Add Kinesthetic Learning to Your Development Toolkit

How ‘learning by doing’ can help you earn your SHRM certification

By Ashley Silver, SHRM-CP January 21, 2021
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Add Kinesthetic Learning to Your Development Toolkit

​What is the most effective way to learn how to drive a car? You could attend a classroom lecture about the rules of the road. You could watch a video about how to merge into highway traffic. You could read about the mechanics of using a manual transmission. All these types of learning will support your ability to drive a car.

But before you can truly know how to drive—and earn a driver's license—you need hands-on practice, and lots of it.

Practicing driving behind the wheel of a car is an example of kinesthetic learning, the processing of information by using touch and movement. Kinesthetic learning is one of three modes described in the Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK) model of learning styles.

Learning and Doing in HR

HR is a profession of doing. HR professionals create new strategies, negotiate salaries, communicate plans, and coach managers and employees. They roll out programs to increase employee engagement, boost inclusion and reduce organizational risk.

When HR professionals prepare for their SHRM certification exams, however, they tend to use visual and auditory modes of learning.

According to SHRM data, one of the most popular ways to study for SHRM certification is to read through the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK). Other common approaches include reading the materials provided in the SHRM Learning System and reading the book Ace Your SHRM Certification Exam: A Guide to Success on the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP Exams (SHRM, 2019). Many candidates read as they flip through flashcards and take practice tests, or listen as they attend prep classes or study groups.

While these methods are certainly helpful, they prioritize visual and auditory learning modes, and miss out on the enormous benefits of kinesthetic learning.

Kinesthetic Learning and the SHRM Certification Exam

There are two types of questions on the SHRM certification exams: those that test one's knowledge, and those that test one's judgment in certain situations. Knowledge items are based on information that can be found in books or flashcards. Situational judgment items (which make up 40 percent of the questions on the exams) are based on behavioral competencies that are demonstrated and practiced.

Adding elements of kinesthetic learning to your certification study plan can be particularly useful for improving performance on situational judgment items.

The first step is to decide where to apply this learning style. Review the SHRM BoCK's eight behavioral competencies and single technical competency (in 15 HR functions). Identify one or two areas in which you have less experience, or that you want to explore further. Another option is to use SHRM's Competency Self-Assessment to identify the areas in which you have the most development potential.

The second step is to find ways to incorporate kinesthetic learning into your study plan for the areas you identified. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Get on-the-job training. Ask your manager about opportunities to learn by doing, such as shadowing a colleague on a project, joining a committee to address and solve an organizational problem, or cross-training on a process or system.
  • Seek out stretch projects. Let your manager know you are interested in receiving a stretch assignment in one or more of the areas you identified. If possible, suggest a specific project that aligns with your goals and also supports the need of the organization.
  • Enact role-play scenarios. Ask a colleague or mentor to act out realistic HR scenarios with you. Don't limit yourself to negative situations in which you resolve conflicts or address employee complaints—go for positive situations in which you demonstrate leadership and decision-making skills, too. For instance, you could present the business case for a new HRIS to an executive team, or recommend actions to take based on the results of a training evaluation. Debrief with your colleague or mentor after each scenario, discussing what you did well, as well as other ways to approach such a situation in the future.
  • Gain off-the-job experience. Use volunteer opportunities to gain experience in areas of HR that are outside of your expertise. Try offering ad-hoc HR support, or even just one-time advice, to a nonprofit organization, small business or family member in need. Because you aren't being paid, you might feel less pressure and have more room for trial and error.

A Real-Life Example of Kinesthetic Learning

Let's say that an HR professional is preparing for her SHRM certification exam. She identifies the area of talent acquisition as her focus for more learning.

She could read an article about behavioral interview questions. She could grab coffee with a colleague to discuss their company's applicant tracking system. According to Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience model, however, she will only remember a fraction of the information from such reading and discussion. She will absorb much more about talent acquisition if she embraces kinesthetic learning.

She looks for ways to incorporate this method of learning into her study plan. She lands a stretch assignment to lead recruiting efforts for her company's summer internship program. This gives her a range of hands-on experiences—using an applicant tracking system, posting job descriptions, reviewing resumes, managing offers—while practicing several of the behavioral competencies described in the SHRM BoCK, including Communication and Leadership & Navigation. Because she engages in active learning over a period of time, she's more likely to remember what she learns. In addition to aiding her personal growth as an HR professional, this stretch assignment also fulfills an important need for the company and even potentially builds a talent pipeline for the future.

Fun fact: This is an actual project I managed while studying for my own SHRM credential!

Your turn: If you are a candidate for SHRM certification, what are a few ways you can use kinesthetic learning to help you prepare for the exam? If you are already SHRM-certified, what are a few ways you can use kinesthetic learning for work projects at your organization to earn PDCs toward recertification?

Ashley Silver, SHRM-CP, is a test development specialist at SHRM.

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