No two people are the same, and the ways in which we all absorb and retain information are different, too.
People generally fall into four different categories of learning styles. Recognising these categories allows us to better understand and accommodate each other’s needs.
By adapting employee training strategies to specific learning styles, businesses and organisations can create a more inclusive environment, increase productivity, and boost employee retention.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the different types of learners and find out how to create a strategy that effectively caters to them.
What are the Different Learning Styles in the Workplace?
Generally speaking, learning styles are divided into the following four categories (sometimes referred to as VARK):
For visual learners, the easiest way to learn something new is by viewing images, graphics, animations, or videos.
Many off-the-shelf eLearning courses cater to visual learners because they feature various elements such as charts, graphics, and videos. These types of media allow visual learners to easily take in and remember key details.
Visual learners may habitually draw or doodle. They are generally highly observant and notice changes in the way things are displayed or organised.
These learners are not easily distracted, and they typically enjoy planning and organising. They prefer visual instructions (lists, charts, graphics, etc.), too.
The easiest way for auditory learners to learn is by listening and speaking. They like to listen to lectures or discussions (either in person or via podcasts and audio recordings), they enjoy reading out loud, and they want to talk through ideas or concepts with others.
Auditory learners are usually the ones who stop by their instructor’s desk for a chat or like to talk to a neighbour to ensure they understand a particular concept.
These learners don’t like to read silently. However, they are still able to put together reports and draft impressive responses — they just need to talk through their ideas first to solidify their understanding.
Reading and Writing Learners
For reading and writing learners, it’s easiest to pick up information by reading books or articles. Then, they write down what they’ve learned and take notes to help them remember key details.
Reading and writing learners are the most likely to turn to reports, video transcripts, or case studies. They also take detailed notes and write to-do lists to organise their thoughts.
Kinaesthetic learners like to learn by doing. They enjoy trial and error, touching and handling objects, and role-playing real-life situations — including those they might encounter on the job.
Kinaesthetic learners often struggle in traditional classroom settings because they like to get up and do things rather than listen to a lecture or read a book. When they have opportunities to learn in their preferred way, they can easily retain information and can apply it to their job.
What are the 7 Types of Learners?
Although the four learning styles listed above are the most typical ones, there are actually seven recognised learning styles. Here are three other lesser-known learning styles that might apply to your employees:
Logical or Mathematical Learners
Logical and mathematical learners often gravitate toward careers that require advanced mathematical skills and pattern recognition.
These learners are very good with numbers, enjoy tasks that involve grouping and classification, and are excellent at analysing complex problems. They like to figure out how things work and are often highly organised.
Social and Interpersonal Learners
Social and interpersonal learners tend to enjoy working in groups and collaborating with others. Some also gravitate toward leadership positions and have a natural “take charge” attitude.
A social or interpersonal learner typically has an extroverted personality and is an excellent communicator. They’re also empathetic and good at relating to others.
Like auditory learners, these learners may have an easier time retaining and understanding information when they can discuss it with others. They may also enjoy listening to others’ conversations and learning from their discussions, even if they don’t speak up very often themselves.
Solitary and Intrapersonal Learners
On the opposite end of the spectrum from social and interpersonal learners, we have solitary and intrapersonal learners.
Solitary or intrapersonal learners can learn through various styles — visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, reading, writing, etc. The main differentiator between them and other learners is their propensity for working alone. They like to figure things out by themselves and likely will not enjoy group projects.
As the name suggests, these learners are highly independent. They’re often introverted and tend to gravitate toward careers that allow them to work alone — such as research, writing, or programming.
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What is the Most Common Type of Learner?
Many publications claim that visual learners are the most common. However, the statistic that 65% of people are visual learners has been largely debunked.
A study published by the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research reveals that, of 100 students, 61% preferred two, three, or four of the VARK learning styles. In other words, they had a combination of learning styles rather than just one.
Of the 39% who did have a strong preference for one learning style, kinaesthetic was actually the most common, followed by visual, auditory, and reading or writing.
At the end of the day, it seems that a mixed approach that incorporates many learning styles is more important than trying to cater to one particular type.
Why are Learning Styles Important in the Workplace?
Understanding the learning styles of employees in the workplace is beneficial to both the employees and the company as a whole.
The following are some specific benefits that can result from understanding people’s unique learning styles:
More Inclusivity and Better Learning Outcomes
When you make it a priority to acknowledge and cater to different learning styles, you create a more inclusive workplace. You meet them where they are and show them that you accept various ways of collecting and retaining information.
Not only does this contribute to a more supportive work environment for everyone, but it’s also more likely to yield better learning outcomes.
