Between the increased presence of online educational resources and the introduction of high-tech learning solutions, learning and development (L&D) has reached new heights in terms of accessibility and ease of execution.
But despite the wealth of new solutions that human resources and learning leaders have at their disposal, your L&D strategy may be falling short if it doesn’t meet the needs of your workforce. The most effective learning method for one individual may be entirely different than that of another person in the same role, so a one-size-fits-all approach is inadequate —- regardless of how advanced your L&D tech stack may be.
While you don’t need to be an expert in employee learning styles to be a successful leader, having an understanding of the different employee learning styles can help you to develop more supportive and wide-reaching workplace learning initiatives.
Why employee learning styles matter in the workplace
If you provide only one type of learning method as part of your L&D strategy, you may notice a small portion of your employee base pulling ahead while others struggle to catch up. If, however, you provide a variety of styles and methodologies, you may see a more even pace between all learners as they access training and education in the way that works best for them.
This is a simple illustration of the importance of learning styles in the workplace.
The ability to learn, as well as the ability to retain and apply new information over the long-term is largely dependent on the compatibility between an individual’s learning style and the way in which they are receiving training and/or education.
Whether the goal is to train workers for improved performance in their current positions or upskill/reskill to fuel internal mobility (or both), taking a multi-faceted approach built around different kinds of learning styles is critical.
What are the types of learning styles?
There are 4 types of learning style categories into which most people fall, with different needs and processing abilities that determine what they need to effectively acquire and retain knowledge. Individuals typically have a primary learning style but may access elements of the other learning styles as needed.
Basic learning styles include:
The visual learner
Visual learners need to see or picture the information in order to learn it well. A visual learner’s favorite types of educational materials include:
- Charts, graphs and maps
- Drawings, photos, and other visual representations
Visual learners benefit from graphic representations of concepts and will internalize information best if it’s something they can see.
The auditory learner
Auditory learners prefer to listen to the information in order to learn it well. An auditory learner’s favorite educational materials include:
- Verbal training
- Conversations with peers and managers
Put simply, these learners benefit from hearing the information being passed to them. If an auditory learner needs to read written material, they might retain that information better if they read it aloud to themselves.
The reading-focused learner
Reading-focused learners prefer to consume information in a written format. A reading-focused learner’s favorite educational materials include:
- To-do lists
- Written manuals and instructions
Reading-focused learners benefit from a document-focused approach to training and education. If information is being passed through another format, they should be encouraged to take notes and create their own reference guide.
The kinesthetic learner
Kinesthetic learners by doing. Their preferred learning methods may include:
- Roleplaying exercises
- Puzzles, games and activities
- Hands-on experimentation
Kinesthetic learners benefit from a laboratory approach to learning wherein they can test assumptions and theories until something sticks. Connecting more abstract materials like written words to sensory, and physical experiences helps them to internalize new information more effectively.
L&D for every employee's learning style
Understanding the different types of learners and their needs helps you to think more strategically about the L&D programs that you offer. Different solutions may deliver coursework and other learning material in a variety of ways so it’s important to look for providers that can accommodate all of these learning styles.
Let’s talk about how you can determine what your current employee base needs as part of their learning experience.
Administer a learning style assessment to employees
It’s safe to assume that your workforce spans all of the employee learning styles. However, if you’re looking to get more granular, you can always administer a learning style assessment.
It may not be immediately obvious to your employees what their preferred learning style is. Having them take a learning style assessment will help you to understand what resources you need to prioritize as part of your L&D initiatives, as well as the statistical breakdown of learning styles across positions and teams within your organization.
This also empowers employees to learn more about their own learning styles so they can better self-advocate and collaborate with managers to develop a more effective path to upskilling/reskilling.
Don’t rewrite the script
You don’t need to rebuild your L&D strategy from scratch to accommodate a variety of learning styles. You only need to notice what’s working in your current strategy and make updates where necessary and to ensure there are adequate access points for a variety of learning styles.
Encourage open conversations about learning and development
Starting the conversation around learning styles and providing the right resources can help employees begin to discover what training and education are going to be most effective for their professional growth. This can also help peers to collaborate more effectively if they each understand the learning needs of those around them, as well as themselves.
It’s rare that individuals belong exclusively to one style of learning. Make sure your workforce understands this, and also understands that one learning style is not better than the other. All of your programs should have options.
Don’t underestimate the power of the manager/direct report relationship
Research shows that managers are highly influential in the professional development of their direct reports. In addition to providing general feedback and career advice, managers are also instrumental in helping employees set specific development goals and guiding them towards the training or education that will help them get to the next level.
That’s why it’s important to regularly train your people management teams on how to talk to direct reports about learning styles and continuous development opportunities. Managers should also be knowledgeable about the resources and education programs that are available to employees and be able to provide actionable advice on how to take advantage of them.
Learning that’s accessible to all
There’s no “right” way to learn – and that’s why having an L&D strategy that supports a variety of learning styles is so important.
As a people leader, you don’t need to know the best way to educate all of your employees. What you do need to know is the best way to support the professional development of your workforce, and ultimately, the performance and productivity of your company.
Crafting a workplace learning strategy with these differences in mind will help you to make this happen by ensuring that all your employee’s needs are taken into account, and everyone is able to effectively utilize the learning programs that are available to them.