Learning Styles: Why people learn in different ways

One of the key aspects of managing people is understanding that everyone responds to direction and advice differently; it is simply not effective to deal with everyone in exactly the same way. The same theory applies to learning and knowledge too, because not all employees learn or develop in the same way and we all have very different needs. Understanding individual learning styles is critical in getting the best from your team and organisation. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to learning simply will not be effective or get the best out of people, which can be a challenge for busy leaders.

Learning and improvement must be tailored to suit individuals and their learning needs otherwise it can often be a waste of effort and expense.

Some people respond well ‘learning by doing’, or on-the-job training; this can be particularly useful in a setting such a factory or a repetitive role where the person can physically see the tasks required as shown by another.

Other people may prefer using logic or reasoning to help them understand concepts. They aim to understand the reasons behind the learning, and have a good ability to understand the bigger picture.

Some like to learn alongside others/in groups and may be confident asking questions out loud. However, the solitary learner prefers to learn alone and through self-study.

But, how do you know what is the best learning style for each person?

Familiarise yourself with the theories

There are many different styles and theories of learning that experts have published, which have explored this subject further. It is good practice for leaders to become familiar with these models in order to support their own staff learning at work. These can be sourced online.

Ask the employee

In addition to this, one of the best ways of determining how people like to learn is to ask them directly and enter into dialogue with them on their preferred style. The employee might tell you that they don’t enjoy a classroom setting or they dislike learning in front of others. You can then tailor their learning to suit them by working with them. When people are comfortable and willing then learning will be more effective and successful.

Make learning fun!

Getting creative with learning will assist employees to be more willing and empowered about their development. For example, host a monthly “Lunch & Learn” event as a simple way to promote a piece of learning to your team. Perhaps host lunch or encourage people to bring their packed lunch along!

Link it back to goals

All learning and development should be concentrated and linked back to goals and performance; this is the essence of training. By using learning plans during an appraisal process this will help to keep all learning focused on achieving the employee’s aims and goals. The plans can be regularly reviewed and updated and should form part of monthly discussions/one-2-one meetings.

Always review

Perhaps you held a large-scale training event but the information didn’t filter through to everyone, and you are left wondering why? Always review each learning episode, no matter how small. Ask the people involved for their feedback and make sure you take on board what they say and then tailor it for any future plans.

In addition, find ways to remind your team members of what they learned. Have group discussions (maybe in a team meeting) to allow them to verbally process the new information and also share it with others. Encourage people to openly talk about learning and allow them to impart their new knowledge to others.

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