Why Employers Should Consider Multiple Learning Styles in Their Training Processes

Learning styles vary by organization, department and employee.

Learning styles vary by organization, department and employee.

Employers often look for the best possible solution to train their employees. They want an optimum package, with a great format and effective style.

Unfortunately, learning styles vary by organization, department and employee. This means there is no “perfect training solution” for your company — or any company.

Everyone consumes information differently, so employers must keep the needs and learning styles of employees in mind if they want to provide training tools that enhance knowledge and performance.  

Employees May Need Different Teaching Formats

Rigid training styles can impede employee training and prevent certain workers from growing within a company. Employers who write off employees because they can’t improve through certain training methods could be losing key talent that is yet untapped.  

“When employees are trying to learn a new task, mismatches with training methods and learning styles are discouraging,” digital strategist Sha Drena writes. “You may misattribute an employee’s failure to effectively learn a new piece of information to a lack of motivation, rather than a mismatch in training style.”

Employees might be considered poorly fitted for jobs or struggle to understand new tasks if they’re presented in confusing or mismatched ways. This doesn’t mean the employee can’t understand the information; it just means it’s being discussed in a language they aren’t familiar with.

Learning Styles Are More Different Than You Think

Learning styles extend beyond visual learners and employees who prefer one-on-one lessons. The very way employees communicate or approach problems can determine whether a training program that you choose will be effective.

For example, Deb Peterson, learning and development consultant and owner of Marvelous! Magazine, hosts workshops where she forms hemispheric circles with employees. Team members choose to sit on one side of a semi-circle or another depending on whether they consider themselves more analytical, step-by-step learners or holistic, big-picture thinkers. Then she conducts a series of exercises where each side explains different processes to the other.

At first, employees get frustrated by how one side sees problems and solutions; both sides, however, work together to find balance in how they communicate. This helps employees learn how others think and trains them to better present information that can help co-workers.

Digital Training Methods Appeal to Different Learning Styles

The wide variety of learning styles is one reason why more employers are turning to digital solutions for training. Roz Bahrami works at SkyPrep, which specializes in employee training software. She encourages employers to follow the VARK methodology when considering training systems and learning opportunities for employees.

VARK taps into the three most common learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, and then adds reading as the fourth method. Not only does embracing a multi-styled approach like VARK help employers reach multiple employees who learn different ways, it also reinforces the message.

Most people aren’t solely visual or auditory learners; they’re a little of both. Through reading, listening, seeing and doing, the odds are three times higher that the message sinks in than if a company used just one learning style.

“A read-write approach has dominated digital historically but other approaches can be provided for too,” Peter Tate writes at Global Learning Partners. “Video and podcast enable visual and auditory approaches, and e-learning authoring software can [create] kinaesthetic learning to some extent.”

Modern tools tend to be more flexible and give employees the chance to learn material in multiple ways until they fully understand it.

Digital Training is More Dynamic

Keeping training current and relevant in all delivery methods is a key to greater success.

Keeping training current and relevant in all delivery methods is a key to greater success.

Digital training is also often preferred because it taps into the latest information and training best practices.

According to Brett Montrose, education marketing specialist, digital training modules are more dynamic because they can better reflect specifics within an organization or changes in thought leadership. Instead of buying a generic package shipped to everyone, companies can access information related specifically to their brand.

This means your organization isn’t stuck with training outdated training materials that you invested in a decade ago, but rather can show updated information as presenters improve and modernize their modules.  

Digital Training Reduces Time and Costs

The team at ITyStudio create digital training simulations which tap into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. One of their main talking points is the reduction of training time and cost to the employers.

By training employees in their preferred learning style, they grasp concepts better and retain them longer. Furthermore, digital tools (like simulations and video training) tend to cost less and allow employees to learn on their preferred time during the day — not during set training hours created by HR.

Not All Employees Prefer Digital Learning

We all have a different learning style.

We all have a different learning style.

While the benefits of digital training might make it seem like the perfect solution, it might not be right for your particular organization.

Some companies go digital purely to follow current fads. They think their resources need to be digital to match the millennial mindset and future learners. Patti Shank, Ph.D., learning designer and founder at consulting firm Learning Peaks, disproves the idea that organizations need to modernize purely because generational learning has changed.

“Claiming that an entire generation of people needs to learn a new way is, on its face, absurd,” Shank writes. “The best training primarily takes into account the needs of the tasks and people who will do them, not the age of the learners.”

Investing in video training tools and interactive models might work because it gives employees flexibility and a more interactive environment, but shouldn’t be your go-to just because it’s digital and new.

Furthermore, barriers to online learning stem far beyond age, generation, or computer literacy.

