Different workers learn in different ways, and this challenges managers and trainers. Developing an employee’s full potential requires connecting with their learning style. By understanding how someone learns best, you can tailor your employee training to be more effective. Research has revealed that learning styles fall into seven categories: visual, aural (auditory-musical), verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary.
Identifying Learning Styles
To understand how employees learn, you can ask them or observe them. Some people know, for example, that they learn best with visual aids or retain things they hear better than things they read. For employees who aren’t as self-aware, you can observe them or even give quizzes designed to identify their learning style. Connecting with employees’ learning styles results in a better-trained workforce, which leads to greater business productivity. It also helps with employee retention, as employees are less likely to jump ship when they have a manager who can connect with them and make them better at what they do.
Visual learners prefer pictures and images over written descriptions or verbal explanations. The employee in the sales meeting who wants the breakdown of sales numbers depicted as a pie graph and not in spreadsheet form is probably a visual learner. Connecting with a visual learner means replacing words with images whenever possible. When that isn’t feasible, try to use language that lends itself to drawing mental pictures with ease. Statements that begin with “picture this” are a good start.
Aural (Auditory-Musical) Learners
Aural learners best grasp ideas that are presented through sound, rhythm, and music. The reason educational programs on TV often have soothing background music during lessons is for the benefit of aural learners. If you have an aural-learning employee in a role that requires frequent memorization of technical jargon, try to help the employee come up with mnemonic devices to make it easier. Even better, help the employee put the information into a catchy singsong format.
Verbal learners pick up on things through language. The new employee in the accounting department who puts the training guide down and says he or she would rather you explain step by step the process for tallying inventory is an example of a verbal learner. These are different from aural learners because they don’t rely so much on auditory devices or mnemonics as on language in general. Even something in writing, as long as it is presented in colorful language, can be effective for teaching a verbal learner.
Physical learners are the hands-on type. As kids, these people didn’t bother with the directions on the box of Legos and just dove right in and started putting the castle replica together. Physical learners like to feel and touch whatever it is they are learning about. Even having them draw diagrams is effective, as this activity engages their sense of touch. When hands-on learning isn’t possible, teach the physical learners on your team by using as many descriptive words as possible to convey how things physically feel.
Logical learners want to know the reason behind everything. Vague generalizations don’t work with them, nor do instructions that aren’t tied to a tangible result or outcome. Attorneys tend to be logical learners, as building a compelling case in a courtroom requires tying together seemingly unconnected events, ideas, and concepts using reason and logic. Before teaching logical learners on your team, try to explain the rationale behind what you’re about to tell them, and outline the results they can expect from applying it. Avoid abstractions, and try to keep everything connected in a well-thought-out sequence.
Social learners learn best in group settings where they can bounce ideas off others. They often thrive in careers such as marketing, where teams of extroverts meet in big conference rooms for brainstorming sessions where they try to think up the next big viral ad campaign. A social learner is not the kind of employee you want to stick in a cubicle with a training manual, telling him or her to email you with questions. Instead, put these learners in groups and allow them to feed off each other.
Solitary learners are the opposite of social learners. The training manual you wisely didn’t hand to the social learner on your team is a great teaching tool for a solitary learner. They excel at self-study and are capable of teaching themselves complex concepts without a lot of guidance. Computer types are frequently solitary learners. Think about the IT professional you know who, as a teenager in his parents’ basement, taught himself multiple programming languages. Employee learning styles are varied, and identifying them isn’t always easy, but taking the time to do so can result in a happier and more productive workforce.