Just as in the classroom, you will encounter various learning styles in the workplace. That’s largely because people differ in how they prefer to receive information.
By better understanding learning styles at work, however, you can communicate more effectively — especially when training someone on a new procedure or helping them improve their performance on a specific task.
Let’s take a closer look at the primary types of learning styles and then consider how greater awareness of them can help you train, coach and manage employees.
What are the different learning styles in the workplace?
Everyone has preferred ways to approach and absorb new information. It’s helpful to think about people possessing different learning strengths.
Some people may read better than others, while others may process spoken information better. Although each employee may have a preference, your goal in training all employees is to help them perform more effectively.
Learners fall into four basic categories:
- Visual learners respond well to graphics and videos.
- Auditory learners do best when listening to content.
- Reading-focused learners excel with text-based information, be it through reading or writing.
- Kinesthetic learners use their senses to learn via hands-on experiences.
You can detect someone’s learning style, usually from direct observation. Notice the types of questions someone will ask:
- Visual learners typically ask, “Can you demonstrate that for me?”
- Auditory learners will ask, “Can you tell me?”
- Reading-focused learners will want to know, “Is there a manual for this?”
- Kinesthetic learners will tell you, “Can I try it myself?”
Adult learners need autonomy in the learning process, so finding ways to connect them to the most suitable training methods will assist with that independence. If the professionals in your company are unsure of their learning styles, assessments may help pinpoint how they learn best.
How can an employer appeal best to each of the learning styles?
The two primary goals for training employees is to deliver new information and teach new procedures and practices. To ensure that everyone is engaged, consider offering a mix of different formats and delivery methods to appeal to all students in your group.
- Visual learners respond well to pictures, symbols, maps, videos and charts. Incorporate these to help visual leaners absorb the information.
- Traditional training presentations work well for auditory learners, who prefer to listen to information. Use voice-over videos, audio recordings and uploaded in-house training recordings, especially for online training that can be re-wound and listened to again as needed.
- Reading learners absorb text-based content and will do well with textbook-style manuals, written handouts and PowerPoint presentations.
- Kinesthetic employees learn best by experiencing new knowledge hands-on. Give them physical tasks to demonstrate that they’ve acquired the new skill.
Avoid the No. 1 pitfall when coaching and developing employees: not understanding what makes your employees tick.
Curb tendencies to be critical or controlling if an employee doesn’t respond to one training method at first. Disengaged learners can become impatient, bored, even unresponsive – all of which create barriers to learning.
Successful training requires teaching to different learning styles
Taking the time to understand what each employee needs to become a high performer often means teaching to individual strengths. That may not be practical in a workplace training setting, however.
Remember: If an employee learns best one way, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re less effective using another training delivery method.
Most people do well with a combination of learning styles. Some may take notes to help them retain content and then discuss the material to better digest it. Others may benefit from a combination of hands-on activities and listening to a podcast or recorded training session.
A good rule to follow: In a mixed team or classroom environment, offer a mix of styles to appeal to everyone.
At the same time, avoid relying solely upon the learning and communication styles most comfortable to you.
With practice, accomplished trainers learn to appeal to all types of learners. They do this by becoming comfortable in switching up their own communication styles. This takes effort, but it can really pay off.
Try using a combination of communication styles to convey information to your team. Offer:
- Opportunities for role-playing
- Immersive exercises
- Reading and writing exercises
Consider, too, your company’s culture and preferred learning delivery methods when addressing employees at company events.
Your organization may rely heavily on text-centered presentations that could benefit from more visual components like graphics or embedded videos. A more creative agency might need to produce bullet-ed lists for certain clients or in specific meetings that call for more details.
Note, too, that what works well in an intimate group discussion may not translate for a much larger audience. Consider recording sessions for auditory learners that include captions for those who prefer reading.
What if adapting to different learning styles isn’t helping?
Someone’s learning style doesn’t necessarily determine their pace of learning and ability to master new tasks. Personality also plays a significant role in whether someone is more comfortable with a faster pace or prefers a more systematic, deep dive into new material.
As an example, look at musicians who excel at auditory processing of information. Some will excel as classical musicians, mastering a deep understanding of standard compositions, while others dazzle as improvisational jazz musicians who never play the same song twice.
What if you have offered a mix of delivery methods and adapted your training methods to the various learning styles in the workplace, but an employee still doesn’t grasp the new content?
Emotional intelligence – an employee’s self-awareness – is a critical component in developing critical thinking skills in the workforce. The first step for any manager is to recognize what is and isn’t working with an employee who is struggling.
The most common reason an employee has trouble picking up new information is a mismatch between the employee’s responsibilities and their natural talents.
Recognizing that you could have someone that is not in the right role is the first step to identifying where that employee can shine and be successful in learning and performing different tasks.
Remember, everyone wants to be successful. Your role as a manager or business leader is to find and develop employees who can perform well in your workplace.
To learn more about how you can tailor your communications to the different learning styles in the workplace, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to learning and development.