Tap Into Different Learning Styles to Build a Better Team

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) blog recently shared a blog post about the pros and cons of using gamification in the workplace to facilitate learning. While the blog post itself was inconclusive, it’s an excellent reminder that some workplace learning strategies speak to certain learning styles over others, and that the most effective work environment comes from a combination of diverse learners.  

What are learning styles?

Learning styles refer to the education world’s research of how individuals learn. There are three main types: visual learners who learn by seeing (65 percent of the population), auditory learners who learn by listening (30 percent of the population), and kinesthetic learners who learn through physical activity (5 percent of the population).

The implications in the classroom are obvious, but effective recruiters should be aware of how these learning styles play out in the workplace, too. Variations in learning styles are far from detrimental to a workplace. Different learning perspectives blend to make a workplace more creative, analytical, and collaborative and provide recruiters with another way to build a diverse, flourishing team with a wide variety of skill sets and ways of comprehending information.

For example, having a group that represents visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners means that your team will be able to pick up on subtle clues from the body language, tone of voice, and movements of clients and team members. Each person will be able to provide input based on the information they gather using these learning styles, which will combine to create a comprehensive picture of the situation.

In this segment of our series on diversity, we’ll look at how learning styles play out in the workplace and how you can identify the learning style of a prospective employee to build a better team.

How learning styles play out in the workplace

Much like cultural diversity and age diversity, variation in learning styles brings some challenges into the workplace along with the benefits. Individuals who grasp information differently often experience difficulties in communication and clashes in management styles.

Here’s a look at how different learning styles take in data to give you an idea of how different teammates will interact in the workplace.

Understanding visual learners

Visual learners in the workplace learn through seeing. These employees typically prefer to be introduced to information with visual displays such as reports, diagrams, videos, flipcharts, and handouts. During meetings, visual learners also prefer to take detailed notes to help them absorb the information.

Visual learners tend to be analytical and thoughtful. They’re capable of deep analysis and insight so long as they can access and organize the information visually. When they communicate, they often prefer to receive information visually through handwritten notes or emails.   

Understanding auditory learners

Auditory learners learn best through listening. Instead of reports and diagrams, they prefer speeches and presentations. In-person speeches are better because give the opportunity to observe tone of voice, speed, pitch, and other nuances of live speakers. Auditory learners will often need to hear something said out loud or say it out loud to themselves before they truly understand the information.

Auditory learners tend to be good communicators. They can often interpret auditory clues quickly and respond eloquently with little preparation. When they communicate, they often prefer to talk over the phone or in person.

Understanding kinesthetic learners

Kinesthetic learners learn through doing, moving, and touching. Rather than read or listen to information, these learners prefer to jump right into the work to understand the details. These employees may find it difficult to sit still for a long time, and they may become distracted easily when confined to a meeting or cubicle.

Kinesthetic tend to be creative and energetic. They can solve problems intuitively once they can jump in and get their hands on the problem, and they thrive in an interactive environment. When they communicate, they often prefer to do so while they are doing something else, such as reorganizing their cubicle, doodling, or walking around the office.

Identifying candidate learning styles

Identifying learning styles is not an exact science. Some employees will have basic competency in all three learning styles as a habit of practice from their educational experience, while others will distinctively learn from one style or another.

The first step in identifying a candidate’s learning style is to ask them if they know their learning style; thanks to the widespread use of learning styles in public and higher education, many employees will be familiar with the way they interpret information. Then you can ask clarifying questions throughout the interview to verify the candidate’s comfort level with each learning style.

For example, ask the candidate if they prefer to take notes during meetings or to give their full attention to the person speaking. Visual learners tend to take notes, while auditory and kinesthetic learners do not. You can also ask how they prefer to communicate (by email, by phone, or in person) to understand how they would fit in with other learning styles within your workplace.

As you recruit to build an effective team for your company, keep learning styles in mind so that you can build a diverse team that will look at — and understand — projects and problems from all angles.