Typically, adult learners gravitate to a dominant learning style. We are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Many of us are a combination of two styles and it is very common to move in and out of all three learning styles depending on context. For example, if you consider yourself exclusively a visual learner, you might adapt quickly to auditory learning if you hear someone yell, “Fire!”
I am confident that conscious awareness of my learning style as a facilitator can most certainly influence my facilitation of the learning process. I am a very visual person, and as such, tend to design my training around presentations that are visually stimulating. I am also kinesthetic, so I enjoy group activity and stories and videos that touch my audience. With that said, I try to remind myself that my learning style isn’t the same as others. I realize I am visual/kinesthetic, but know my participants will vary in all sorts of combinations and styles.
I have learned to not try to coerce a person with a dominant style to engage in an activity that will cause them more stress than learning. That is not to say I do not encourage them at all — I just try to not be pushy.
There is a fine balancing act associated with learning styles. Some instructional designers think emphasis on learning styles is overrated. In Stop Wasting Resources on Learning Styles, Ruth Clark wrote:
“The idea of learning styles is so seductive because we all have intuitions or preferences regarding how we learn best. And it seems so straightforward that a learner with a visual learning style would learn best from a more visual presentation compared to a person with a kinesthetic style who would benefit from a more hands-on experience. As logical as it seems, we simply don’t have evidence to support it.”
Her assumptions swing the pendulum far in the opposite direction of Linda Russell in The Fundamentals of Adult Learning who asserts that facilitators should:
“Use all three learning modes (kinesthetic, visual, and auditory) in every 20-minute teaching interval.”
The key, I think, is to not gravitate to a radical extreme. As a facilitator, attempt to incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements into all aspects of your training activities. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If your presentation is primarily lecture (auditory), then plan a small group follow-up discussion and ask people to diagram what they learned (visual/kinesthetic). If your presentation is video-based (visual), then plan a written exercise (kinesthetic) or exit interview (auditory) to reinforce what participants learned.
By not gravitating to a radical extreme and consciously paying attention to the various learning styles represented in your employee pool, you set yourself and your organization up for successful transfer of knowledge.