While you might be someone that learns best by reading as much as possible about a specific topic, your coworker might do better by listening to lectures on the subject. The simple truth is that there are a variety of different learning styles, and we all have specific ways in which we process new information.
When you’re able to identify your unique learning style, you’ll have a better shot at understanding the learning styles of those around you, which can improve communication skills and productivity!
What is Learning Style?
The term learning style is widely used to describe how people gather, sift through, interpret, organize, come to conclusions, and store new information. Learning styles are often categorized by sensory approaches, with the most popular learning style inventory being the VARK methodology – visual, aural, verbal, and kinesthetic.
Thanks to a thriving industry focused on publishing learning-style tests and guidebooks as well as hosting professional development workshops for trainers and educators; there are well over 70 different learning style schemes. However, when it comes down to the basics, there are only four main learning styles.
Regardless of how many variations of learning styles exist, the fundamental idea behind each style is that we all have different and specific learning preferences. We learn best when information is presented to us in a way that caters to our preferred learning style.
The Learning Styles Theory
Although learning style inventories are hugely popular, it’s important to remember that no empirical evidence supports the idea that matching activities to a specific learning style will definitely improve learning. Popular psychology theories are also often tied to widespread misconceptions about learning styles theories and varying teaching techniques.
But there’s a good reason why the learning styles theory has gained and kept such remarkable traction. Aside from the enormous industry that supports the concept of learning styles inventory and individual preferred learning styles, we all know that people like to identify themselves and others by “type.” Categorizing helps order the social environment and offers us a better way of understanding each other. It also appeals to the idea of treating learners as unique individuals and that the differences among learners should be acknowledged instead of treating learners as numbers in a crowd.
The learning styles theory also resemble the concept of metacognition, which is the process we use to think about our reasoning. And contrary to the theory of learning styles, there is an abundance of research and scientific empirical evidence on the effectiveness of integrating metacognitive activities into the learning environment. Educational psychology research shows that student learning can be supported by various teaching methods based on the thinking and reasoning skills of independent learners.
Why Learning Styles Matter in the Workplace
Regardless of the type of industry you’re in or the role you play within your organization, you have to collaborate with your coworkers. Even if you’re an independent contractor, you still have to deal with clients. And in all of these situations, it’s vital to understand the difference between one style of learning and the other.
Here are some examples of where knowledge of different learning styles can be used:
- Employees that are aware of their learning styles (strengths and weaknesses) are often more productive at work since they focus on their strongest aspects.
- Managers that understand the various learning styles among their teams can help them communicate better with each other.
- Business owners that understand different styles of learning are better able to diversify their messages so they can expand their reach.
When you have a better understanding of the different learning styles at play within your teams, you’ll be able to offer the best training programs to benefit your employees and the organization as a whole.
While a slideshow presentation might engage visual and auditory learners, it might leave hands-on learners bored since they’d prefer training sessions that comprise activities and opportunities to practice.
Understanding and catering to the specific learning styles will ensure that you engage every style and create an educational environment that is optimal for student learning. And at the end of the day, practical employee training has a direct impact on the customer experience. The only way to put skilled representatives on the front line of customer service is to take multiple learning styles into consideration when training them for their respective roles.
Four Learning Styles in the Workplace
Although the debate on the exact number of different teaching styles and styles of learning that exist is an ongoing one, what we do know is that there are four styles in which students learn that can be found in the workplace. More often than not, people use a combination of two or more of these individual learning styles, but they’re predominantly ruled by one of the four.
Every person has their own approach to absorbing new information. In a sense, you can think about it as people having different learning strengths, and these strengths categorize them as different types of learners. Some of us read better than others. Others may process auditory information better.
The visual learner learns best when they see things in action. They thrive when there are visual aids to support any learning material. Anything visual is fair game for these individuals, so emails, charts, and PowerPoint presentations work excellent for them. It’s believed that almost half of an organization’s workforce will fall into the visual learner category, which is also why it’s the first style we’re focusing on.
Visual learners don’t do that great with verbal instructions if it’s not backed up by written material and anything to show for it. They prefer graphic organizers, lists, flashcards, and detailed notes.
In short, here’s what visual learners are all about: Do you see what I mean?
As the name implies, for these learners, listening is the key to learning. Lectures, sounds, and music work wonders for these learners, but at the same time, they’re easily distracted by noises. These learners do best in low-traffic areas and tend to be the most productive in quieter rooms.
Roughly 20% of a typical office’s staff will fall into this category of learning styles. Whenever you present something to these employees, avoid visual presentations that don’t feature music or sounds. Since they learn better with sound around, these employees need some kind of auditory stimulation during the day, so allow them to listen to music while they’re working if you want to boost their productivity levels. It’s also advisable to allow these learners to tape presentations for reference and lead roundtable and Q&A meetings.
