Did you know that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if their employer invested in their careers? Given the skilled talent scarcity and record high turnover many employers are facing, learning and development (L&D) are crucial for building and retaining a great team.

But to do L&D right, it’s important to consider different workplace learning styles. Every person is unique, and understanding how they learn can help you better meet their needs and keep them engaged in learning.

The VARK model is widely used, and suggests four main types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Some people fall into a single category. Others are multimodal, perhaps switching modes depending on what they’re learning or preferring to use all four modalities to develop a deeper and broader understanding. 

Here’s a quick introduction to the four workplace learning styles, and the types of development opportunities you might consider offering for each.

1. Visual

Visual learners have a preference for graphical and symbolic ways of representing information. They understand and absorb new information more effectively when it’s presented in a graphical form, such as a map, diagram, chart, or graph. They also respond well to symbolic arrows, circles, hierarchies and other devices that people use to represent what could have been presented in words. 

For visual learners, a picture says a thousand words. You can accommodate a visual learning style in the workplace by focusing more on the design of your training materials than on the content. For example, make complex processes and lists into flowcharts, mark up screenshots to demonstrate a process, or use a whiteboard to illustrate a workflow.

2. Aural

Aural/auditory learners prefer information that is heard or spoken. They learn best from things like lectures, podcasts, or even text written in a conversational tone, and benefit from talking things through in group discussions or by talking aloud to themselves.

Engage aural learners in the workplace by utilizing training programs with sound and giving them opportunities to discuss their learnings. For example, you might host a group workshop, leaving time afterward for your team to discuss action items they can implement right away. Or team members might take their own individual eLearning courses and jump on a video conference with their team so everyone can share what they learned. Aural learners may also benefit from a mentor who they can learn from and converse with.

3. Read/write

Read/write learners prefer the printed word to convey and receive information. This includes manuals, reports, lists, and the Internet. This type of learner also likes to take notes, and may reread and reorganize their notes to help them better retain new information.

You can engage read/write learners in the workplace with written handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and documentation. For example, software training might include step-by-step written documentation that read/write learners could follow when using a new solution. Or leadership skills training for read/write learners might include micro-learning opportunities through eLearning courses.

4. Kinesthetic 

Kinesthetic learners have a preference to experience and practice things they’re learning. That is, they learn by doing. This includes demonstrations, simulations, and videos of practical action.

Engage kinesthetic learners in the workplace by giving them opportunities to try new things. This might include a stretch assignment to work on a project that falls outside of their current responsibilities, role playing with a colleague to learn new soft skills, or job shadowing to see a colleague in action. You might also offer a video of a practical action, followed by a simulation so your team members can learn by trial and error. 

Final thoughts on workplace learning styles

These four distinct workplace learning styles demonstrate the need for employers to offer a variety of learning and development opportunities. That’s because what may work for one team member won’t necessarily be effective for another.

But that doesn’t mean you need to completely reinvent the wheel. You may be able to repurpose some of your existing content to appeal to team members with different learning preferences. For example, you can create a transcript or add subtitles to a video for your read/write learners. Or you could add group discussions after a hands-on training session to help aural learners better grasp the concepts demonstrated. This practice can also help your multimodal team members access your L&D content in a variety of formats.

Accommodating different workplace learning styles will help ensure you can appeal to a wider audience, so every team member can benefit from your development opportunities. And when more team members benefit, your organization will too.

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4 Workplace Learning Styles and How to Accommodate Them