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Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Learning

-Shannon Sumrall, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, NCC
NLP, Hypnosis, & Time Line Therapy™ Trainer

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Learning
Learning NLP States
NLP Learning Strategies
Learning Disabilities
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

NLP Learning Applied in Schools

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and related applications can be effectively applied to improving the learning outcomes for students, teachers, administrators, and the community. Blackerby (2002a) believes we have presupposed that students know how to learn in the classroom and perform the learning tasks we assign to them and often they do not; and a large number of students have been traumatized by their inability to succeed in learning environments. Craft (2001) believes that NLP offers a positive, practical view of learning as a way of becoming consciously more effective in the world, as a learner of whatever age. Using NLP principles we can utilize behavioral flexibility to approach the learning process in new and exciting directions.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Learning

The overall goal of NLP applied to Learning is to provide a basic framework that is aligned with the empirical experience of learning and training situations for the purpose of improving the effectiveness and speed with which goal oriented learning can take place (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). NLP relates words, thoughts, and behaviors to goals and purposes by focusing on effective communication with tools for taking perspectives on issues (Craft, 2001). NLP views learning from the relationship of the fundamental processes through which we acquire new skills and achieve personal competence and excellence. This involves utilizing skills for developing conscious and unconscious competence through the establishment of new programs and strategies (James, 1996). This covers a spectrum from learning disabilities and problems to exceptional and accelerated learning programs. The content of learning is constantly changing and it is important to develop skills that build on the how and why of learning to start developing such skills as early in life as possible. Dilts & Epstein (1995) suggest the following areas are covered by the application of NLP to learning:

NLP applications in learning provide fundamental tools and strategies to help people to update, acquire, filter, and retain new information as a constant, ongoing process (James, 1996). The basic applications of NLP to learning revolve around the principles of dynamic learning (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). Dynamic learning is about learning through experience. The process of dynamic learning involves learning by doing, exploring different methods of thinking, and acknowledges that the relationships between people are a key factor in learning NLP (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). If you want to understand then act, as the learning in NLP is in the doing (Craft, 2001). Dynamic learning tools emphasize the skills of cooperative learning, co-coaching, and mentoring. Dynamic NLP learning methods use the modeling principles and tools of NLP to release natural learning capabilities through awareness, exploration, and discovery (James, 1996). The widening of choice is an important goal and the act of choice as necessary to action is emphasized (Craft, 2001). Dilts & Epstein (1995) list the following outcomes of application of NLP to learning:

Learning NLP States

Learning develops quickly and easily through fun and exploration in a total atmosphere that supports learning through variety, surprise, imagination and challenge (Dryden & Vos, 1999). The state that is best for stimulating long-term memory by activating subconscious learning is believed by many researchers and teachers to be 8 to 12 cycles per second or alpha brainwave (Dryden & Vos, 1999; James, 1996). Researchers have found that baroque music can induce alpha partly because its main 60 to 70 beats per minute are identical to alpha (Bandler, 1986; Stockwell, 1992). Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian psychiatrist and educator, developed much of our recent knowledge about using music to induce states into a learning format he named suggestopedia (Luzanov, 1978). Suggestopedia has been experimentally documented, in an experiment with the U.S. Army, in successfully learning the German language at a 661 percent increase, achieving more than twice the results in less than one-third of the time as regular German language instruction (Dryden & Vos, 1999).

Dunn & Waggoner (1995) have compared the similarities of NLP with Lozanov's suggestopedia and Rita and Kenneth Dunn's instructional system that responds to individual's learning styles. All of these approaches share the belief that learning failure is caused by how schools deliver instruction to students (Dunn & Waggoner 1995). These approaches all recognize that learning is state dependant and work towards establishing optimal learning states in students.

NLP Learning Strategies

Effective NLP learning is seen to be largely the result of the cognitive strategies a person employs in the process of acquiring a new mental or behavioral skill. NLP learning strategies are one of the seven basic classes of strategies identified by NLP (along with memory, decision making, creativity, motivation, reality, and belief) (James, 1996). NLP learning strategies relate to the sequence of cognitive steps of operations the people go through an order to develop new thinking skills and behavioral capabilities. Like all successful strategies, effective learning is seen to take place through the Test-Operate-Test-Exit (T.O.T.E) feedback loop that is based on computer modeling (James, 1996). In the model of NLP defining a learning strategy involves identifying the particular sequence of representational systems a person uses within this feedback loop in order to acquire a mental or behavioral skill. Of particular significance in eliciting a learning strategy is defining the specific sensory modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) a person uses during the process of acquiring a certain ability or competency. Helm (1990) experimentally has found no discernable differences between sexes or races as to the distribution of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities. The sense modalities are seen as the key to processing information and the mind and body are seen as mutually influencing each other (Craft, 2001). Related to this NLP learning strategy concept is research conducted by Gardner (1993) to document that each person possesses at least seven different types of intelligence: linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, visual-spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and interpersonal intelligence. Gardener sees that individuals can excel in one area but not the others and that other types of intelligence can also exist.

A single and universally effective learning strategy does not exist. Certain sequences of representational systems tend to be more appropriate for some learning tasks and they may be inefficient in other situations. The task of learning algebra or organic chemistry is most effectively achieved with a strategy involving internal visual and auditory recall of formulas and diagrams and this strategy is less effective when applied to the task of learning a physical activity like basketball or soccer which require a greater attention to external visual and kinesthetic experience (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). It is important to have a wide range of different learning strategies in order to be successful in a variety of different types of tasks. NLP believes it is better to develop flexibility to learn through several different strategies, rather than rigidly using one (James, 1996). NLP learning seeks to create and provide tools to help people to learn NLP through many different strategies and for many different modalities of teachers.

