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Listening and hearing aren’t always the same thing. Certain situations call for a more focused kind of listening.

In this lesson, we’ll discuss some ways that you can listen to gain a pragmatic understanding of a topic.

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Passive vs. Active Listening

This lesson is about listening, particularly listening for understanding complicated topics. Everyone can benefit from attentive listening in a variety of situations, including students, anyone whose job involves communication, or anyone with a hobby that consists of teams of people.

First, we should discuss two types of listening: passive and active. Passive listening is what many of us think of when we think of listening. It’s a process that involves no special preparation or strategy. Merely being present and reasonably attentive is all that is necessary for passive listening. It is possible to absorb some (roughly half) of what the speaker is saying through passive listening. However, this isn’t sufficient for many settings. In passive listening, your attention is divided between listening and other things.

When we talk about active listening, we’re discussing a purposeful, mindful process. Rather than simply absorbing information that our minds happen to catch, we actively work with the information and search for the meaning of what is said by the speaker. Active listening helps us gain a pragmatic or practical understanding of what is being said or taught.

Students benefit from good listening skills, but many jobs require the ability to follow instructions as well.
kids in classroom

How to Listen Actively

While every individual has his or her own listening style, there are a few things that everyone can do as listeners to help the process along. Let’s look at a few of these core concepts.

Eliminate Distractions

Let’s say you’re in a classroom, and it’s too warm – you can’t concentrate. Or it’s too cold. Maybe the other students are making noise or movements that are distracting. Or, you realize you forgot to bring a pen and pencil.

All of these things are distractions, and while you can’t make other people be quiet or change the temperature of the room, you can eliminate some potential distractions by being prepared: bring pen and paper, dress appropriately for the environment, and choose a seat that’s far enough away from other distractors where you can easily hear the speaker and see the blackboard, whiteboard, or projection screen.

Take Notes

Note-taking is a very effective way to remember what a speaker has said. Everyone has their own style, but there are some things to bear in mind. Make sure to write down facts like formulas and dates that are vital to the topic. Write down questions you have so that you can ask them at the appropriate point in the lecture.

You can write or draw your notes or both, tailoring them to your own learning style.

Know Your Learning Style

A person’s learning style is how they process information and integrate that information into what they already know. Knowing your own learning style will help you to know what kind of information to include in your notes, as well as what techniques will help you process the information best. Let’s look at a few examples:Jean is an auditory learner: she tends to retain information better if she is told how to do something. Jean often has to focus on the speaker’s words, including exact phrases.

She often uses an app on her phone to record and play the instructions back at a later time. Jean also likes discussing ideas with peer study groups. Even the act of reading her own notes out loud can help Jean retain information.

Katie is a visual learner. This means that she processes images better and easily grasps spatial relationships. Katie works best with graphs, charts, or other images. If these aren’t available from the instructor, she draws them herself.

Katie makes heavy use of highlighting and underlining in her notes. Visual learners often learn well from discovering visual ways to recognize relationships between topics. For instance, Katie prefers a visual style with her notes, which includes a good number of sketches, arrows, and key terms. This helps her see the way the information is related.

This set of notes is an example of using the visual medium to take notes. Relationships can be indicated by arrows, and written details may be added to sketches or other forms of visual information.
Note cards can serve all kinds of learners: kinesthetic learners can work with their hands as they write and rearrange notes; visual learners can read the information and auditory learners can record the information and listen back.
picture of note card

Lesson Summary

Listening skills are important in a variety of settings in a person’s life.

This lesson focused on listening as a way of gaining a pragmatic or practical understanding. This involves active listening, which focuses on setting up the proper learning environment through eliminating distractions, taking notes, and knowing your learning style. The three learning styles we discussed are visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

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