Mapping charts how you learn
by Judith Richards
"I'm curious about my abilities, " says
public relations specialist Imelda Dykes.
"I need reassurance that 'Yes, I can
learn.' And not only that, I want to learn
the most effective way. If I learn best
from listening, I don't want to buy a
book on the subject. Ill go to a seminar."
Dykes is considering being "mapped."
Mapping isn't a new therapy of the Me
Decade. It's a way to learn how you learn
"As far as I know, cognitive-style
mapping (CSM) is available commercially
in only one other place in the United
States," says Pamela Hamilton, founder
of Learning Unlimited. When Hamilton
set up the business in 1976, she got the
blessings of CSM's developer, midwest
mathematician-educator, Dr. Joseph Hill.
Although his cognitive-style mapping process has been used in education for about
25 years, Hamilton was first in the
country to form a business based on the
CSM learning theory and measurement
"Learning is simply taking in data,"
Hamilton says. "It includes all the ways
we pick up and process information
around us. It goes on all the time, mostly
without our being aware of it. We learn
from a chat with a friend on the phone,
and by reading a billboard message on the
way to work. Ideally, learning is automatic, an osmosis. If the situation is right,
learning is almost effortless."
For most of us, this is rare, she adds.
The situation is almost never completely
right. Often, there is a block in our
learning process. If you work best alone,
and you're supposed to develop a project
as part of a team, you might be
experiencing a problem with your job.
Hamilton hesitates to use the word
"problem." She emphasizes that there's no
right or wrong way to learn. Being most
effective is understanding and using the
ways you learn naturally to best advantage in your own situation.
Usually, however, Hamilton asks at the
interview whether there's a specific prob-
lem-in the classroom, at home, at the
office-that you'd like help in solving.
It might be that you'd want to know if
your children could benefit from learning
how to take notes. You might find out
that you are predisposed to distractions,
such as noticing the traffic outside your
office window, or the feel of your writing pen, and want to figure out ways to
deal with that. You might want to determine if an associate would perform better
if you gave him or her a reason to do a
"I wanted to know if I was an effective teacher," says marketing consultant
Vicki Keltner. "And I wanted to learn
how to be better. I found out that I learn
best by listening. So that's how I taught.
Now I realize that I have people who
need visuals, and I'm more careful to
write on the blackboard, to pass out
written material, and to not be so bothered by all that rustling paper when the
visual learners do their thing."
"Testing," or taking the mapping instrument is the second part of the cognitive-style mapping process. The test is
simple-answering a series of questions
and marking checks on an answer sheet.
Though questions vary, they might include, "Do you usually have an easy time
putting together puzzles?" or "Are you
the first person in a room to comment on
a certain odor?"
From this test, Hamilton uses a simple
scoring system to fill in a chart, your cognitive-style map. The map comprises
several types of information: your
theoretical basis for learning (Do you
learn words and numbers by hearing
them or by seeing them on paper?); your
sensory intake, coordination, and attitudes or values; the cultural determinants
of your decision-making (Are your
choices more influenced by friends,
family, neither?); and your thinking patterns, or "modalities of inference."
Hamilton notes that, as part of her
arrangement with Dr. Hill, she has kept
his terminology. So the map reads in a
fairly formidable fashion. For example,
one item, Q(CS) Qualitative/Code Syn-
noetics, translates, "How well do you
know yourself?" If you rate low in no. 10
Qualitative Proprioceptive and no. 16
Code Kinesthetic, you'd better not take
tennis lessons. Or at least, Hamilton says,
find a teacher who'll just draw a big circle
on the opposite court and say, "OK, hit
the ball till you get it into the circle."
These two items have to do with your
ability to synthesize physical actions and
coordinate them according to a recommended form.
What the map means is explained in
the feedback session. Looking over your
map, you can tell quickly in which areas
you learn almost automatically, in which
you have adequate receptivity, and in
which you receive little or no information
from your environment. For instance,
some people instinctively categorize when
they learn something new. Keltner says,
"I found out that I learn by analogy. I
say, 'This is like. . .' Now I understand
why I could never remember jokes and
stories." Other people learn by amassing
example after example. They get meaning
from synthesizing many incidents. Some
people need time to analyze and question
material before they decide about it.
Others prefer to make snap judgments.
