Training your staff and clients: How do people learn?

Training your staff and clients: How do people learn?

How people learn can be a matter of individual preferences and skills. Though cookie-cutter approaches quickly reach their limits, knowing the various learning styles can help when your staff has to learn a new business skill.

You can improve your firm’s internal communication, head off misconceptions and wasted time, and see that what you might think is lack of attention on staffers’ parts is actually a need to have information delivered in a different way.

A general guide to learning styles can help you begin to improve your firm.

Recognizing how individuals learn

There are several types of learning styles. Different techniques and tools work best for each.

Visual: A visual learner retains information by associating it with images. This learner might use a blend of photographic memory, contrasts, and other visual information. Estimates vary, but as much as a third of the population could be visual learners. Clues that a learner is visual can include:

  • Spatial sense, as in maps and directions.
  • Particular ability to envision what an object might look like when it’s assembled.
  • Sense of color coordination, when dressing.
  • Inclined to appreciate design, photography, or architecture.
  • Grasps concepts quickly if a whiteboard, PowerPoint, or other visual aid is used.

When trying to impair information to this learner, try to stay away from white papers or eBooks. Maps of business goals and tools do well – a video or graphic showing the workflow of returns in your firm, for instance, or visual representations of data you use to quantify a client’s value. In role-playing exercises, visual learners might get more out of watching the exercise than participating.

Aural: Aural, or auditory, learners respond well to sound, rhythm and music, and learn best by listening. They make up about a third of the population, and do well in meetings, group projects, and networking events.

Oral presentations and lectures work best with this type of learner, as do repetition (think business keywords), dictation tools, voice assistants, infographics, or video tools with sound and catchy language. Discussion and group chats are also effective, while role-play might not be. Instructions are most effective when read aloud to this type of learner, and they respond well to varying tonalities in voice. They also tend to ask questions and want to discuss what they just heard.

Kinesthetic. This kind of tactile learner (only a small part of the general population) best takes in information through activities. They like to move around while they learn, and, in meetings, may appear to be merely fidgeting while they listen. They might find conferences and lectures trying.

They tend to make good business leaders, mentors, and innovators – jobs that often require action and movement. They do well with group or hands-on activities, and frequently also do well with physical acts, such as writing and drawing (in that sense, this learning type is closely related to verbal learners), and physical tools, such as flashcards, which can help them absorb information best. They tend to take a lot of notes and enjoy role-playing.

Verbal. Verbal learners acquire information through speech, reading, and writing, and often prefer to work alone. Structures and outlines work best to teach this type of learner. These learners also do well at role-playing exercises with proper and structured instructors. 

Understanding the debate

The idea that people have distinct learning styles has inspired a heated discussion in education for years. Proponents point to studies supporting the idea that people obviously “differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking, and for processing different types of information.”

Critics counter that the idea of a learning style is impossible to distinguish and quantify – and, when applied to young students, can also be limiting and even discriminatory. They point to research showing that teaching students according to different learning styles has no effect on how they perform on assessments. 

In business, and among the older “students” of your staff, of course, using a single style for learning many tasks in business is impractical. Learning a complex skill simply often requires processing information most effectively delivered in multiple forms (perhaps, in a combination of written form, PowerPoint or lectures, and role-playing).

You just need to realize that everyone on your staff learns differently. Your method of communication is key to accommodating several of the learning styles. By incorporating visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements into your presentations, you’ll have better communication with your whole staff and your firm will benefit.