How different learning styles make a difference at work

October 1, 2021 - 19 min read

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What are the different learning styles, and how do they work?

7 learning styles

Can one person have several different learning styles?

Learning styles in the professional life: How are they useful?

So, which of the different learning styles is best?

A learning style can be thought of as an individual’s unique way of learning that fits them best.

You may have noticed it’s easier to understand a new concept when someone explains it to you instead of reading about it. This is one example of different learning styles. 

It's important to recognize that learning styles has largely been debunked as a concept that should guide personalized learning.

Everyone has preferences, but they can still learn in multiple ways.  In fact, there's no evidence that people learn better when material is presented in a way that matches their preferences.

You won't learn the material better. But, you might find it more enjoyable or stick with it longer. That's why it's useful to consider learning styles.

Figuring out which ones work for you can give you a competitive advantage in your professional life. That’s because constantly learning new information is the key to your career path and growing and excelling in your career.

As adults, we usually have a choice of formats and modes to learn in. Understanding your learning preferences can help you make deliberate choices about where and how you seek additional learning.

Let’s explore the seven different types of learning styles and what the best way to learn is for you.

What are the different learning styles, and how do they work? 

Everyone learns information in different ways. Some find it easier to visually understand concepts through the use of images, while others prefer a more hands-on learning approach.

This is the idea behind the learning styles theory. An individual learns best when the information is presented in a way that matches their learning style. 

For example, let’s say you’re a visual learner. Graphs, images, and maps are likely some of the best ways for you to understand and remember new information. On the other hand, an auditory learner may prefer learning information by listening to a lecture. 

One of the most popular learning frameworks is Neil Fleming’s VARK model. VARK stands for: 

  • Visual 
  • Auditory 
  • Reading/writing (verbal) 
  • Kinesthetic (physical)

According to VARK, there are different strategies you can use to better absorb information once you figure out what type of learner you are. 

The VARK theory suggests that understanding your learning style can help you learn more efficiently. For this reason, incorporating the various learning styles gained significant popularity in the education field. Understanding the different learning styles for students helps educators learn how to accommodate different learning styles and methods into the classroom. 

But the concept of learning styles isn’t limited to the classroom. The way you learn can impact your professional life as well. That’s because you constantly need to learn new information throughout your career in order to stay competitive. 

Knowing your learning style (or styles) could help you sustain the motivation to gain new skills or help you prepare to take on a new role.

7 learning styles 

Depending on where you look, researchers have proposed over 70 different types of learning styles. Right now, we’ll only focus on seven of the most influential learning modes. Let’s take a closer look at each one: 

1. Visual learner

A visual learner retains new information best when it’s conveyed or highlighted by visual aids. These could be: 

  • Maps 
  • Graphs 
  • Diagrams 
  • Patterns
  • Shapes 
  • Videos
  • Visual presentations

For visual learners, the way the information is presented is almost as important as the information itself. In other words, visual learners prefer learning materials that have a nice layout, color, or design. 

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Visual learners are often people who are observant, organized, and good at visualizing concepts. Here are some ways visual learners like to absorb new and complex information: 

  • Color coding ideas using highlighters
  • Using flowcharts and graphs to understand concepts
  • Drawing to explain an idea 
  • Using audiovisuals 
  • Creating doodles of ideas shared during a meeting, rather than notes

2. Auditory learner 

As the name suggests, auditory (or aural) learners need to listen to new concepts to fully understand them. For instance, an auditory learner might repeat a definition out loud a few times to remember it. 

At work, auditory learners can benefit more from attending a corporate training seminar than by reading a learning manual. 

Aural learners like hearing instructions and may enjoy listening to audiobooks and recordings. Other activities auditory learners prefer are: 

  • Giving presentations 
  • Participating in corporate learning opportunities like group discussions, seminars, or training sessions
  • Readings things out loud
  • Explaining and describing concepts to others 

3. Verbal learner 

Verbal or linguistic learners use written and spoken words to understand new information. They find it easier to retain information by either reading about it in a book or writing about it. 

Similar to auditory learners, verbal learners benefit from collaborating with team members. They also benefit from engaging in healthy debates with peers. They express themselves with ease and are good listeners. If you’re a verbal learner, you may find these techniques helpful:

  • Using flashcards to learn definitions
  • Role-playing with peers
  • Writing down your work tasks
  • Learning a hard skill by reading an instruction manual 

4. Physical learner 

Also known as kinesthetic learners, physical learners make up a mere 5% of the population. Kinesthetics are hands-on learners that value experiential learning. This type of learning involves immersing yourself in a real-life situation. This helps you fully understand and process new concepts. 

For instance, employees going through leadership training would prefer practicing their leadership skills in a real-life scenario. This could involve attending management meetings or leading a team project. Other examples of kinesthetic learning include:

  • On-the-job training 
  • Practicing a skill using role-playing 
  • Giving real-life examples to explain a concept 
  • Hearing real-life examples 
  • Looking for opportunities to apply what you learned 
  • Working in a team 

5. Social learner 

These social butterflies learn best by immersing themselves in a peer learning or group learning environment. They enjoy interacting with their peers using verbal and nonverbal communication

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Social or interpersonal learners tend to be good listeners with high emotional intelligence (EQ). These qualities make them easy to be around. Their social nature also makes them a great fit for self-managed teams, where collaboration is a must. 

