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Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): Its Potential for Learning and Teaching in Formal Education


In this article, we delve into the fascinating realm of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and its profound implications for learning and teaching within formal education settings. Drawing from current research by Mathison (2003), we explore the critical role of language and internal imagery in shaping teacher-learner interactions and the profound influence of language on our beliefs about learning.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a multifaceted approach to communication and personal development that originated in the United States during the 1970s. It has since gained widespread popularity as a method for enhancing communication skills and personal growth. Coined by its founders, Richard Bandler and John Grinder (1975a), NLP posits systematic, cybernetic links between an individual's internal experiences (neuro), their use of language (linguistic), and their behavioral patterns (programming). Essentially, NLP serves as a powerful modeling technique that offers a systematic understanding of subjective experiences.

NLP is inherently eclectic, drawing insights and strategies from diverse sources. In this article, we outline NLP's approach to teaching and learning, exploring its applications through illustrative data from Mathison's study. A particular focus lies on the significance of enhancing communication skills among educators. We also provide a summary of common criticisms of NLP, recognizing potential obstacles to its full acceptance within academia.

NLP's Background

Neuro-Linguistic Programming emerged at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during the 1970s, with Richard Bandler and John Grinder as its pioneering figures (McLendon, 1989). Over the years, NLP has gained traction across various professions, including management, training, sales, counseling, and more. It has found its place in the field of education in the UK, with initiatives like the UK NLP network (NLPEdNet) and the Society for Effective Affective Learning (SEAL) demonstrating its applicability.

Defining NLP

The term "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" encapsulates the notion that individuals are intricate mind-body systems with interconnected patterns between their internal experiences (neuro), language usage (linguistic), and behavioral responses (programming) (Bandler and Grinder). NLP has been defined in various ways, often characterized as the art of communication excellence or the study of the structure of subjective experience (McWhirter, 1992). NLP's essence lies in its capacity to identify effective elements within existing communication models, such as Gestalt and Transactional Analysis, for practical use.

NLP in Teaching and Learning

NLP holds significant promise for teaching and learning. It aligns with a cybernetic epistemology, redefining the teacher-learner relationship as a dynamic, feedback-driven process where meaning is co-constructed rather than transmitted unilaterally. NLP emphasizes the crucial role of sensory imagery (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) and language in shaping individuals' internal representations, which, in turn, influence their behavior and learning experiences.

NLP training equips educators to observe and leverage these aspects effectively. Skills, beliefs, and behaviors are all learned, with corresponding internal representation sequences referred to as "strategies." Learning involves acquiring and modifying these representations, significantly influenced by an individual's neurological state and their beliefs about learning.

Moreover, NLP recognizes the immense impact of teachers' language and behavior on learners' understanding and beliefs. Effective teaching, according to NLP, involves creating conducive learning states and facilitating learners' exploration and enhancement of their internal representations.

Language and Internal Imagery

To illustrate the practical implications of NLP in education, we turn to findings from Mathison's (2003) doctoral study on the connections between language and internal imagery. This study explores adult learners' experiences at two levels: first, the variations in internal imagery resulting from subtle differences in the phrasing of questions or statements; and second, a teacher's influence on students' beliefs about learning.

Bandler and Grinder's (1975a, 1976) meta-model, a pivotal outcome of NLP's early work, identifies language patterns believed to reflect fundamental cognitive processes. Mathison's research represents the first formal testing of NLP's language pattern models and assumptions. It also highlights the lack of attention within UK teacher training policies regarding theories and skills related to teacher-learner communication.


In essence, Neuro-Linguistic Programming offers a compelling framework for enhancing teaching and learning experiences. By recognizing the intricate connections between internal experiences, language, and behavior, educators can unlock a wealth of opportunities for fostering effective communication, personal development, and meaningful learning within formal education settings.


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