Learning Styles and Getting the Most from Them
Learning styles is an educational concept that you may not have heard of. That said, it is something you have probably used repeatedly throughout your life – to both learn and to teach. It basically describes how we learn.
Most education professionals (including me) agree there are four main styles.
- Visual – learning by using images, charts, graphs, diagrams, etc – i.e. anything you can see, except words
- Auditory – learning by listening and speaking so examples include listening to lectures, teacher-led lessons, discussion sessions, etc
- Read-write – learning by reading and writing so includes reading manuals, guides, and textbooks as well as note taking
- Kinesthetic – learning by doing and experiencing so can include physically doing a task or actually making something happen (such as writing a line of code)
The four learning styles described above are known as the VARK model. VARK is an acronym for Visual, Auditory, Read-write, and Kinesthetic. The model was created by educational developer Neil Fleming and education consultant David Baume.
Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, however, they are things that you do all the time. In other words, you have probably had a learning experience that has used each one of the styles described above.
It is important to understand a few facts about learning styles, though.
- Most people will respond well to a combination of learning styles, with some people responding in some way to all four
- While you may use a mixture of the four, most people lean towards a particular style, i.e. you might be able to learn by reading and writing, but you prefer to learn – and are better at learning – when information is presented to you visually
- You may also favor different learning styles in different subjects or situations
- The learning styles you favor are not fixed, i.e. they evolve over time so one that worked well for you when you were a student may not work as well now
Putting this to Practical Use
How can you put this to practical use if you are responsible for delivering learning to others? The most important thing to remember is that everyone is different. That applies even to people with similar backgrounds and similar interests, i.e. people in your organization who have a similar educational background will still all learn differently.
This presents challenges as you have to deliver learning that is appealing to as many people as possible. The problem is, it is difficult to cover everyone (except if you use e-learning, but more of that in a moment).
Imagine, for example, you create a step-by-step guide with well-written text and excellent diagrams, infographics, and charts. This covers two out of the four learning styles, but what about the people who learn best through listening. Well, you could cover them by turning your how-to guide into a video, but you still won’t have anything suitable for the kinesthetic learner, i.e. the learners who learn best by doing.
E-Learning to the Rescue
One of the great strengths of using e-learning is you can incorporate features that appeal to all learning styles. In addition, you can vary the way the learning modules interact with the learner as they go through the course.
For example, one module could involve watching a video, the next could be reading a step-by-step guide, the next could be going through a number of charts and diagrams, and the last could be a practical exercise where the learner has to complete a task, answer questions in a quiz, or do a puzzle – anything that is hands-on and involves them doing something.
E-learning is probably the only way you can do this at scale. This means putting together what I like to call a multi-sensory learning experience at a reasonable cost. At scale also involves the ability to distribute quickly to multiple learners wherever they are in the world.
Alternative learning methods either cannot meet all four learning styles, or you cannot easily scale them at a reasonable cost.
Finally, the fact that e-learning delivers on all four learning styles improves learning retention rates. There are two main reasons for this:
- Courses use various methods and tools to deliver learning which keeps high interest and attention levels
- There are elements in the course that appeal to the learner’s preferred learning style, whatever that is
In other words, a multi-sensory learning tool (such as e-learning) will improve knowledge and skills development in your organization.