Here are some ways social learning can be implemented in an organizational setting: 

6. Logical learner 

Logical or mathematical learners take a more scientific approach to learning. They use logic and reasoning to make sense of new information. And, they naturally excel in organized and structured environments. 

They’re usually good with numbers and statistics. They can also easily recognize patterns. A logical learner can even find connections between things that seem unrelated at first glance. 

Activities that help logical learners thrive are:

  • Problem-solving
  • Time management practices like time blocking
  • Keeping to-do lists and staying organized
  • Following clearly outlined rules and procedures 
  • Breaking down information into charts and graphs 

7. Solitary learner 

Solitary or intrapersonal learners take a lone-wolf approach to learning. They tend to focus better when they learn on their own in a quiet setting. That’s why solitary learners may adapt to learning from a distance and working from home more easily than others. 

Intrapersonal learners are: 

Solitary learners tend to have a high level of self-awareness.

Because they have a high EQ, they’re capable of learning in a team environment, but they may need personal time to recharge. Solitary learners prefer activities like: 

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Can one person have several different learning styles? 

Although the learning styles theory is widely popular, it’s not without its flaws. The American Psychological Association explains that strongly believing you only fit into one particular learning style can be detrimental to your lifelong learning.

When you have fixed, unwavering beliefs about yourself as a learner and what you’re capable of, you don’t leave room for any change or improvement. 

People who hold these beliefs usually think learning styles are inherited and predict your career development and success. This belief would assume that a visual learner can only learn through visual cues and that this is unlikely to change under any circumstance. 

However, the reality is that each person can have more than one learning style. Even if you’re more visually or physically inclined, you can use different learning strategies depending on your circumstances. One mode of learning is rarely enough to fully teach a concept. Life isn’t exactly split up into compartments. 

That’s why most people are multimodal learners. A recent VARK Learn survey revealed that 66% of participants were multimodal learners.

Multimodal learning combines different learning modes that engage multiple senses simultaneously. Using a combination of visual, auditory, verbal, and kinesthetic styles helps people understand and remember more information. 

Some multimodal learners switch between different styles depending on what they’re learning. You’ll probably use a kinesthetic learning style to learn public speaking skills. And you’ll likely use a verbal or auditory style when you’re memorizing a definition. 

At the same time, you may prefer to study alone for a certification exam but enjoy brainstorming ideas at work in a group setting. 

Multimodal learning can increase the quality of teaching because the content is delivered in the best mode of learning for the students. It doesn’t assume that each individual has a learning style that they’re obligated to conform to. 

What might multimodal learning look like in an organization? 

Let’s take a workshop that teaches mindfulness, for example. It can begin with videos explaining mindfulness to engage employees’ aural and visual senses. Afterward, students might be encouraged to participate in group activities practicing mindfulness. This engages their kinesthetic learning style. Then, the workshop could end with a self-reflection writing assignment that touches on the solitary learning style. 

A multimodal learning approach embraces different learning styles. This makes employees feel more comfortable and engaged.

Learning styles in the professional life: How are they useful? 

Learning is an essential part of your professional life. If you want to achieve your professional goals, the best thing to do is to keep acquiring new knowledge and skills. The more you learn, the more prepared you become to advance in your career and take on new challenges. Learning also makes you more resilient in the face of change and challenges.

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So, where do learning styles come into play? 

When you understand your learning style (or styles), acquiring knowledge and skills becomes a lot easier and quicker. Knowing your learning style enables you to upskill or reskill more efficiently.

You can also make your managers and mentors aware of your preferred learning method. This helps them tailor future employee development and training activities to fit your style. 

For example, digital learning is a great multimodal training and learning method for most employees. A 2020 study found that digital learning stimulates all your senses and caters to a variety of learning styles at once. Digital learning also increased students' motivation regardless of their learning style. 

Digital or e-learning is also being prioritized in the workplace. In 2020, 90% of companies used e-learning in their training. 

Familiarizing yourself with your learning style can also help you identify roles that fit your skillset. According to Indeed, an auditory learner may be drawn to roles that demand: 

These roles could include law, customer service, sales, or coaching, to name a few. 

Learning styles can sometimes nudge you in the right career direction. But regardless of what your learning style is, you can choose any career you want. 

So, which of the different learning styles is best? 

Is there one method among all the different learning styles that works best? 

No, there isn’t a secret formula that yields the best learning outcomes. That’s because no approach is better than the other. 

The best way to learn is to understand your own style or styles of learning. What you’ll find is that learning styles aren’t set in stone. They’ll change, intertwine, or evolve depending on your circumstances. 

Think about your learning preferences. What tools make it easier for you to soak in knowledge? Do you prefer working alone or in a group? You most likely gravitate towards certain methods more than others. Then, knowing what kind of learner you are gives you a competitive edge in your professional life and beyond. 

Need help uncovering your strengths? A BetterUp coach can help you reach your personal and professional growth goals. Request your custom demo today.

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Published October 1, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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