A quicker primer on learning styles

The Visual Learning Stylevisual learning graph

The visual learner absorbs information by reading it or seeing it on paper. A supervisor can communicate with visual learners by electronic mail, memos, job aids and flyers (any of which can be created and distributed at the supervisor’s convenience) and be reasonably sure the message was received. Visual learners are often voracious readers. It seems like the visual learning would be the ideal employee, but before you try to identify and recruit only visual learners, remember the disadvantage is everything must be written; this is the person who holds up a demonstration to write down steps, must take notes at even the briefest meeting and needs visual job aids to remember procedural or policy changes.

The Auditory Learning Style

These are the team members who have to hear it to learn it. The advantage of working with auditory learners is the speed with which the supervisor can communicate. You need only tell an auditory learner of a change and be reasonably sure it will be implemented. On the other hand 1) auditory learners may ignore, or simply not absorb, desk drops or electronic mail 2) the supervisor has to be face-to-face with auditory learners to convey information and 3) auditory learners may be easily distracted by noise and conversation.

The Kinesthetic Learning Style

Kinesthetic learners are hands-on learners. They need a walk-through, role-playing session, screen prints, practice or examples to understand new requirements. The down side is these require a supervisor’s time to prepare. The up side is once a kinesthetic learner understands how to do something, he or she can perform the procedure or make the change consistently without reminders or job aids. Kinesthetic learners generally demonstrate excellent organizational abilities and are very methodical. They also tend to be able to work in busy, noisy surroundings with incredible focus, since the constant bombardment of spoken and written information is not distracting.

The Didactic Learning Styledidactic learning style

Unlike employees with the other predominant learning styles, the didactic learner is easily identified. Probably the term “didactic” is used because “argumentative” has a negative connotation. This is the person who has to ask questions, understand the background behind the change and propose an array of “what ifs” to digest the information. Before you arrange a transfer out of your team for your didactic learner, remember this is also the team member who will ferret out potential problems, identify ambiguities and expose dubious decisions. Try not to view the questions and concerns as objections. If you cut the didactic learner off, not only does he or she then “tune out,” but the team misses out on answers to questions they should be asking. Once satisfied with the answers, like the kinesthetic learner, the didactic learner generally does not need visual or vocal reminders.

Identifying Learning Styles

Should a supervisor try to identify the learning styles of everyone on the team? If you will be working with the same small group for an extended period, it will facilitate communication to know how everyone processes information. It would be efficient to know if you can leave Susan a note about a meeting, or tell Joe about a new end-user requirement and be sure they got the message. If you are supervising a large group, attrition and reorganization might make identifying each team member’s learning style a dubious investment of time.

It would be handy if everyone could tell you his or her learning style, but while most people can tell you if they learn best from text book, lecture, demonstration or discussion, most people cannot readily identify their own learning style. Many successful people have learned to effectively compensate for the limitations of their learning style. The visual learner may be a world-class note taker, the auditory learner could be vocalizing internally, and the kinesthetic likely learned to visualize actions. Didactic learners especially, accused of being contentious, learn to stifle their concerns.

Coping with Learning Styles

As a supervisor, your motto should be “Write it, review it, demonstrate it and defend it.” For any important change, prepare a hand out, review the information on the handout aloud, walk through some examples, and allow time for questions and answers with your employees. The goal is to communicate to all the employees in each of the learning styles.

You need to accommodate different learning styles during meetings to keep everyone’s attention. Create agendas with outlines of the main topics. Provide pencils, pads and highlighters. Track main points on a white board or easel. Make sure there is enough light during films or videos for note taking. When you see vacant stares or heads nodding, or hear side conversations, try another method of conveying information.

Supervisors are measured by what their employees achieve. To be successful as an individual and a team, you must have an informed and capable work force. When you respect the diversity of learning styles in the workplace, you can communicate effectively to transfer the skills and knowledge your team needs to succeed.

Sharon Kay has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Organizational Management both of which she obtained from the University of Phoenix. Her experience includes seminars and workshops on communication, quality, time management, supervisory and leadership, problem solving and decision making, diversity, managing people and performance, managing change and personal growth. She recently retired after ten years as a frontline supervisor from AT&T.

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