:

You can also read more about different learning styles here:

5 thoughts on “Get a Grip! Action learning for Kinaesthetic Learners by Chloe Osborne”

  1. I think this is really interesting, but how do you avoid the movement which helps some people to learn becoming a distraction for those who learn better/think better in a quiet ordered space?

    1. Hi Tina,
      I would discuss with the set how we can accommodate everyone’s learning style without having any detrimental impact on any one individual’s Action Learning experience. The group then decides on the boundaries for their set and then we would work together to experiment with different techniques and ensure that we built time into the sessions to reflect on the strengths and challenges of each one. The process normally only takes 4-5 presentations to establish rituals that everyone is happy with.

  2. Hi Maggie, I think that you can condense the experiments if you have a shorter process. As part of the set building trust between them- I would incorporate the folowing: ask everyone to share the conditions in which they find it easier to concentrate and the factors that are most likely to disrupt their active listening process at the beginning. By sharing these and understanding that it has been listened too, I would propose that it becomes easier for the group to support one another’s needs.

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