While varying learning styles were something you may have encountered in the classroom, they're an important part of the workplace too. When a company attracts different personalities, those in positions of leadership need to be able to adapt their managing styles so that each employee can flourish.
As a result, managers must develop an understanding of how these learning styles differ so they can determine the best possible training and learning methods for individual employees. If not, an organisation runs the risk of overlooking certain talent, a practice that can cause team members to feel undervalued and withdrawn from their work.
To create the best possible working environment for employees, we'll take a look at the different learning styles, why they're so important, and the ways in which managers can get the best out of them below.
Defining the different learning styles
The Visual Learner
The most popular style of learning, visual learners respond best to information when it's presented as an image; the core points and salient facts are broken down into clear sequences or processes, often taking the form of graphs, charts and text.
When talking things through with them, supplement the discussion with strong visual clues to help them succeed. Auditory learning is less effective for them, and so they may lose interest during discussions and lectures.
However, they can excel at projects that require research and solutions, so consider assigning them any work requiring a lot of detail. In doing so they're likely to make copious detailed notes, so if you're struggling to remember something from a meeting, be sure to check in with them too – there's a chance they have the answer somewhere.
The Kinaesthetic Learner
Estimated to be about 5% of the population, kinaesthetic learners are those who learn best by doing – gaining knowledge through direct experience and practice. Appreciative of simulations and walk-throughs, but less so lectures and teamwork, they love getting stuck in, using a trial-and-error approach to problem-solving, and aren't averse to taking bold risks if necessary.
Team members with this learning style may be a little trickier to manage since they often feel most comfortable when left to their own devices. Managers should let such learners know they're supported and have your blessing to work through problems at their own pace, in their own way.
The Auditory Learner
Often called "the conversationalist", auditory learners take on information that comes in the form of lectures, one-on-one teaching, and back-and-forth dialogue. Whether it's talking their way through a problem or retaining information by repeating things aloud, verbally hashing out the details is very much in this learning style's remit.
From swinging by your desk for a quick chat to scheduling in one-to-ones, they're well versed in learning through talking – so be ready to spar with them out loud.
They're comfortable in environments where background noise is ever-present. If your workplace tends to be more on the quiet side, encourage them to listen to music so they can concentrate. Likewise, check in with them in person often so that they understand what's expected of them; they may struggle to get to grips with those lengthy instructions you've just sent over through email.
Why do these learning styles matter?
In a fast-paced working environment, where ineffective training costs money, stalls productivity, and wastes valuable time, understanding these differing learning styles is crucial.
It's important to take note of mismatches in training method and learning style; rather than a lack of motivation, an employee struggling in their duties may be a result of your training and their learning style not syncing up properly.
Such mismatches could lead to you underutilising or overlooking the talent you already have on your team. Not only will your team's proficiency and productivity be impacted negatively, it can have a huge effect on team members at an individual level.
How can a manager get the best from each learning style?
Regardless of learning style, development, training and management within the workplace should be as engaging and diverse as possible. Learning style and management approach should be align with each other, as well as the business' goals at large. But how can you achieve this? We've come up with a few suggestions to get you started.
Recognise everybody's differences
As a solid starting point, you should be recognising the existence of different learning styles, tailoring your approaches based on the needs of your team. Everyone is an individual and their learning capabilities will be affected accordingly, especially when differing styles meet as a result of working together in groups.
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Keep things simple
Though you should recognise these learning styles, it doesn't mean you have to start from scratch. If you feel your existing approaches still have a degree of merit, then there's no need to abandon them entirely.
You may need to expand existing methods with ones suited to each style. Whether it's a diagram for one person or a hands-on workshop for another, these simple additions can save you having to re-do everything from the ground up.
Repackage new information in different ways
When you're training your team, tailor your materials to their learning styles from the start. For the visual learners, make things accessible by providing flow charts, colour coding and attention-grabbing visuals.
Likewise, provide kinaesthetic learners with a chance for some hands-on, physical activities that have several pathways to completion. If there are auditory learners on your team, then materials that can be discussed aloud often prove hugely valuable, too.
Knowing how your team learn lets you more readily shape your training materials.
Change your brainstorming sessions
If everyone's learning style failed to mesh in the pest, then your team's brainstorming sessions may have proven tricky. However, don't feel daunted by having to cater to different styles in one space – there are a few different things you can do to boost the success of these sessions.
Start by sharing an agenda ahead of the meeting. It'll help make them more comfortable and let them know what to expect along with the added bonus of ensuring it won't interfere with everyone's schedules. Similarly, it'll give everyone time to bring some ideas along.
Keeping things varied is important too. Change your strategy up; while some will feel comfortable sharing ideas out loud, others may not.
Instead, use whiteboards when you can to allow everyone to express ideas in a way that's more suited to less talkative learning styles. Elsewhere, mind mapping can achieve a similar purpose, letting those with more visual methods show what they're thinking.
If in doubt, ask!
It never hurts to simply enquire about each team members’ learning style. One of the best ways to create the ideal learning environment is by sending them a survey on how they'd prefer to be assigned tasks.
Not only does this save a lot of time for all involved, it helps improve the organisation and workflow on big inter-team projects.
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