Hand holding a pen to represent the read/write learning style

Learning Styles in the Workplace and Why They Matter

If you’ve chosen to read this article, as opposed to watching a video on this topic, then you’re likely someone who learns best from reading words on a page. We could say that’s your learning style. So how does your learning style impact you at work? Do learning styles in the workplace actually matter?

Think of times when you and coworkers seemed to have different ideas on how to best deliver and receive information. Maybe you, a reader/writer type, had a boss who insisted on giving instructions and assignments verbally. Maybe you had a teammate who believed you’d actually understand (and remember) how to use software if they only showed you how. Did these differences sometimes make your work life more difficult?

If so, knowing about different learning styles and identifying your own might have helped you articulate your challenges and advocate for your needs. But knowing your learning style isn’t just about coping; it’s also about capitalizing on your strengths.

The different learning styles

Although there are multiple theories and models that describe different ways of learning, the VARK model is the most popular. VARK stands for Visual (V), Auditory (A), Read/Write (R) and Kinesthetic (K). These four learning styles can be summarized as follows:

  • Visual (V) describes a preference for graphics. Visual learners are better able to understand and retain information when it’s conveyed in maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, patterns, and shapes.
  • Auditory (A) describes a preference for heard or spoken information. Auditory learners are better able to absorb information when it’s delivered through lectures, voice-over videos, and audio recordings. They also benefit from group discussions, thinking out loud, and paraphrasing.
  • Read/Write (R) describes a preference for text-based input and output (reading and writing). Reader/writer types prefer receiving knowledge through books, manuals, and written instructions. They also like taking notes to retain new information. 
  • Kinesthetic (K) describes a preference for concrete experiences, examples, and simulations. Kinesthetic types learn best by doing. Demonstrations, case studies, role-playing, project-based learning, and teaming up with a mentor are ways to engage kinesthetic learners. 

Learning styles in the workplace  

Understanding your learning style can help you become more effective at work. (Some even believe it can help you choose the right career.) Here are a few suggestions based on your learning strengths:

Visual (V)

If your learning style is visual, you can help your team build infographics and use drawings to help coworkers “see” what you are seeing. 

Auditory (A)

If your learning style is auditory, you’ll be the one on your team who is most comfortable making and taking calls. You’ll also benefit from reading documents out loud and having them read to you.

Read/Write (R)

If you’re a reader/writer type, you can volunteer to take notes in meetings. Make sure to tell others that you prefer to receive information in writing! 

Kinesthetic (K)

If your strength is kinesthetic, you’ll enjoy hands-on learning. There’s also a chance you’ll learn better while moving your body, so you might want to consider working from a treadmill desk. As a kinesthetic learner, you will likely benefit from discussing work with your teammates, as well as from leading or participating in brainstorming sessions.

Other preferences that may affect learning

Although VARK is the most popular model for describing learning styles, there are other learning theories and systems. Dunn and Dunn’s model, for example, also considers the factors below:

1) Environmental factors like sound, light, temperature, and seating design 

2) Emotional factors like motivation, or whether or not the learner benefits from an externally imposed structure 

3) Sociological factors, like whether or not the individual learns better on their own or in a group 

4) Time-of-day energy levels, or whether the individual learns better in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings

5) Psychological factors, like how the learner processes information and whether they are right-brained or left-brained

Why learning styles in the workplace matter

No matter what job you have or industry you work in, you have to collaborate with other people, or at the very least get instructions or assistance from them. Even if you work completely on your own, you still have clients you need to interact with. In all of these situations, understanding different learning styles is useful. 

Here are specific ways this knowledge can come in handy:

  • As an employee, being aware of your learning strengths and weaknesses can help you become more productive at work.
  • As a manager, understanding team members’ individual learning styles can help you become a better communicator.
  • As a business owner, simply being aware of different learning styles can help you diversify your message so that you can expand your reach. 
  • Finally, knowing the time of day when you are most alert, or whether you work better in silence or with background noise can help you pick the best jobs and workplaces for you.

What’s your learning style? If you’re not sure, you can take the VARK questionnaire to find out

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