Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP for short, is a methodology developed in the 1970s which, put simply, helps individuals understand the way they take on board information in every form, be it what they see, hear, taste or feel. They discover how the way they process that information influences their actions and, in turn, various outcomes which affect their lives. The aim of NLP is to give them the tools they need to make changes to those thought processes and turn them to their advantage in order to achieve better results.
NLP is probably best known as a self-motivation and personal development tool, but in recent years it has gained traction in the world of education, as teachers have begun to recognise that the principles of NLP have significant parallels with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
NLP categorises the ways we process sensory information into ‘representational systems’; most people display a preference for one system, but an ability to utilise all of them is likely to achieve the best results. These representational systems are similar to the main learning styles put forward by the theory of multiple intelligences: visual, where the learner responds best to demonstrations, charts and other visual stimuli; auditory where a verbal explanation is preferred and kinesthetic where the student learns best from hands-on experience.
So are we suggesting that every student should practise NLP in order to get good results? Of course not. But for teachers, the understanding of what makes someone tick which NLP gives them can be a huge advantage, helping them to tailor the way they deliver learning to suit their students.
There are all sorts of subtle language clues which the trained observer can pick up to help them identify the learning style or representational system a student prefers, and this promotes an understanding of how the language and materials a teacher uses can optimise their students’ ability to take in information.
So NLP complements a teacher’s understanding of the learning styles, but to be truly beneficial in education it has to go beyond that, and indeed it does. NLP can offer learning strategies which help students to develop their abilities to utilise more than one learning style, and it can give teachers a useful additional tool to deal with challenging behaviour. Let’s look at a couple of examples of NLP techniques which some teachers are now implementing to great advantage:
Sometimes teachers need to ask their students to look at something from an entirely different point of view than the one they would naturally adopt. Perceptual positioning is an approach which can facilitate this. For example, the teacher might conduct an exercise involving three students of differing opinions where they set up three chairs, each of which is tagged with a ‘position’, and ask students to move from one chair to another in order to adopt a different view.
This simple technique has been demonstrated to have profound effects, as the active involvement and physical movement trigger a change in thinking much more successfully than a simple request to see someone else’s point of view. It’s a method that can be applied not only to learning, but to help in cases of bullying and other behavioural issues.
Presupposition deals with unspoken meanings in dialogues. For example a teacher offers the class a choice, “Would you like to draw the diagram now or complete the questions first?” The message that both must be completed is unspoken but nonetheless clear. Allowing students this element of choice means they’re more likely to focus on their decision about which to complete first rather than challenging the teacher’s instructions.
These may sound like techniques that a good teacher would use anyway, and it’s true that many teachers are practising some elements of NLP without even realising it. However, a more thorough understanding of NLP allows them to use those skills to greater advantage and make more informed decisions about the approach they take with their students. NLP is now being adopted by some universities as part of their curriculum, a sure sign of the wider acceptance it now enjoys. Could it be at the forefront of a revolution in the classroom?
Pip Thomas’ company Edge NLP is seeing an increasing demand from teachers for structured NLP training to help them and their students to reach their full potential. Pip believes that NLP is a highly effective tool for education, and one which works particularly well alongside modern student-centric teaching methods and in today’s interactive classroom.