The Big 4 Employee Learning Styles and Why You Should Know Them
As a teacher in my previous life, I still remember the sounds of rambunctious teenagers running through halls and laughter erupting in the classroom whenever someone cracked a joke.
But perhaps the most rewarding part of teaching was watching students’ eyes light up when they learned something new and interesting. You knew then and there they would remember it, because their expression showed true understanding.
As a manager now, teaching taught me many valuable lessons about how to effectively train employees. And one of the most important lessons was that we don’t all learn the same way.
Just as we never have exactly the same taste in food or clothes as others do, our learning style will always be a little different to the person sitting next to us.
This is an important consideration for all managers, because our ability to teach – be it new starters or existing employees – can make a huge difference to the productivity, efficiency, and engagement we achieve within our teams.
The 4 learning styles
There are 4 well-documented “types” of learners. These learning styles apply to most people, though many of us are a combination of 2 or more…
Tips to accommodate all learning styles
When someone new starts in your organisation, it’s likely you have a training program on the ready. If it only caters to a single learning style, it’s worth reviewing otherwise you may find your organisation in a nasty cycle of rinse and repeat with new staff.
Here are 10 techniques you can use:
1. On a new employees’ first day (or beforehand), ask them how they prefer to learn. If they know, they’ll be happy to share it and you can plan your training more effectively.
2. Make pre-recorded presentations or webinars engaging with lots of visual clues, and focus on 3 or 4 key messages. Have notepads and pens on the ready, and make time to ask questions when it’s over to find out what they gained from it.
3. Don’t assume everyone learns at the same pace, and remember the first few days can be an overload simply remembering people’s names and where everything is.
4. Provide variety for all employee learning. For example, even if someone has a preference for reading and writing, it will still benefit them to hear a presentation or engage in hands-on practice.
5. Develop a training schedule that includes regular check-ins with a manager or mentor (or both). Pre-schedule some of them, and allow the new person to schedule others as needed. This gives you an opportunity to find out if they are engaged and absorbing information, and allows them to ask questions while taking control of their own learning.
6. Account for different personalities during check-ins. If the new starter is very confident, you may wish to probe and see if their enthusiasm has led them to miss a critical step. If they lack confidence, the check-ins are an ideal time to provide assurance.
7. Share the training schedule, plus other resources, ahead of time so the new employee can plan their time accordingly. For example, they may wish to do background reading if they know they will watch a presentation about a particular topic the next day.
8. Offer multiple team members the chance to train new starters. Sometimes a new employee will simply “click” with someone’s teaching style – and it’s also a great way to promote collaboration and empower existing team members to share knowledge.
9. Allow for downtime in the day – periods of reflection where the new person can think about what they have learned.
10. Proactively seek feedback on training. This allows you to spot areas where the employee may need further training, and fix issues with training material before other people come on board.
Last but most important, don’t force new employees to endure weeks of mundane activities and pre-recorded presentations. This can lead new starters to form a negative opinion of the role and prepare to make tracks – often coinciding with the end of the initial learning curve, which is a waste of company time and resources.
Infuse learning with the more juicy aspects of the role, and allow them to contribute and gain exposure to future possibilities. The first 90 days in a new job are very important, so be mindful and endeavour to create at least a 60/40 split with a focus on value, fun, and engagement.