For some people, the self-awareness
that came from mapping has helped,
even without an in-depth analysis of their
cognitive style. "I found out that I'm
super sensitive to sounds," says Diane
Dillon, director of Pearl School. "I just
take them in automatically. I went to
see Superman a couple weeks ago and
went crazy because a baby behind me
cried the whole time. The person I was
with didn't hear it. Absolutely didn't
"Applied to my everyday work, this
understanding of how I am has helped
me cope. Now I hear all the noises and
can just let go. Now I still register all the
noises, but I accept it, and say, 'Oh, that's
just the way it is for me.' And somehow,
it's not so frustrating."
For Evelyn Cox, partner of Creative
Speech, Inc., mapping also cut down on
anxiety. "It has helped me in that I don't
have to worry about some things now,"
she says. "For example, I'm an auditory
learner. When I hear a speech, I don't
have any doubts at all if it's organized or
not. I can tell just by listening. Many
times in the past I'd take notes just because I thought I should take notes. I
really didn't need to. Now I know it's OK
not to. If I don't understand the lecture,
probably nobody in the room does
Mapping can have practical benefits
to people. One Houston bookstore owner
PAMELA HAMILTON (second from left), director of Learning Unlimited discusses
the theory of mapping with (1 to r) marketing consultant VICKI KELTNER, EVELYN
COX of Creative Speech Interests and DIANA DILLON, director of Pearl School.
increased her sales after she was mapped.
She used information about her own
learning style to make changes in her
dealings with book dealers and with her
A corporate secretary having trouble
chairing her first committee, requested
that the group be mapped. After the process was completed, divisiveness stopped.
The group task was achieved with such
good results that the woman was given
special commendation at the end of the
Being able to work with people who
would have been stumbling blocks before
is definitely an advantage of mapping,
says Hamilton. "For example," she says,
"mapping showed me that an associate
who had often been late or no-show for
appointments had a completely different
sense of time from mine. So, based on
this understanding, we negotiated a way
to handle our mutual schedules that
Mapping has been valuable in work
with high school students. Hamilton uses
it with individuals to conquer learning
problems and with groups to prepare for
college entrance exams. One young client
had gotten scores back several times before she enrolled in the ACT-SAT Study
Program. After preparing for the test
according to her own learning style, she
scored high enough to get into the school
she wanted to go to.
Another young girl was bright but
having trouble with eighth-grade math.
Mapping pointed up that her creative,
hip-hop patterns of thinking and poor
auditory skills needed to be handled
before she could get to the content of
her courses. "Hamilton's approach has
been very helpful to Janet," says the
girl's mother, Celia Grigsby. "My daughter knows now how she reasons and how
she can develop study habits to compensate for her lack of skill in math."
Several people think that mapping
can be of greatest benefit in the area
of corporate training. Keltner says,
"I think what Hamilton is doing is dynamite, especially applied to training
courses for a company. She says there are
about 3000 different learning styles, but
basically they can be divided into two
categories: visual or audible. If you could
know how people in a group learn, you
could present material to them that way
and be much more effective."
Cox agrees that mapping has a real
potential in employee relations. "It's
helpful because it enables you to discover
how to train your employees. If a person
learns better with a written message, it'd
be worth the extra time to write it. The
message would stick."
All three principals of Creative Speech
are knowledgeable about communications, says Cox but they still benefitted
from being mapped. "It was a reinforcement of our understanding of ourselves,"
she says. "One of us has to write things
down. Before, I'd become impatient.
Now I don't. I just accept it."
Pearl School's Dillon is planning to
have her entire staff mapped for next
year. "I'm looking forward to that,"
she says. "I'm really curious to see what
it tells us about each other. Then I'll
know which person I can give just verbal
messages to and be sure they get them."
Hamilton uses information gleaned
from mapping to make her own organization more efficient. Although she needs
to put notes on paper to remember them,
a fellow worker can get it all verbally.
So she writes the message and reads it to
him. He remembers, and she keeps the
Several women commented that the
information they got from mapping was
not new to them, but they benefitted
from having it reinforced in a more
scientific form. "I intuit how people
learn," says Cox. "I have known that
people had different learning styles and
have used that understanding over the
years. But it's much more sophisticated
if you can be mapped.
"I think mapping is really an innovative idea," she says. "It has taken
something that's intuitive with many
people and put it into a form so that a
person who's not especially intuitive
can use it to great advantage,"
Cognitive-style mapping can offer
women a fresh perspective on how they
learn and new ideas about how to cope
more effectively with the learning styles
of people around them.
Judith Richards is a freelance writer.