Lifelong learning is the best way to keep your professional skills and knowledge up to date, but we each have our own preferred way of learning. This article examines a number of these learning styles and allows you to discover which one suits you best.
But what is a learning style?
The term ‘learning style’ comes from the fields of cognitive psychology and education, and is used to denote a combination of attitudes, behaviors, and habits that together characterize an individual’s preferred way of learning. Essentially, a learning style relates to how you assimilate information best. Studies into learning styles intensified in the 20th century, driven primarily by the work of David Kolb and Jan Vermunt.
Everyone has their own preferred learning style. Some people prefer to plow through hefty books, whereas others prefer to ask questions. And then there are the ‘doers’ who want to try out what they’ve learned right away.
What’s more, there are also differences in the way that we process information. Some of us are visually oriented, whereas others are more aurally oriented.
How we study also varies greatly from person to person. Some analyze each paragraph in depth before moving on, whereas others skim through all the material first and then revisit each section again and again.
No one style is better or worse than another – it’s primarily about finding out what works best for you. One style might be better in a particular situation than another. And may vary depending on your circumstances. This explains why some of us don’t respond well to traditional classroom-style settings but excel in practice.
7 learning styles
So, what styles are there? We’ve identified seven learning styles:
- Visual – prefers schematic information over the written word, for example images, charts, graphs, tables, videos, infographics
- Aural – responds well to sound and music for assimilating information
- Verbal – prefers the spoken and/or written word
- Physical – uses body language and hand gestures
- Logical (mathematical) – prefers logical deduction and structured reasoning
- Social – responds well to learning with others, for example in small groups or pairs
- Solitary (intrapersonal) – prefers self-study (opposite of ‘social learning’)
Kolb’s four styles of learning
One of the most popular and widely used models for analyzing learning styles was developed by David Kolb. He defined four distinct learning styles or personas:
- Accomodator (or Doer) – focuses on new experiences. Loves experimenting and seeking solutions to a problem or challenge by trying things out. Adapts well to new situations and often has an insatiable appetite for action.
- Diverger (or Dreamer) – focuses on observations. Doesn’t make snap decisions, but prefers to weigh up the pros and cons and carefully consider all the variables before making a decision. Sees countless feasible solutions from numerous perspectives.
- Assimilator (or Thinker) – focuses on analysis and theory. Thinks and reasons logically and prefers to find information in books. Often finds the underlying logic more important than its practical implementation.
- Converger (or Decision maker) – focuses on planning and implementation. Loves technical challenges and is less interested in abstract theories.
Kolb theorized that learning involves transforming experiences into knowledge, skills, and behavior – the three building blocks of a competence.
Kolb also defined four types of learning:
- Active experimentation (doing)
- Concrete experience (feeling)
- Reflective observation (watching)
- Abstract conceptualization (thinking)
Your learning style is ultimately a combination of two of these four types of learning, determined subconsciously whenever you find yourself in a learning situation. For example, a doer prefers ‘active experimentation’ and ‘concrete experience’, whereas a thinker prefers ‘abstract conceptualization’ and ‘reflective observation’. And for visually oriented readers, here’s a schematic of Kolb’s model!
Which learning styles suit me best?
A preference for a certain learning style forms early in life from the time of birth to adolescence. By the time we’ve reached adulthood, a clear-cut preference has emerged. From middle age onward, this preference becomes less dominant, primarily because we’ve had greater opportunity to practice, develop, and experience other learning styles.
It’s useful to know which learning style suits you best, as it helps you improve results and save time. Understanding your own preference and how this relates to other ways of learning also makes it easier to understand how others learn. In other words, perfect for making collaboration even more effective and efficient!
If you don’t already know what your preferred learning style is, there are several online tests available to give you a better idea. Examples include the Kolb Test and this test from Education Planner, but don’t rely blindly on the results – listen, first and foremost, to your intuition and examine your results carefully.
Whichever learning style you prefer – on-the-job training is the perfect way to expand your knowledge and hone your skills. Targeted training and on-the-job learning also have the advantage that you can immediately apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to your daily working routine.
To implement on-the-job learning and make it a resounding success, it’s important that you have the right tools to monitor the progress your staff are making. Skills matrices are the perfect tool for doing just this. They provide a schematic snapshot of everything your staff can and can’t do. Knowing this provides a whole host of benefits!
If you opt for special-purpose skills management software, rather than overly complex and error-prone Excel spreadsheets, then you can view and edit information about skills, competences, and qualifications in real time – anytime, anywhere, anyplace. Having this information at your fingertips makes it quick and easy to implement training programs and allows your staff to discover their preferred learning style.