Instead of forcing all employees to learn in the same way, regardless of their personal preferences or natural aptitudes, you’re empowering them and giving them the tools they need to succeed.
Improved Employee Retention
What happens when your company offers a supportive work environment that empowers employees and embraces their differences?
In many cases, the result will be improved employee retention rates.
People want to work for employers who encourage individuality and set each employee up for success. They won’t be eager to jump ship and move over to another company at the drop of a hat.
Quality training — which takes into account each trainee’s learning style — allows employees to gain essential knowledge faster. It helps them hit the ground running and start carrying out their core responsibilities sooner.
When employees know what’s expected of them and know how to meet those expectations, their productivity increases.
Ongoing Employee Growth
An understanding of different employee learning styles isn’t just crucial for initial onboarding and training. It should apply to all employee learning and development opportunities.
Meeting employees where they are and catering to their unique preferences will help them continue learning and developing new skills. Not only does this help them grow as individuals, but it also enables them to provide more value to the team and the company as a whole.
Improved Relationships and Collaboration
If you don’t understand how an employee learns, you might assume that they’re lazy or not invested in their job because they’re not picking up on the training material as quickly as their peers.
In reality, though, they might be taking longer because they’re learning in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them.
When you accept people’s various learning styles, you can relate to them on a different level and find new, more effective ways to connect and collaborate with them.
Acknowledging and catering to different learning styles also gives your employees more opportunities to shine and flex their creativity muscles.
Remember that creativity doesn’t have a specific “look.”
When you adapt your training for different learning styles and encourage various approaches to solving problems, you make more room in the workplace for innovation and thinking outside of the box.
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How Do You Identify Your Employees’ Learning Styles?
It’s easier than you might think to identify your employees’ distinct learning styles. Here are some specific strategies you can implement today:
Be an Observant Onboarder
Sometimes, you can identify someone’s learning style by simply observing them.
During the onboarding process, pay attention to new hires. Do they seem to respond to one teaching method more than another?
For example, do they seem to retain more from watching a series of short videos than listening to a lecture from you about the company policies?
If so, they might be a visual learner rather than an auditory learner.
Use Questionnaires, Surveys, and Assessments
You can also use training questionnaires, surveys, and assessments that allow each employee to learn their specific learning style.
Your employees might not realise that they learn differently than others. By completing an assessment, they can understand their strengths and start coming up with new ways to learn and retain essential details.
Ask Direct Questions
Sometimes, it’s easiest just to ask direct questions. You can ask employees how they learn, or you can ask if the current training style is effective for them.
Seeking feedback shows your employees that you care and want them to succeed. It also gives you valuable information that you can use to improve your training process and make it more inclusive.
What is the Best Training Method for Employees?
There is no one size fits all training method that works for all employees. When you’re training a group of new team members, you’ll notice right away that not all of them process information the same way.
It’s helpful to learn about the types of learners you have in a group before you start the training process. Then, you can provide training sessions that include all the different learning styles to accommodate different learners.
How to Adapt Your Training Strategy for Different Learners
At first, the idea of adapting your training strategy to different learners might seem like overkill. It might also seem downright impossible.
Are you really supposed to create seven different training models to accommodate the seven different learning types?
The good news is that you don’t have to make things this complicated.
Here are some simple steps you can take to adapt your training strategy:
Focus on Combined Learning
When designing training programs, look for ways to incorporate the seven different workplace learning styles.
One training module might feature a recorded, instructor-led session with a transcript available for those who prefer reading instead of listening. Another module might feature videos with subtitles to cater to visual learners and those who prefer reading/writing.
You can also include role-playing tasks and group tasks for kinaesthetic and social or interpersonal learners, as well as silent reading sessions for independent or intrapersonal learners.
Combined learning makes sure everyone is accounted for. It also ensures no employee has an unfair advantage over the others.
Use Self-Paced and Structured Learning
If possible, include a mix of self-paced and structured learning modules in your training process. This approach ensures that those who prefer learning alone and those who prefer learning in a group can both get their needs met.
Encourage Engagement and Feedback
Check in with your employees throughout the training process and find out how they’re doing. You can also use quizzes or tests to see how much information employees are retaining.
Use the information you gather from these check-ins and quizzes to measure your training effectiveness. If someone is struggling to understand a particular concept, think of a new way to present the information to help them.
Everyone learns differently. When you accept that different learning styles exist and adapt your training strategy to accommodate these different learning styles, you’ll be amazed at how much your employees can accomplish.
If you need help adjusting your training materials to match various learning preferences, Skillshub can help. We offer off-the-shelf courses, as well as bespoke training courses, and an eLearning platform to help you level up your employee training and set team members up for long-term success.
Enquire today to learn more.
Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.