Why Learning Styles Are Meaningless

A Blueprint for “Making Training Work”

Training companies and professional trainers in general have some standard tricks that they use like a blueprint. They claim that this blueprint is based on scientific research, and that it works – it makes people learn.

To see this blueprint in action, attend a training program on any professional skill – sales, negotiation, leadership, marketing, even training or instructional design. Doesn’t matter what, just that it’s run by a professional training company. Tell me if you experience any of the following things:

– A PowerPoint presentation
– A workbook that is 60% text, 20% images, and 20% writing space
– Small group activities, which could be things like role plays, group discussions, or stuff like “trust building” exercises
– Props to “touch and feel”, related to the training content or not
– A guest speaker presentation
– Posters or other images scattered around the venue

This is the Blueprint. Make sure your training program has these things, and it will work. Pretty much every professional workshop includes pretty much everything on this list.

But why?

Your Learning Style

Do you give people directions by describing the path, or by drawing a map? Do you buy a product based on the way it looks or the way it feels? Did you learn how to cook by reading a recipe, or watching your Nanna make mongoose and rhubarb pie just the way you like it?

According to learning theorists from days gone past, the answers to these questions and others can say a lot for the way that you like to learn. Finding out the learning style of your participants is the key to burning information deep, deep inside their brains. They are rapt with attention, soaking up knowledge through your logic, your sharp visuals, from the scintillating group discussions and the tactile, yet pragmatic learning props.

And as a learner, understanding the way you learn, and getting information into your head in the most effective way possible, will make you unstoppable. It will speed up your learning capacity, give you those wonderful moments where everything just clicks, and accelerate you beyond your peers like that dude in Limitless (probably without getting laid as much, but you never know).

Or will it? Take some time to complete one of the more popular learning styles questionnaires here, or here, or even this “thinking style” questionnaire, here. When you’re done, ask yourself one question…

How would this knowledge change the way you would teach, or learn, what you needed to teach, or learn?

Suppose you’re teaching a group of kinaesthetic learners how to make the perfect Philly Cheesesteak. You’re obviously going to let them practise, but if you just stopped there, how many of them would remember how to do it? Why not give them a recipe to follow? And while you’re at it, why not include diagrams? That way, in a month’s time, they can jog their memory with the visual aids and let the hands remember how to make that amazing sandwich.

How about if you personally wanted to learn Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change. Now, a pragmatist would read case studies and discuss real world scenarios. But to remember the sequence of the steps themselves, why not create a mnemonic like a theorist would? What’s wrong with talking over the steps with a colleague in 2 weeks time, even though that’s what an activist would do?

In reality, changing modalities – the tools and mechanisms through which information is presented and applied – works for everyone, regardless of learning style, because people have hella-short attention spans, and therefore need variety in modality regardless of what their preferred learning style is.

At any rate, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The work you put into the course you’re attending is meaningless if you don’t practise or revise what you’ve learned.

Back to the Blueprint

So, now you know what to expect every time you attend a decent training session. Make no mistake, this is what a good trainer should do – make things engaging, mix up presentation styles, incorporate play and get learners to use the information. Just know that it’s the bear minimum of what should be done, and that finding a course that matches your learning style is nowhere near as important as finding a training program with real-world outcomes and a plan for learners to consolidate their learning.

But be wary of any trainer that has no follow-up program or consolidation plan that accompanies their course. If they can’t tell you how to continue on your learning journey once the course ends, then they’re just going through the motions, relying on one of their modalities to match your learning style, without a clear idea of their intended outcome. At the very least, they don’t really care that much.

And if you’ve learned something today, don’t stop at the article you read on the Internet. Put this information into practise. Make a list of the key things you have taken away from this article, and use one of them practically tomorrow. Revise all of them in three days. If you’ve gotten through two weeks without practising everything you learned, you’ve probably forgotten most of it.


Happy learning,


Why Learning Styles Are Meaningless

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