SumTotal Blog

Offer Employees a Menu of Learning Styles for Skills Optimization

September 14, 2020 | by SumTotal Blog | 5 min read

When it comes to learning new skills or improving existing expertise, there is no single standard approach that will perfectly match how each of your employees learns and acquires knowledge. By providing a choice of learning styles and modes, your organization can significantly increase the likelihood your employees will retain what they have learned and later apply those insights to improve their agility, efficiency, and productivity.

Organizations around the world see their core businesses completely transform, and to meet future business needs, they must be able to quickly and effectively reskill their existing workforces. However, in a recent worldwide talent trends study, consultancy Mercer identified a sizable gap between how executives view their staff’s flexibility and how those employees rate their own capacity to change.

On a global basis, the executives polled said that only 45% of their workforce can adapt to the new world of work, while 78% of surveyed employees said that they are ready to learn new skills. Employees have a willingness to learn, but to be successful, they need their organizations to fully support that endeavor by making a broad range of learning opportunities available. So, how should your organization go about meeting all of the learning needs of your employees?

Adherence to a single learning style may limit employee agility

In recent years, leading research has largely tended to debunk earlier theories that every individual student can and should fit into one particular type of learning. Rather than being beneficial to your organization, the self-identification or corporate labeling of an individual with a single learning style can have a negative impact on their talent development.

Offering only one learning style may limit creativity and flexibility, making employees less adaptable to meet the changing needs of your business. Effectively, learners may fail to realize their full potential.

Encourage learners to embrace a combination of learning styles

Typically, an individual learner might have been previously categorized as one of the following:

  • A visual learner — who responds to information presented pictorially or graphically.
  • An aural learner — who absorbs knowledge by actively listening, and then, by discussing what they have heard.
  • A verbal learner — who acquires and retains skills primarily by reading, researching, and writing information down.
  • A kinesthetic or tactile learner — who learns through hands-on experience and active participation, whether performing tasks in the real world or virtually.
  • A logical learner — who likes to apply reasoning and problem-solving to their studies.
  • A social learner — who thrives on learning within a group setting and interacting with their peers.
  • A solitary learner — who studies best alone in a quiet environment.

Being assigned a single learning type would also determine the primary learning mode for an individual. For instance, an organization might see training in a physical classroom setting as the ideal match for its aural and social learners, but not a great fit for its kinesthetic or solitary learners.

In reality, while any individual may have an underlying preference for one of the learning styles mentioned above, most people are combination learners. In other words, each learner will be a mix of several or all of the learner identities that have been discussed.

Your learners therefore, will look to your organization to provide them not with a single mode of learning, but with a multimodal approach, which includes traditional face-to-face instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training (VILT), self-directed on-demand learning, micro-learning, and virtual reality learning experiences.

Learners will be particularly interested in contextual education where there is a strong correlation between training and its relevance to their current or future role, such as on-the-job training or learning that can take place seamlessly within an employee’s working day.

Provide different learning styles for different stages of the learner’s journey

How an individual will want to learn also depends strongly on the topic of the training they’re taking, as well as on the goal of that educational endeavor. For instance, studying and then becoming certified on mandatory complex compliance regulation is a very different type of learning than gaining knowledge on how to better communicate or collaborate at work or how to manage projects effectively.

Your learners are also in search of an option to access and then blend different learning modes during a single course of study. They may find that they absorb and then retain knowledge more easily if they can shift back and forth between two or more learning styles—so, from an hour-long session in a traditional classroom setting to bite-sized learning designed to refresh and test what they’ve previously studied.

Make sure that your organization moves towards offering personalized learning rather than making any blanket assumptions about groups of learners. For instance, not all of your millennial employees will learn best on a steady diet of learning that’s consumable in mini bites of knowledge and which is heavily reliant on gamification. Treat your learners as individuals who are each looking to map out their own learning journey.

Keep reimagining learning to continuously invest in and develop your talent

As you continue to transform your organization, you will expand the variety of learning styles that you offer to your employees. Learning will become more a part of every working day as your employees update their existing skills, gain new knowledge, and even unlearn previous ways of working in favor of fresh approaches.

Are you creating the in-house talent your organization needs to drive growth? Check out these three steps to upskill and reskill your employees in our latest guide.

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