The 7 learning styles – and what they could mean for your team

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How would you describe your management style? Did you model your approach on a former boss, or do you try to do everything in your power to be the exact opposite?

There is, of course, no one way to lead a team, whether this is in a work environment, a sport or any other discipline.

So if bosses can achieve greatness in different ways, why would you treat your employees as one homogenous mass?

Look around your team. Closely analyse the personality of each employee, not just their assigned role in your organisation.

  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What motivates them?

Getting the best out of your team

Understanding the individuals in your team gives you the power to get the best out of them, in a way which makes them both efficient and happy employees.

Whether it’s lone-wolf Gemma, caring Caleb, or vivacious Vivian, each member of staff has their own individual motivations and ways of working.

The same applies to learning. One popular theory suggests there are seven common learning categories which correspond to our own individual personalities.

The 7 different learning styles:

1. Visual

Often caught doodling, the visual learner finds that pictures and images help them to process and retain information. Lively presentations, with pictures and video, are among the best ways to capture their imagination – and keep their attention.

2. Aural

For these learners, it’s all in the ears. Sound and music are their pen and paper, in mediums such as spoken instruction, podcasts, repeating aloud, song and rhyme.

3. Verbal

This group include the best communicators, relying on the spoken and written word rather than visual imagery. Their preferred learning techniques include discussions, debates, and presentations.

4. Physical

Kinaesthetic learning is this group’s forte, processing information through touch or acting out situations. Learning through games, role-play and physical scenarios are ideal methods.

5. Social

Members of this group rarely like to learn alone. They are happiest when learning through team activities such as debates, quizzes, presentations and games.

6. Solitary

The lone-wolves of any team, but this does not mean they have nothing to contribute. Although they prefer to work alone or self-study, teamwork can be encouraged through a range of group tasks. But they certainly prefer to be left to their own devices, learning through tests, reading, podcasts, videos, handouts, manuals and guides.

7. Logical

Facts, facts, facts – that’s all this group of learners care about. Logic, reasoning and systems are their modus operandi. Structured learning, looking at cause-and-effect or strongly fact-based tasks, scenarios and tests are their favourite learning methods.

Are the learning styles reliable?

Our Business Services Training Advisor, Sue Hampson, says you need to approach learning styles with caution: “Swansea University released a paper in 2021 that describes learning styles as ineffective and potentially harmful to learners.

Professor Phil Newton, of Swansea University Medical School, highlights the model is inconclusive – there is no evidence that matching up methods of learning to a particular style actually improves outcomes. What it could do is demotivate the learner if they’re incorrectly labelled and unfairly categorised.”

Professor Newton said: “A student categorised as an auditory learner may end up thinking there is no point in pursuing studies in visual subjects such as art, or written subjects like journalism and then be demotivated during those classes…”

Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic/Tactile learning styles are grouped together under the acronym VARK, and known as the VARK model. It was developed by Fleming and Mills in 1992.

How to incorporate learning styles into your management strategy

The seven learning styles theory sounds like an interesting topic for a podcast and can make for a pretty PowerPoint. But what could it actually mean for your organisation in practice?

The effectiveness of this theory depends on how well you know your staff and how much you are willing to invest in building them up to be the best they can be, which is ultimately better for business.

It can also help you improve your own learning.

If you were to give tailored training to every member of staff, chances are this would help improve their performance and levels of satisfaction.

However, this would not only be hugely time-consuming, it also fails to address the complexities of each employee’s character and divides the group.

And if you’ve got one vivacious social learner in a team of introverted solitary learners, how do you ensure everyone’s learning capacities and preferences are catered for?

The answer is making training as diverse as possible, so everyone is involved but each individual can find a task that optimises their own learning speed and retention.

Variety is important in learning, to keep your audience stimulated.

Challenge yourself

Use the seven learning styles as inspiration to create different learning techniques and methods, tasks to complete both in a group and alone.

Creating a suite of templated learning materials that are branded and consistent in format and style might seem time-consuming at first, but will reap huge benefits later on.

Regarding more creative ways of learning, why not ask the social and visual learners in your team for their ideas – getting them more involved in the process and coming up with innovative games and role-play scenarios and other team activities.

The aim of these activities should be to include others, such as logical and solitary learners, encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone.

And getting the office chatterbox to sit down alone to concentrate on a test ensures they don’t just learn the topic at hand, but also how to work autonomously instead of relying on other team members.

Try using the learning methods grid to map learning methods to the learning styles they cater to – place a tick or cross in the relevant boxes. Can you think of other ways to engage your seven learning groups?

Get a free copy of the learning methods grid here.

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Andrew Wallbridge
Andrew is TSW's Head of Leadership & Management. He’s coached and mentored leaders and the senior management teams at international brands.
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