In short, here’s what visual learners are all about: Do you hear what I’m saying?
The kinesthetic learner likes to jump in and get things done. They’re great with hand-eye coordination-based activities, and they’re the kind of people that tend to get fidgety whenever they have to sit still in meetings. In general, these learners are empathetic, which means the mood and words of their managers can either encourage or disrupt productivity.
Although there aren’t many people that are purely kinesthetic, a lot of people have a strong secondary kinesthetic style. Static situations where they have to sit and listen for extended periods of time don’t work well for these learners. Instead, they’re sparked when they’re put at the whiteboard to take notes, allowed to stand or walk around, or given something to keep their hands busy and engage them during presentations. These types of learners are great when you deploy their unique skills in simulations, demonstrations, and role-playing scenarios.
In short, here’s what kinesthetic learners are all about: How are you feeling about this?
These types of learners excel with text-based information. They’re fast learners as long as the information is in text form, and they’re also great writers. Also known as verbal learners, these types of learners find it easier to express themselves by writing or speaking. Techniques such as mnemonics, scripting, and role-playing work well for linguistic or verbal learners.
In short, here’s what reading-focused learners are all about: Is there a manual for this?
Complimentary Learning Styles
Although there are four main learning styles that people tend to be centered around, there are three other learning styles that complement these main styles. More often than not, learners combine their main learning styles with one of the following styles:
Mathematical or logical learning is often used by individuals that like using their brains for logical reasoning. Logical learners are quick to catch on to patterns with ease and can connect seemingly meaningless concepts with ease. They often lean towards classifying and grouping information so they can make better sense of it.
Interpersonal learners are what we know as social learners. They’re best in socializing and communication, whether it’s through verbal or non-verbal techniques. These learners are very empathic and tend to do best with information that’s presented in a way that engages the emotional aspect of learning.
Intrapersonal learners are much more private, independent, and reflective than most other learners. They concentrate best when they focus on their thoughts and feelings without external distractions.
How Employers Can Appeal to All Learning Styles
When it comes to training a new employee, the primary goals for the task at hand is always to deliver new information and teach new procedures and practices. It’s always critical to ensure that everyone is engaged with the learning program, which is why you’ll need to offer a mix of different formats and delivery methods for your presentations to ensure it appeals to every member of your team and their learning styles.
The chances are very good that your teams consist of at least one person from every main learning style group. You also have to consider that most people, although predominantly leaning towards one of the major styles, use a combination of learning styles to absorb new information.
Here are some tips you can use to ensure you offer inclusive training programs suitable for a diverse workforce
Use Combined Learning Approaches
It might seem a little futile to try and accommodate all four different learning styles in a single workplace, but there’s a simple solution for that. The best approach is to use combined learning techniques from each one of the four categories whenever you offer training.
You can, for example, cover one learning module with instructor-led sessions as well as instructional videos with subtitles, infographics, reading material, collaborative assignments, and simulations. This ensures that there’s something that caters to everyone’s strengths and that nobody has an unfair advantage over the rest of the team.
Make Learner Engagement Your Focus
It’s hard to understand every team member’s learning style, and this becomes even more difficult when you’re training larger groups of people. But what you do know is that people use their senses to engage with the learning content. The more engaged someone is, the more information they’ll absorb with ease.
Your training needs to give employees the opportunity to express themselves and get involved in the learning process. Think along the lines of quizzes and short exercises that gauge the engagement levels in your team. You can also create time and designated spaces for instructors and learners to interact to ensure that everyone is engaged and on the same page.
Remember Style-Specific Pointers for Every Preferred Learning Style
- Visual learners respond well to maps, videos, charts, and pictures, so be sure to incorporate these in training to help visual learners absorb the information as efficiently as possible.
- Aural learners do best with audio presentations, so make use of recorded training videos and audio recordings so they can go through the information as often as needed throughout the training process.
- Reading learners do well with text-style manuals, written notes, and PowerPoint presentations, so be sure to cater to their preferred learning needs as well when planning your training materials.
- Kinesthetic learners do best in situations where they can enjoy a hands-on learning experience. They need physical tasks to put their newly acquired skills to practice after training too, so keep that in mind.
Regardless of which learning styles, you’re dealing with, corporate training always needs to be inclusive as it’s an integral part of your business’ success story. This can be done if you have access to the right data and reports, which indicate areas in which your employees struggle, the kind of information they retain after completing a training course, and just how much information they retain in the long run. You also need the right tools to put together the elements for accommodating different learning styles, such as microlearning videos and infographics that cater to unique learning strengths.
Understanding that everyone learns differently is one of the most important steps to take when it comes to securing your organization’s long-term health. With the right learning tools in place, your teams will find it easier to learn and use new technologies. The key takeaway here is this: understanding that different learning styles are equally important in the workplace will help your workforce develop a stronger capability to learn, adapt, and succeed in the future of work!