Learning Disabilities

NLP followers believe that when people experience difficulties in learning, it is often the result of either the underdevelopment of particular representational systems (usually visual or auditory), inappropriate or ineffective learning strategies, limiting beliefs/expectations related to learning, a negative learning state anchored to classroom subjects or situations, or a mismatch between the learning strategy of the student and teaching style of the teacher (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). Helm (1991) has experimentally determined that grade inequalities exist between visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and combination learning modalities. Learning difficulties may also result from traumatic learning experiences in childhood (Dilts & Epstein, 1995).

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has the typical symptoms of an inability to stabilize or hold a thought and a feeling of racing and out of control cognition (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). Blackerby (1996) believes that ADHD symptoms are a result of a combination of: trauma (past or ongoing); anxiety or stress; excessive sugar and poor diet; allergies and yeast; communication gaps between teacher and learner; and boredom. Individuals who are kinesthetic learners or those with unique learning strategies are also sometimes mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). Blackerby (1996) sees ADHD as not simply a behavior problem as it involves issues on multiple levels and the key to dealing with the condition is addressing the belief that the mind cannot be controlled or that the mind is in control of the individual. Armstrong (1995) does not believe ADHD exists and sees that these children may have a different styles of thinking, attending, and behaving, but believes that it is the broader social and educational influences that create the disorder. Blackerby (2002b) believes that many of these children are genius or near genius and have the kind of mind that we want when we want creativity such as in brainstorming sessions.

Dyslexia involves difficulties in reading and spelling with frequent transposition or reversal of letters. Dyslexics have difficulty analyzing spoken or written words into smaller units of sound, or phonemes, and connecting phonemes with the images of specific letters (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). NLP treats dyslexia as mainly an issue of developing appropriate cognitive strategies and capabilities as, for example, dyslexics eye movements indicate their difficulties in linking sounds and images (James, 1996). NLP has a high degree of success in helping dyslexics and particularly the NLP Spelling Strategy (that teaches learners to form mental pictures of words) has been shown to improve the spelling abilities of dyslexics dramatically (Dilts, 1997; Dilts & Epstein, 1995).

NLP learning works with learning disabilities by encouraging the development of metacognition (an awareness of personal thinking processes) and focuses on using specific thinking strategies and skills in purposeful ways in approaching tasks, monitoring if personal actions are achieving desired outcomes, and attributing successes to consistent application of personal plans and strategies (Dilts & Epstein, 1995). Helm (2000) has recommended using NLP learning with the organic disabilities of congenitally and non-congenitally visually impaired individuals to impart an additional learning strategy to assist them in achieving their full intellectual potential. The ultimate goal of all NLP learning interventions is to take individuals away from being at effect and to put them at cause in their life.

Another effective intervention for learning disorders has been developed by educational kinesilogists who have been effective in treating learning disorders, such as ADD and dyslexia, and have developed body exercises using pressure-points, muscle testing, and coordination patterns to reorient the electrical patterns of the brain (Dryden & Vos, 1999). Learning disabilities are seen to result from stress overwhelming and short-circuiting the brain and the exercises work to defuse this blockage between the left and right sides of the brain. Stokes & Whitehead (1987) have reported that 80 percent of learning disabilities are related to stress and have responded to kinesilogical treatment.

Blackerby (2002a) has proposed that students experience problems in school because of the following behavioral presuppositions that exist in our schools:

Blackerby (2002a) suggests that we should instead adopt empowering presuppositions and he asks "imagine for yourself, ...what it would be like to be in a school system operating out of the following presuppositions as a student, a teacher, a school official, a parent, or the public at large" and he presents the following:

NLP Learning Applied in Schools

Helm (1989,1991) has proposed that classes and possibly entire schools be established for singular learning modalities so the modality strength of the individual can be optimally enhanced. Rawlins & Eberly (1991) have suggested using NLP learning in test interpretation, interpreting internal processes, noticing behavioral sequences, focusing on the processes of communication instead of the content, and educating how to learn and not just what to learn. Stanton (1998) has reported single session success with treating extreme examination anxiety with a combination of hypnosis and NLP. Helm (1994) has suggested the use of NLP learning for school administrators to use in establishing rapport with students, staff, and the community.

NLP learning can be used in classrooms to make use of different learning modalities and strategies. It is important to discover each student's combination of learning styles and talents to cater to it while simultaneously encouraging the development of all potential abilities (Dryden & Vos, 1999). Helm (1989, 1991) has proposed dividing classes into preferred learning modality sections. Using the eye calibration of modality techniques presented by Bandler & Grinder (1979) it has been found that 80 percent of the population is normally organized with looking up and to their left for visual remembered, left and middle for auditory, and down to their right for kinesthetic. The rest of the population is known as reversed organized and follow the reverse pattern. Classroom application of this is when presenting in front of a class stand to the left of the students when presenting intellectually oriented information to speak to the student's right ear and left brain; and stand to the right if your presentation involves right brain information and also to enhance auditory learning (Helm, 1989; James, 1996). Generally for visual modality students, information should be written up and to their left, auditory students should have information presented to their middle left, kinesthetic students should have information presented to them down and to their right (Bandler & Grinder, 1979). Modification to the general pattern can be made for individual variations.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming learning has demonstrated an excellent potential for improving educational approaches. The positive and practical viewpoint of learning NLP makes it a desirable framework from which to approach educational activities. Although NLP learning is still a very young approach it has had a powerful impact in its short life. Researchers outside the learning NLP community continue to validate the wisdom of the basic concepts of the theory, such as auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. Further research needs to be conducted to validate the more controversial views of learning NLP such as its view of learning disabilities and NLP learning interventions for changing these ineffective learning strategies. NLP learning provides the tools and techniques with which educational excellence can be achieved and maintained.


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