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Learning and Development - 18 August 2015

I’ve just come across compelling new research that blows apart what many of us have assumed to be true about adult education.

Ask people who teach for a living to share what they think is critical during the learning process, and most will say the training should be centred on learning styles. Which implies you need to use visual aids (such as videos) for visual learners, listening exercises (such as stories) for auditory learners, and activities (such as games) for kinaesthetic learners.

But what if I told you this widespread philosophy has actually never been proven empirically? In fact, a fresh study on this topic, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, has found there is absolutely no improvement in performance when a trainer teaches people based on their preferred learning style.

Here’s the reason: Just because an individual prefers a particular style does not mean that’s the style most suitedto successfully imparting the learning objectives.

What matters most is learning aptitudes. This means people should be taught how they can get the most out of all learning styles rather than just relying on their preference. For example, if someone is a visual learner, the solution isn’t to give them more visual-based training. The solution is to give them more auditory and kinaesthetic training so that all of their learning faculties are strengthened. This then transforms them into a more holistic student.

So here’s what this means for you:

- Consider teaching your employees not just what to learn but how to learn.
- Ramp up the use of learning styles that are the opposite of your team’s preferences.
- Design programs with the learning objectives in mind rather than the learner’s biases.
- Conduct testing after training programs to make sure information has been retained.
- Experiment. Embrace trial-and-error to see what works for you in your context.

After all, some of the best learning occurs when people are pushed out of their comfort zone. That’s indeed what stimulates behavioural change – and subsequently makes the learning experience so much more memorable.


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