Will Catering to Individual Learning Styles Really Help Train Your Workers?
You're aware that from the cradle to grave, we never stop learning. From the structured education of primary school through university, to wrestling with mortgage terms or navigating a street map, we learn new things every day. Sometimes it's a challenge and we really have to work at it, and sometimes we master new knowledge and skills with no noticeable effort. It's a firmly held belief that what determines this ease (or lack thereof) is how the presentation of the new skill or information aligns with our learning style.
Maybe you gave a training presentation to your team, but later discovered only a few heard all of the critical, primary information you shared verbally, while the others took detailed notes of the secondary information on your Power Point slides. Believing different learning styles are to blame, you devote several valuable hours to revising your presentation so that the primary and secondary information is shared in multiple ways, accommodating all styles of learning. But rather than re-working your presentation, what if all you really need to do next time is tell your team at the beginning that they must listen closely?
A debate is brewing over the validity of learning styles. While some proponents continue distributing VARK model questionnaires to determine if a person is a visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinaesthetic learner, The British Council finds that the concept of differentiated learning styles isn't backed by science, as the areas of the brain correlating to the the different learning styles are so interconnected that when one area is activated, so are the others. The Council also pointed to unreliable methods of determining an individual's learning style (i.e. results of a questionnaire that insist you are an auditory learner when you feel you retain information best by reading), and the lack of linkage between catering to different learning styles and enhanced learning. The Atlantic agrees with this finding, and suggests it would be useful to remove our assigned learning style labels altogether, accepting that we each individually learn in multiple ways.
So how can you apply these reported findings to the training and development of your workers? The British Council suggests that educators focus less on learning styles and instead draw on the information that is already known about a subject in order to facilitate learning new things, thereby building a bridge between existing and new knowledge. This might mean that instead of handing your 'reading/writing' learning style worker a complex instruction manual to study for an hour before being expect to carry out the steps of the task flawlessly, you briefly explain the purpose of the task and then take them through the process hands-on, one step at a time, explaining how each step leads to the next, thereby gradually building on the knowledge. The instruction manual can be referred to later to trigger the worker's memory if they forget how to do a certain step, and might make better sense with the methods described no longer existing in the abstract.
So while you can ask for your workers feedback in how they prefer information presented to them, sinking significant time into developing training methods that cater to their professed learning styles will not necessarily affect their information retention and job performance. The key is to encourage your workers to pay mindful attention to the material in whatever form it is presented, and to look for ways you can effectively link the new material to what what they already know.
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