How to Make Training Work for Every Employee Based on Their Learning Style

Here’s how to factor in different styles of learning so that the training you provide to workers is impactful for them — and cost-effective for your business.

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Here's what you need to know:

  • As with all learning, information must be provided in a manner that’s relevant and easily understood
  • In general, the 4 basic styles of learning are visual, auditory, reading-focused, and kinesthetic
  • Consider revamping training manuals with more graphics and images — or scrapping the manual and creating long- and short-form videos that demonstrate how to complete tasks
  • Research shows that the classroom style of training is the least effective
  • Multi-sensory learning is the most effective method

Training builds skills for the employee and value for the employer. The more a worker knows, either directly or indirectly tied to the work they perform, the more value they add to a company.

Employees want training to build their proficiencies. Companies that offer training to employees are more likely to attract and retain talent. In some cases, training fills knowledge and skills gaps: in others, training results in more well-rounded staffers. No matter what the motive, training pays dividends.

The benefits of training are multi-layered. The trick is providing training that actually works. As with all learning, information must be provided in a manner that’s relevant and easily understood. Unfortunately, learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all environment.

People learn in different ways. For training to be impactful, successful, and cost-effective, train for the trainee, not the trainer.

What are the 4 basic learning styles?

Four basic learning styles have been identified for decades. Most people have a general idea of how they learn best.

There are also online quizzes for people who want to have a better understanding of how they absorb and retain knowledge. In general, the 4 basic styles are:

  • Visual learners: these people respond best to videos and graphics
  • Auditory learners: these people listen to content to gain information
  • Reading-focused learners: these people want to see it on paper to understand and learn
  • Kinesthetic learners: these people are hands-on learners who want to use their senses and experience to comprehend

When you begin a training session, you probably won’t know the learning style of the trainee. But their responses can give you clues. If they ask:

Can you show me?

They’re very likely visual learners. They want to see it happen to understand fully how to perform a task.

Can you tell me?

These auditory learners want a topic explained fully. They may ask many questions to get a complete understanding.

Is there a manual?

These are reading-based learners. They want to see it in print to understand it.

Can I try it?

These are kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. They want to get a fuller experience learning by doing it themselves.

As you train staff members, listen for these cues to determine whether or not the information you’re providing is sinking in. In some cases, you can quickly shift your training style to accommodate their learning style.

Let visual learners take a look a the process as it happens to boost their skills and knowledge. Be prepared to demonstrate a task several times for complete understanding.

Auditory learners may have a lot of questions, and that’s a good thing — keep answering them. The more questions they ask, the more well-rounded their understanding.

Take a break for yourself and give a reading-based learner a manual to look through for a bit before you continue. They’ll be more comfortable and ready to train after they’ve had a chance to do some background.

Hands-on learners want to do it themselves, and, within reason, you should allow them to do so. Don’t jump into tasks that can be dangerous or pose a risk to them or others. Be prepared to step in and correct if necessary.

There’s more to training than training manuals

Many managers’ frequent frustrations are that employees didn’t bother to read the manual for  instructions or guidance.

In some cases, they read the manual but still don’t understand. If their learning style isn’t reading-based, no matter how many times they read it, the knowledge might not stick.

In addition, it’s estimated more than half of Americans, 54%, read below the 6th grade level. In data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education, Gallup found reading proficiency levels even lower for workers whose first language isn’t English.

A review of training manuals may show they’re not geared toward the trainee, even for reading-based learners.

You can target training more effectively. Consider revamping training manuals with more graphics and images. You may want to scrap the manual and create long- and short-form videos that employees can access when needed to demonstrate how to perform a task.

Another option is to have more frequent learning opportunities, even for common tasks, to encourage employees to learn more or refresh their skill set.

The classroom style of training is the least effective

Research shows the most common form of training is the least effective. Classroom style only provides 5% success when it comes to learning and retaining information.

Most companies have moved away from this method, but if you’re still using it, it’s time to make a change.

If you have to use classroom learning, try to incorporate more graphics, videos, or hands-on experiences into the process.

If you have to use classroom learning, try to incorporate more graphics, videos, or hands-on experiences into the process. Demonstrations interspersed into the lecture can help. You might consider a bit of comic relief, if possible, to keep their attention.

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Which types of learning are the most effective?

The newest types of learning include short bursts of knowledge on demand. Employees use smartphones to access videos or audio recordings to find out how to perform a task when they need to know.

The ability to use these, then perform the task immediately, reinforces learning. They can replay the video if they don’t understand, or use it to execute the task while the video is playing.

That type of learning involves practice-doing: a style that scores 75% for learning and retention.

Gamification is another trend in learning. This turns learning into a game-like environment. Employees use apps or platforms to access information, then earn points and level up when they’re proficient or are able to answer quiz questions correctly.

This type of learning can cover almost every learning style, depending on how it’s structured. More text will appeal to reading-based learners; content to audio learners; and demonstrations for visual learners. For hands-on learners, the game itself is their kinetic connection.

Multi-sensory learning is the most effective method

Multi-sensory learning is proven to be the most effective. The more senses that are stimulated during the learning process, the more information is stored and retained. If you can get people touching, hearing, and seeing, learning will increase.

There’s a reason you still sing the alphabet (in your head at least) to remember letter placement. Our brains are wired to recall information that has a catchy rhythm.

When we learned this ‘list of letters’ in another format, that of a song, it stuck. If trainers can incorporate more than just lists of information to learning, the chances increase that knowledge is understood and retained.

Recognize the differences among styles of learning

Learning and development is key to employee success, which translates directly into organizational success. Whether you’re training new hires on the basics of the tasks and duties they will perform, or more complex information, it’s important to that workers get the most from the process.

Recognizing that everyone comes to the table with a different style of learning is just the beginning. Structuring training that meets those varying styles, including reading comprehension, can increase the odds training will work.

When they’re learning and growing, they’re increasing their value to the organization. In some companies, learning is a priority: for these, the challenge is to make sure training aligns with the learning style of each trainee.

Some companies don’t offer enough training for staff members, or offer training only to fill skills gaps. This can lead to low engagement and turnover.

When you shift to a learning-centric environment, make sure you factor in the different styles of learning. That way, the training you offer will be impactful for the employee, and cost-effective for your business.

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