What different types of learning styles exist and how can you, as a corporate or freelance trainer, cater to these styles to improve your participants’ training outcomes? There are many different ways of categorising learning styles, which have been devised by various researchers over time and we will discuss these below.
Warning about Learning Styles
Before we even start talking about learning styles, it is worth pointing out that the latest research in learning is moving towards the idea that we can all learn using all styles.
Also, learning style questionnaires are now considered to be flawed and limited. However, you should not dismiss the idea of learning styles entirely as yet.
Even though we can all learn using all styles, some of us may be more comfortable with some styles over others. Also, as a trainer, it is useful for you to focus on learning styles to help you include variety in your teaching.
So, let’s look at the most commonly used categories of learning styles.
Visual learners are those who respond better to images such as drawings, videos, photos, colours and shapes.
You can target this learning style by using any type of visual aids and activities that involve the use of diagrams, images, infographics, charts etc.
Tools that can help you include PowerPoint slides, flipcharts with drawings, videos and any other visuals.
Auditory or aural learners tend to have a preference towards music, rhythms or rhymes. It is not always easy to address this learning style if you are not teaching a music class, but you could employ activities that include songs, music or poetry in your sessions.
A verbal or linguistic learner prefers words, either spoken or written. So, you can target this style by providing handouts with reading materials or giving oral explanations.
Kinaesthetic learning focuses on movement and physical sensation. So, learners who have a preference for this style respond well to manipulating objects, moving around, doing physical exercises.
You can target this style by asking participants to do activities that require them to stand up, for example. Or you can include activities that require the use of cards or to organise ideas on post-it notes that can be rearranged on a table.
If you are teaching online, this style is a bit harder to accommodate but there are activities you can use. For example, an activity that we list in our list of 21 icebreakers for online teaching is called ‘Take a picture of something’ (No. 10 on the list).
This activity requires participants to take a picture of something that is in their room or outside their window and then start a discussion with other learners. This is an activity that addresses both visual and kinaesthetic learners as they will need to interact with the environment around them and move around to take the picture.
Also, when teaching online, simply requiring participants to interact by having to click on things and move things around with their mouse, may be enough to engage their tactile sense. So, for example, flashcards, drag and drop activities or designing mind maps can help.
You can also ask learners to create videos about what they are learning as a form of assignment, to encourage them to engage with the environment.
Solitary or intrapersonal learners prefer to learn by doing tasks (such as reading, researching, writing) on their own.
You can give your learners some space for individual reflection by, for example, asking them to analyse a case study or reflect on a topic on their own, before asking them to form pairs or groups and discuss together.
Alternatively, there are also activities that can be done individually, such as questionnaires or puzzles.
Social or interpersonal learners prefer to learn through group activities. In order to target this type of learning, there are plenty of group activities that you can ask participants to do (i.e., games, discussions and more).
Logical learners are those who prefer to break down information logically. They are logical thinkers, who analyse information step by step; they like procedures and to quantify things.
You can address this learning style by introducing sequences of logical steps, flow diagrams or logically ordered bullet points.
Holistic learners prefer to focus on the big picture. They like to make connections between things across different areas, rather than always following a logical sequence.
You can cater to this learning style by including activities such as mind maps, role plays and group discussions.
Activists learn by doing. So, they like to get involved in actions and discussions and to action something before they even start reading about it.
Good activities to address this learning style include brainstorming, problem-solving, discussions, role-plays and competitions.
Theorists like to understand the theory that exists behind the action. This style is similar, but not quite the same, as the logical style. In order to target this learning style, you can use stories, quotes, statistics and background information.
Pragmatist learners like to know how what they learn can be applied in real life. They like to understand how knowledge can be useful for them in their practical life.
To cater to this style, you can use case studies, discussions and problem-solving activities.
Also, make sure to highlight the benefits of what they will learn for their lives. This is important to motivate any adult learner, but even more so for pragmatist people.
A reflector learner likes to observe what is happening from the sidelines. They also like to take time to reflect on what they have observed or experienced, in order to take it in.
To target this learning style, you can use discussions in pairs, self-reflection questionnaires and feedback from others.
As you will have noticed, some of these learning styles overlap in some ways. Also, these are just theoretical constructions but in practice, most people benefit from using a variety of learning styles.
So, you might be wondering what this means for you as a trainer and how you can apply these principles.
Well, our Train the Trainer courses delve deeper into these issues and offer invaluable tools for trainers!
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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