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Are You a Visual Learner? An Experiential Learner? A Social Explorer?

How do you like to learn? That was the core question behind a series of focus groups I recently facilitated for a major ballet company. We sat down with ticket buyers over three weeks to explore attitudes, preferences and current activities around education and engagement. The goal of this work is to develop a set of audience archetypes, specific to ballet, based on approaches to learning and engagement, and then to establish a set of educational pathways customized for each archetype.

In many ways, this is familiar territory for me (see pages 22-24 in Making Sense of Audience Engagement for a description of audience engagement typologies), but I know there is much more to learn. I found new inspiration in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. He argues that everyone inherently holds multiple approaches to learning, but one or two are often more dominant (e.g., I’m more of a visual-spatial learner compared to my mother who is more linguistically-minded). What does this mean for audiences who want to learn about ballet? A 1997 article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) publication, Education Leadership, about integrating MI with learning style theory provides some food for thought. For example, what kinds of programs would adequately engage visual-spatial learners who prefer a facilitated interactive process over a self-directed independent approach?

Of course, there are limitations to every theoretical model. A patron’s interests and learning approach will likely change over time, perhaps influenced by a friend or a life event such as a new job or the death of a spouse. It is this variability that is so hard to predict and accommodate in creating new programs. John Falk’s identity-based museum segmentation model is one of the few in the arts sector that addresses this unpredictability by recognizing that visitors differ based on their expectations and motivations, which may change from day to day.

Although we’ve only just touched upon the theories mentioned above and how they relate to audience education and engagement, I come back to the task at hand: reconciling theory with practice to create a workable model for patron engagement that is both grounded in theory and flexible enough to accommodate the complexities of human behavior.

So tell me, what kind of learner are you?

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