The Lowdown on Learning Styles: Knowing Yours to Get Ahead!
Do you find yourself watching videos over reading instruction manuals? Can you focus better when studying alone or when discussing things in a group? Or do you struggle to sit still when trying to take in new information?
Everyone has a learning style that works best for them.
But do you realise that knowing what kind of learner you can give you a competitive edge in your career?
The reality is you don’t stop learning when you leave the classroom. To stay competitive, you constantly need to learn new information throughout your career.
By knowing how you learn best, you can ensure you’re taking on information and building new skills in a way that not only works better for you, but is actually enjoyable and motivating too.
That’s a powerful thing.
So, what are the different types of learning styles? Why should you take time to understand your learning style for your career? And how can you use your learning style to your advantage in the workplace?
Let’s dive in…
Why you should know your learning style
The idea behind learning styles is that, as learners, we can be categorised depending on how we take in and understand information.
So, by understanding your own learning styles, you can adapt your learning methods to improve outcomes both professionally and in other areas of your life.
It goes beyond you too. As your career develops, there will be times you’re called on to teach others – whether as a manager, mentor or project leader. If you understand the learning methods of those around you, you can tailor your teaching methods according to specific learning styles and ensure that your “students” learn effectively.
Let’s say you’re learning a new system at work but you are really struggling to absorb the information (it happens to the best of us). It’s easy to beat yourself up about it and get frustrated, thinking you’re not cut out for the task. But the reality is you probably aren’t learning in the right style. You might be a reader/writer type, but your boss insists on giving you videos to watch. Or maybe you have written instructions to follow, but you’re a hands-on learner and need to learn by doing.
Knowing your learning style can help you articulate your challenges and make sure you’re learning in a way that gets the best outcomes – and that’s a rapid-fire way to upskill and get ahead.
What are the different types of learning styles?
There are many different theories about learning styles. One of the most popular frameworks today is Neil Fleming’s VARK model, which stands for Visual (V), Auditory (A), Read/Write (R), and Kinaesthetic (K).
Take a look at the different styles to see which ones resonate with you:
Do you understand concepts better when you can visualise them? Do you love a good infographic?
If yes, you’re a spatial learner, aka a visual learner.
Visual learners are good at working with colours, pictures, graphics, and mind maps. Unsurprisingly, visual learners tend to have problem solving skills that are useful for navigation, playing chess and understanding objects from different angles.
Auditory learners can absorb information better when it’s delivered through the spoken word, such as lectures, podcasts, voice-over videos, and recordings.
You may also prefer to take in information through rhythm and sound, and perhaps turn your study notes into songs and rhythms, or study with music in the background to help you concentrate.
These learners prefer gaining knowledge through the written word, such as books, manuals, and written instructions, and take notes to retain new information. For example, you’d prefer to read this article rather than watch a video with the same content.
Do you struggle to sit still when trying to study? Do you prefer getting stuck into a hands-on task rather than reading the instructions?
You’re a kinaesthetic learner, which means you prefer to take in information by using your body and physical touch.
For physical learners, carrying out the activity is more effective than listening to an explanation or watching a demonstration. It’s about taking a hands-on approach. Movement is also important, which means you probably find it hard to sit and learn in a traditional ‘classroom’ environment. For you – ‘experiencing’ the learning is key.
But wait, there’s more!
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner (developed in the 1960s) suggests there are seven different learning styles. He stated that, “We are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, and an understanding of ourselves.”
In addition to the learning styles of VARK, he promoted the following styles:
Social, or interpersonal, learners work best with people. If you’re a social learner, you get the best learning results when you take part in social elements such as discussions or debates.
Solitary, or intrapersonal, types are the lone wolves of learners. If you’re a solitary learner, you prefer to sit in a room alone to immerse yourself in a topic. That’s how you can really focus and absorb information. At work, you might find a meeting room to yourself, or put on headphones to work without interruption. Chances are, you thrive in a remote working environment (so long as you aren’t constantly interrupted by housemates or loved ones!).
Solitary learners also tend to be the best independent learners of all the styles, as they don’t need to rely on anyone else to achieve their goals.
In addition to visual and auditory learners, Gardner adds logical learners to the list. If you prefer using numbers, structures, and patterns when learning, you are a logical learner. These learners, also known as mathematical learners, work best by categorising and classifying patterns or relationships.
Which learning style are you?
The Social Science Research Network reports that 65% of us are visual learners, 30% are auditory learners and 5% are kinaesthetic learners. However, in practice, we tend to favour a blend of styles, depending on the circumstances and content of what we’re learning. In fact, a recent VARK Learn survey revealed that 66% of participants were multimodal learners.
Multimodal learning is where you combine different learning modes to engage multiple senses simultaneously. The idea is that a combination of visual, auditory, verbal, and kinaesthetic styles can help you understand and retain more information.
How to use your learning style to get ahead at work
The good news is that you usually have a choice of formats and modes when you’re learning. You can watch a video or read the transcript, meet with colleagues to talk through ideas or carve out some time to read through reports and take notes.
The important thing is that understanding your learning style can help you make deliberate choices about where and how you take in new information and upskill.
Here are some ways you can adapt your approach to suit your learning style:
If your learning style is visual, look at how you can use graphics to understand concepts, and help co-workers see what you are seeing. Create a board with coloured post-its and labels to help you visualise a process or project. Look at using digital whiteboard tools like Miro to create a visual mind-map.
If auditory learning is more your style, you’re most comfortable making calls and interviewing subject matter experts to understand information and concepts. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues to talk things through – you learn best when you hear ideas explained. Also, asking questions and repeating back information will help you fully absorb and thoroughly understand the topic.
Proactively volunteer to take notes in meetings, which will help you retain information. You can also ask co-workers to provide information in writing – whether in an email or a one-pager – which will ensure you have time to read, understand and absorb it at your own pace.
Consider how you can incorporate movement into your working day. Invite your colleagues on walking meetings, use a stand-up desk and encourage people to use hands-on activities for you when teaching new skills.
Figuring out which learning styles work for you can give you a competitive advantage in your professional life. After all, learning is an essential part of your career. The more you learn, and the better you learn, the more power you have to grow, advance your career and take on new challenges.
What’s your learning style? Download Hodie to find out.