In 1987, New Zealand teacher Neil Fleming introduced the VARK model, which is the basis of modern-day learning style theory. “VARK” stands for “visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic” – four of many different types of learning styles.
When you’re onboarding new team members, knowing how they prefer learning can help you get them up to speed more quickly. When you’re briefing longtime team members on a new project, knowing their learning styles can help you cater your explanations to everyone. Below is a guide to eight different types of learning styles and how you can use them to guide your team.
- What is a learning style?
- 8 different types of learning styles
- How should managers use learning styles?
What is a learning style?
A learning style is a way of processing and retaining information. Most people have a preferred learning style since everyone’s brain is wired differently. That wiring – which is part nature, part nurture – is the primary factor shaping one’s preferred learning style. This will come into play at your organization since the larger your team, the more learning styles in the group.
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8 different types of learning styles
You might see team members understanding information in the below eight ways.
- Visual learning
- Auditory learning
- Reading/writing learning
- Kinesthetic learning
- Social learning
- Individual learning
- Verbal learning
- Logical learning
Typically, visual learners prefer graphics, in-depth notes, and marked-up text. Color-coding is often a big part of how they learn. Mind maps, flowcharts, and other visuals may be ideal for these learners.
You’ll know your team is big on visual learners if you start seeing better, more timely work once you start using PERT or Gantt charts. PERT charts visually show how your team’s tasks depend (or don’t depend) on each other and why. For visual learners, that’s a huge improvement from being told what should come first and what comes after. Gantt charts show who’s doing what and over what period, and visual learners might love seeing how it all spells out progress.
Auditory learners may understand ideas best when they come up in conversation. They’re the kind of people who would be more likely to watch your recorded meetings than read your meeting notes. They’ll also learn a ton from lectures, making these team members great to invite to any meetings with expert guest speakers.
Team meetings are great for getting auditory learners up to speed. Any updates you deliver out loud rather than in writing are more likely to stay on these team members’ minds. These team members might be especially active in one-on-one meetings since they often find out-loud conversation super empowering.
Reading/writing learners (the VARK model groups them together) typically learn best through text. They could theoretically skip your meeting and read the notes afterward and understand mostly everything you discussed. That said, if there were a text-heavy presentation at your meeting, they’d probably be there in a jiffy. They’re also the kind of people who can express their own ideas best in writing.
Reading and writing learners might learn best if you give them time alone to read through your employee handbook. Leaving direct written comments on these team members’ work can help them learn as well.
These team members are exactly the people you want to create any written knowledge you’re building for future team members. Just as they can learn a lot from reading, they can explain things more clearly in writing than other types of learners.
Kinesthetic learners are all about learning by doing. Traditionally, the kinesthetic learning style has meant getting hands-on with actual objects that you can touch. However, this style can apply to work that happens on a screen.
Kinesthetic learners might work best if you show them what to do on a screen and then have them repeat after you. Or, if your team makes and sells physical products, you can guide your team’s kinesthetic learners through your process gently. Then, you can sit back and let them do most of the work. Chances are they’ll master it pretty quickly.
Social learning, one of a handful of non-VARK styles, is the bread and butter of people who solve problems best with a group. These are the kind of people who find clarity when they bounce their ideas off others. They’ll be the shining stars at your brainstorming meetings.
You can also use team-building games with social learners, especially if you’re trying to fill everyone in on your organization’s values and history. This can be as simple as a fun round of trivia. You can ask questions about your organization’s past and its current mission and vision statements. Social learners might take this as a sort of quiz and enter learning mode. That means they’ll walk away from the game remembering nearly everything you shared.
Individual learners prefer to be alone as they learn. They’re the kind of people who pop on headphones to block out the world as they read meeting notes or watch meeting recordings. They can also be visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic learners – the point is that they need some privacy to learn well.
This doesn’t have to change a ton about how you train these team members or fill them in on new projects. You can give them the same visuals, audio sources, written material, or tangible objects that everyone else gets. Then, you can make sure your individual learners have what they need to be alone as they work with what you’ve given them. They’ll likely emerge ready to work wonders with the whole team.
Verbal learners like speech and writing – they have traits of both auditory and reading/writing learners. Any ways that you’d think to train or share ideas with an auditory or reading/writing learner could work for verbal learners too.
Verbal learners might also do well with rhymes or acronyms, especially if you’re plotting out the steps your team will take for a project. Make steps one through seven “T.H.R.O.U.G.H.” or something like that, and you’re golden.
Logical learners prefer some sort of structure, usually with numbers or reasoning. They might group ideas into broad categories to better understand and connect them. You’re most likely to find them on your team if you work with engineers or musicians. But any team can benefit from some of the ways you’d appeal to logical learners.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re training your team on a big new client’s offerings. You can group the client’s products and services into categories – say, marketing, sales, data, and operations. You should also put numbers to them – seven marketing tools, 11 sales tools, and so forth. This can help logical learners form the connections they’ll use to better remember everything about the client.
How should managers use learning styles?
You should ask your team members how they prefer to learn. You might hear outright, “I’m a visual learner,” or you might hear, “I prefer written instructions.” Use what your team members tell you to flesh out your training sessions and meetings.
For example, let’s say your team previously included visual, auditory, and reading/writing learners, and then you hired a logical learner. In that case, it’s time to start grouping your tasks into numbered categories during team update meetings. You can also add groups and numbers to your training materials. Your goal is to cater to how your new hire learns.
Bring learning styles into your meetings with Fellow
When you bring the team together for updates or learning moments, you’ll need a way to visualize action items for your visual learners. You’ll also need meeting notes for your reading/writing learners and meeting recordings for your auditory learners. With Fellow, you can do all this and more. Assign meeting action items in real-time, share notes with the whole team, and use video integrations to record meetings. You’ll give your team everything they need.