Business training: why fish can’t climb trees (and shouldn’t have to)

Everybody learns differently. Training your team to understand their job using the same learning styles, then, is moot. Read our blog and find out how to customise your training to every learner type.

Comic strip about learning styles

You’ve heard the old adages. Fish and trees. One-size fits all. Education is the cookie-cutter and you’re the dough. We all have our own learning styles, and to dismiss that fact when setting up or revising your business training process is to be part of the problem.

We’ve talked about why this matters before, but here are some examples and tactics to guide you.

Visual

‘My visual memory works great… I also organise my life in diagrams and lists and find it really exciting when I can understand something complex through a super simple illustration or diagram.’ – Ioana, Designer at Turbine

Firstly, visual learners are holistic thinkers, so a traditional systematic approach to training won’t be as effective. Instead, outline overall goals and talk about the bigger picture at the start. For others, this might be intimidating, but for the visual learner, it’s the canvas for them to paint on.

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Visual learners prefer to choose their own starting point, so create a training strategy that has independent modules. Let them pick where to begin. This way, you are not imposing an unnatural structure. You need a new employee to be trained in all relevant responsibilities, so the order shouldn’t really matter.

Instead of offering them thick training manuals, lists or a pile of recommended reading, try more visually-oriented tactics. Explain things with diagrams. Take advantage of video guides for learning software. Use infographics and presentations with stimulating imagery. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Auditory

‘I definitely learn from speaking aloud what I’ve written down and/or hearing other people talk. I have a pretty decent memory, so I remember things people have said easily. I back it up with bullet pointed notes though.’ – Claire, Copywriter at Turbine

The auditory learner is all about listening and repetition. They tend to have strong memories that are easily triggered by a word or phrase. For them, having a one-to-one instructor there to answer questions and walk through processes is invaluable.

Another opportunity for talking over processes is in group discussion. For example, if you are training several employees on a new customer relations management system, get them to solve problems such as a scenario in which a customer is experiencing a typical issue. Don’t worry if some people are quiet, your auditory learner could be a talker or a listener.

Part of business training needs to be self-driven, so ensure there is a quiet space (or at least a judgement-free zone!) for the auditory learner to listen to material and repeat things aloud. Have your training material in an audio form as well as written. If you have the resources, the visual and auditory learner would thank you for videos. Both work well for these learning styles.

Written

‘My entire life is organised by lists and diagrams. I carry a notebook with me that’s just full of lists, drawings, flow charts – it keeps my head clear. When I’m writing something, it almost always starts off as a huge list. And I learn things and pick up new skills by reading about them and watching people do them.’ – Grace, Copywriter at Turbine

You will notice there are three quotes from copywriters at Turbine in this blog. Yet, not all writers learn best from reading and writing. Remember that no matter your business or people’s personalities, their learning styles are not necessarily what you think they might be. By offering flexible options, you will get the best out of your employees.

Saying that, reading and writing is well-accommodated for by traditional training methods. It’s the familiar go-to. Read the material, write the essay – for some, this is ideal.

Give these learners all the material you have to offer. Manuals, books, articles, lists – they want to sit and absorb. Immersion is key. Provide some structure for time-sensitive training though, because they can end up down the rabbit hole, trying to find the end of the story.

If you are giving a presentation, make sure these employees have a handout as well. And they will write notes. Lots of notes. They might not ever read them, but like the auditory learner, the act of expression is important.

Tactile

‘When it comes to learning, I prefer doing, failing and then learning from that failure. Sure, I’ll read instructions and watch videos, but you don’t learn anything until you give it a shot and realise what to do better next time.’ – Callum, Copywriter at Turbine

A tactile learner is a minimalist. They will be overwhelmed or disengaged by business training tactics that put ‘learn and think’ before ‘do’. For them, that is backwards.

So, what does work? If your new employee needs to learn how to use Excel, sit them in front of a spreadsheet and let them play around. Give them a task. Then, come back and fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Be consistently encouraging and don’t be quick to judge failure. Let failure be an integral part of the journey to success. Business training for a tactile learner is more about your attitude and openness as a teacher and manager.

Keep at it

Everyone does a little bit of everything. For most, some tactics work better than others. Your first step should be getting people to define their preferences, perhaps by using a questionnaire. Then, make sure training is not a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ deal. Be continuously mindful and allocate time for learning and development to make education a normal part of your employees’ life. As it should be!

With millennials taking over the workplace, the emphasis is on culture and self-mastery as a motivator, not money. Yes, budgets might be tight and the time limited. But – your employees are your business, and you can’t expect maximum output from minimal input. So, make your business training environment work for your employees and they’ll surprise you.

Who knows, they might have been fish all along…

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One comment on “Business training: why fish can’t climb trees (and shouldn’t have to)

  1. Heather Townsend

    Lovely article but for one critical problem. The ‘learning styles theory’ has been debunked and never proven. But why let the truth inconveniently get in the way…

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