Whether they realize it or not, people have two to three preferred learning styles. Think about it; when you have to learn something new, do you prefer to hear it, read it or touch it physically? Do you naturally make up songs about things? Do you see the patterns in something new? Or do you learn best when you can discuss it with someone? Whatever your answer, that's your preferred learning style.
As a manager, how can you best incorporate this fact into working with your team? First, we can all agree that the role of manager is a multifaceted one. To name a few things, they manage interpersonal relationships (scuffles included), make sure communication is effectively being shared between departments, monitor team goals and milestones, and work hard to maintain organizational culture.
One key managerial skill is being able to teach teams new skills, outline company initiatives and engage them in departmental and company goals as they evolve. That's where the seven learning styles comes in.
If you want to reach your team in the most effective way possible, take into account that they are all individuals, and they learn best in their own way. If you cover all of your bases when working with your team to share new information, you have a much higher chance at success.
Let's take a look at each of the seven learning styles, and explore different ideas for using them to improve team management.
The Seven Learning Styles
1. Spatial Learners
Interconnected ideas rather than linear, sequential processes are easier to digest for spatial learners. Bulleted lists don't do it for this crowd. This learning style leans heavily on patterns and visual pictures to explain a concept.
Here are three examples of designing programs for spatial learners:
a) Image-based Power Point
Let's face it; it's hard to get away from Power Point presentations. When using tools as communication aids, it's important to understand their purpose and role. Visuals make it easier for spatial learners to recall or apply a concept. Powerful visuals can help your audience remember your content, which is at the core of knowledge transfer.
Presentation Zen is one of my favorite books to help fashion presentations for the visual learners. This presentation by Rachel Botson also uses great visuals to communicate her point.
b) Game Simulations
Game simulations make it easier for visual learners to create a memory link and better absorb the information. As an added bonus, gamifying content triggers learner's competitive instincts and often incorporates the use of rewards to drive action and increase engagement.
c) Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is an increasingly popular tool to effectively visualize and brainstorm ideas. Though this might be more difficult to do in a traditional setting, there are lots of online tools which help facilitate the creation of mind maps, providing an easy way for a group to brainstorm together, versus the traditional outline model. Mind mapping can also be incorporated in a variety of ways to assist in planning presentations. Mind Tools has a great article explaining how to use mind maps effectively.
2. Linguistic Learners
Written words best explain a concept to these individuals, so activities involving reading and writing appeal the most. Spoken word can also be effective with this crowd.
These learners respond best to reading and writing assignments, so think of how to incorporate blogging, articles, white papers or online discussion boards (which allows for a written response, unlike in-person group discussions) into the discussion. These learners also like to debate, so assignments that look at two sides of an argument can be an effective way for these individuals to apply knowledge and increase engagement.
3. Intrapersonal Learners
Using auditory information, and then allowing the participant a time of internal reflection, best helps these learners retain information.
These individuals like to control their environment and take in new information at their own pace, which allows them time to process and think about a matter deeply. Two examples that best demonstrate this style are:
Radio shows have received a comeback through the form of podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is This American Life, which distills two to three short stories with common themes and presents them to listeners in an hour-long podcast. These engaging podcasts allow listeners to absorb the information while also prompting them to think deeper as the show continues.
Sometimes traditional lectures are essential to make your point; however they can still be peppered with the other learning styles mentioned here. Make sure you insert questions and other activities throughout lectures in order to keep listeners engaged.
4. Interpersonal Learners
Using group dynamics to explain a concept is most effective for this group of learners.
Dynamic conversations can be a fantastic way of explaining concepts, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. Discussions can integrate other engaging activities, such as role-play or games to get the discussion going. Planning ahead is necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. Do you want participants to remember and understand a concept, apply and analyze on a deeper level or evaluate and create something new? One tip is to ask open-ended questions that prompt, justify, clarify, extend, redirect and help guide group discussion.
5. Musical Learners
Using music as the trigger to remember new knowledge is powerful for this group of learners.
Playing The Who's song, Talkin' Bout My Generation, during a presentation to Baby Boomers helps this group of learners remember that time in their lives. This then evokes a powerful memory, which keeps them engaged during the training.
6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Learners
Using the bodily senses to describe and 'feel' a concept help this learner remember new knowledge.
Do you exhibit at conferences? If so, let the conference attendees touch your product so they can physically experience the product features. If this type of in-person exchange isn't possible, think of how you can demo your product and use the web to relay this in-person, sensory concept.
7. Logical-Mathematical Learners
Using mathematics to describe a concept allows this audience to effectively learn new information.
Graphs and data can really bring it home for these learners, as they are both visual and applicable. One of my favorite presenters is Hans Rosling who brings statistics to life here:
After learning about the seven learning styles, it's easy to see that the classic face-to-face, live, team meetings, in which employees sit for three to six hours listening to the 'person in charge', is not always effective. In fact, in today's world, technology can be a great aid for managers as they approach their teams with new information, initiatives and goals.
The most important thing to remember is to incorporate as many of the seven learning styles as possible into each opportunity you have to work with your team. Be creative and thoughtful. It will help your team members learn better, be more engaged, and have more fun.
Can you pinpoint your preferred learning style or styles? I'd love to hear about how you like to learn, and why that particular style works for you. Let's discuss in the comment section below, by email, or on Twitter.