“Online training tends to be difficult for employees without strong, self-directed learning skills,” Troy Foster, consultant at e3Learning, writes. “They may find it very difficult to motivate themselves to undertake the lessons or fail to engage properly with the course material. It’s just not their style.”

Management teams can train employees on digital software and computer-based learning tools, but teaching self-direction and autonomy is much harder.

There’s No “Best Way” to Train Your Employees

Interestingly, there is no right answer to whether employees should use in-person or online training methods. In the same way that VARK training highlights learning differences, online and in-person preferences vary widely by the employee.

“Choosing between online or in-class education has long shifted from ‘which one is better’ to ‘which one works better for me,’” Alexandra Nikotina, communication specialist at Ashton College, writes. “Online education may be a preference for busy professionals and those looking after a family; the in-class format can benefit those who prefer face-to-face interaction and can commit to a set schedule.”

As mentioned earlier, a training module that one employee loves and benefits from might get ignored by another worker. It all depends on your staff. This has led some employers to combine the two options for better training results.

“If you do decide that classroom learning is appropriate for your company, that doesn’t mean you have to be left entirely out of the electronic loop,” Cogentys CEO Don Berghoff writes.

In fact, combining electronic learning with traditional training methods can help you connect better with employees while monitoring progress and recording performance to meet compliance and safety requirements.

Companies Should Focus on the Content, Not Just the Format

Knowledge retention is critical is key to protecting your training investment.

Knowledge retention is critical is key to protecting your training investment.

Along with choosing the right format, organizations need to find training tools that actually have staying power. Employees need to remember the information months later and apply what they learned to their daily tasks. This is easier said than done.

Akshatha Kamath, head of content at Simplilearn, reports that training and education budgets increase by an average of 14 percent each year in the United States alone. As companies invest more in training, they want to know that their efforts are paying off. Solutions, retention and further implementation are three features that organizations can focus on when determining whether their training tools and formats are actually working.

Focus on Solutions, Not Facts

While some training processes need to be fact-based, like safety instructions and legal reviews, others are more flexible. Business improvements and leadership training can be more open-ended and allow organizations to let employees come to their own conclusions.

“Training shouldn’t be a yes or no guide of how to approach a task, but rather a mouldable outline of how to continue improving upon an existing approach,” Alan Price, HR Director at Peninsula Business Services writes.

This also makes training methods more engaging and open-ended. Employees are challenged to think of ways to do their jobs more effectively and change the status quo instead of simply reading through manuals and reviewing static best practices.

Try to evaluate gaps in your training and look for ways to fill them creatively. For example, some experts suggest testing collaborative learning environments and cross-training opportunities.

“A majority of workplace learning happens via on-the-job interactions with teammates, managers, and in-house subject matter experts,” Ryan Jenkins, author of The Millennial Manual, writes. “Creating communities where Millennials can learn from experts, managers, and their peers and also contribute their own experience or expertise is impactful and empowering.”

Companies that foster a culture of communal learning also reap additional benefits. Employees turn to each other for help, increasing their autonomy and decreasing the need for micromanagement.

Furthermore, asking questions of peers and working through problems together opens the door for collaboration and better teamwork, allowing companies to scale because their organizations are less siloed.

Measuring Retention is Key

One of the best measures of success for training programs is retention. If an employee remembers what they learned a few months ago, then the program is already better than most.

This is why many companies choose video learning. In fact, the team at Panopto compiled some fascinating data points about the effectiveness of video learning for organizations. A few of their statistics include:

  • Employees forget an average of 65 percent of what they learn in a seminar one week after it’s over. This loss of retention is a full 90 percent six months after the training.

  • Presentations that include video are nine percent more effective than text alone when an audience is tested immediately afterward — but 83 percent more effective when those tests are delayed.

These statistics prove that video has the power to increase long-term retention in a way that traditional text modules can’t, increasing the effectiveness of your training investment. If video training is what it takes to keep employees engaged, then it’s worth the investment.  

Employees Need Ways to Implement What They Have Learned

Michael Beer, Magnus Finnström and Derek Schrader at TruePoint Partners recently explored weaknesses in training programs. They discovered that effectiveness decreased when employees faced barriers to apply what they learned in the workplace. The employees might feel unable to enact change against existing policies or struggle to change the culture as one person against the team.

“Education and training gain the most traction within highly visible organizational change and development efforts championed by senior leaders,” they write. “That’s because such efforts motivate people to learn and change; create the conditions for them to apply what they’ve studied; foster immediate improvements in individual and organizational effectiveness; and put in place systems that help sustain the learning.”

If management is unable or unwilling to help put lessons into practice following the months after a training, then the whole process (regardless of learning style) was a waste of time.

If you’re unhappy with your current training process, then it’s time to change your format. Look for ways to combine different formats and learning styles to appeal to the majority of employees so they can clearly receive, retain and apply the training.

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