When you were in school or later in life as an adult, did you ever notice how some people just ’got it’ in the classroom or when attending training yet you didn’t seem able to? This is not always because some people are more academic than us. It could also be because your style of learning is different and didn’t align with the teaching methods used. This is where the term “learning styles” comes from.
Our learning style refers to the way in which we prefer to take in, process, understand, and retain information. For example, if we were learning how to make a cake, some of us would understand the process by listening to the verbal instructions, some would prefer a visual demonstration, some would take notes to help them to remember, whilst others would have to physically make the cake to understand.
The concept of learning styles is widely recognised and there are many theories which can be explored. However, our own individual learning style will depend on many factors. For example, our emotional state, our intellectual ability, certain environmental factors, as well as our previous experience.
It is important to recognise that we are all different and we all learn in different ways. Therefore, as trainers or indeed managers, we need to adopt a variety of teaching and learning strategies to ensure that everyone has the best learning experience that they can have and that no-one is excluded.
VARK Learning Styles
This was originally known as the VAK Learning Styles Model which was developed by psychologists in the 1920s to classify the most common ways that people learn. The model was later adapted by New Zealand-based teacher Neil D. Fleming to VARK. The acronym stands for visual, auditory, read/write and kinaesthetic.
The VARK model suggest that most of us prefer to learn in one of four ways. However, it should also be noted that in practice, most of us generally learn using a combination of these styles. Let’s explore the meaning of each style:
someone with a strong visual learning style learns best when information is presented using pictures, diagrams and charts etc.
someone with a strong auditory learning style prefers listening to what is being presented. For example, they would really enjoy listening to a lecture or presentation or taking part in a group discussion.
Someone with a strong reading/writing learning style likes to understand and remember things by taking notes. It is useful to note that there is an overlap here with visual and auditory learning styles as they would need to observe and listen to be able to do this.
Someone with a strong kinaesthetic learning style prefers a physical experience. Typically, they would prefer a “hands-on” approach where they can touch or feel an object.
So now you know a little bit about the theory, what can you do in practice?
For the Visual learner, you could:
- Write down the information on a Flipchart and put the flipcharts up on the walls to help them remember things
- Use coloured pens and coloured, unlined paper
- Use spider charts or mind maps
- Ask learners to visualise the word in their heads
- Ask learners to make mental movies of the facts they need to know
- Illustrate points with pictures, drawings and other visual aids
- Use associations to help the memory
- Demonstrate or use video to show how something works
- Highlight important information in books, quotes and notes
For the auditory learner, you could:
- Repeat everything
- Create discussions in the group
- Use taped messages, providing the opportunity for individuals to listen again
- Background music helps the learning
- Allow time for delegates to repeat things in their own heads
- Make up song, rhymes or raps to memorise facts
- Break words up into sounds to help the memory
- Ask the delegates questions
For the Reading/Writing learner, you could:
- Encourage learners to take notes
- Signpost learners to further research
- Read through handouts with the learners
- Encourage the learners to read books
For the Kinaesthetic learner, you could:
- Ensure the learners are physically comfortable
- Create movement regularly
- Use demonstrations, role-play and learning activities
- Get emotionally involved in the topic, tap into delegates emotions
- Allow learners to eat and drink while learning
- Make the training participative
A final note about learning styles. Whilst it is useful to be aware of your preferred learning style and/or that of your learners, don’t let this prevent you from trying other methods of learning. Remember, the key word here is ‘preferred’ which means that whilst our dominant style might suit us best, it doesn’t mean that we cannot learn in any other way!
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