We Are Unique…So Are Our Learning Styles!

Individuals are unique. They think and behave differently, see things from diverse perspectives, have divergent values, and follow different beliefs. Our personality traits, motivators, formed assumptions, and the dynamics of many other aspects in the contexts we interact with and within shape our communication styles, approaches to comprehending, understanding, analyzing and interpreting issues, as well as the way we acquire and process new information, learn new skills, and gain new experiences. When it comes to learning, therefore, it is of no surprise that the nature of our learning experiences differ based on the aforementioned factors, and, to a great extent, we have preferences when it comes to the different learning styles, techniques, and approaches.

There is plenty of literature on individuals’ learning processes, the underlying reasons for differences in individuals’ learning, and the various learning approaches and styles.  Many scholars and researchers had tried to explain the reasons for the differences in individuals’ learning. On the other hand, invaluable contribution was made in trying to understand and categorize individuals’ learning styles.

What Are Examples of the Different Learning Styles?

One of the renowned theories and major contributions in this domain is that of David Kolb who explained that there are four learning styles that different individuals prefer. First, there is the Divergent learning style, where people who demonstrate it prefer feeling, watching, and gathering information to generate ideas, and form conclusions. The second is the Assimilating  learning style, which reflects a preference for learning about theories and abstract concepts. The third is the Converging learning style, which reflects a preference for experimenting with new ideas and exploring the practical applications of the abstract concepts and theories. Last but not least, individuals who prefer the Accommodating learning style learn better when engaging in “hands-on” experiences.

Another framework, which was presented by Honey & Mumford, was based on Kolb’s work; where they argued that there are four types of learners: Activists, who learn by doing; Theorists, who are interested in theories and abstract concepts; Pragmatists, who are typical experimenters;  and Reflectors who learn by watching,  observing, and reflecting on what happened.

Why is this significant in the Organizational Context?

It is critical and crucial for organizations, in general, and for employers, in specific, to understand that one of the main pillars of success for managing people is understanding that we all basically learn differently due to the fact that we all respond differently to the same stimuli, processes, approaches, and techniques.  

While the best way Theorists or Assimilators would learn is through models, facts (e.g. statistics), and abstract concepts in order to draw information, understand, analyze, and interpret, Convergents or Pragmatists learn best by practically applying these concepts and theories through problem-solving and case studies. Similarly,  Reflectors or Divergents prefer observation, imagination, reflection, and seeing/interpreting things from different perspectives (through brainstorming, paired discussions, being provided with feedback, etc.); while, Accommodators or Activists prefer the trial-and-error approach to learning, hence, discovery learning.

Differences between employees’ personalities and preferences, on a general level, account for these differences. An analytical person, who depends largely on facts and logic in gathering information, processing, and interpreting it is more likely to prefer the Assimilating learning style(Theorist); while an individual who values interpersonal relationships, discussions, and seeking understanding of issues from various perspectives is more likely to prefer the Diverging learning style (Reflector). Activists who prefer the Accommodating style are individuals who have higher openness to experience and are more of risk-takers; while, Pragmatists who prefer the Converging learning style tend to be more practical and realistic.

To conclude…

Understanding employees’ personalities’ profiles, likely behaviors, and their underlying motivations, is, therefore, the fundamental base for determining their learning styles and preferences. An organizations should, then, be individualizing and tailoring the training and development material, content, programs, and techniques to meet the needs of different employees, and match their preferred learning styles so as to get the best out of their learning experiences.

The significance of understanding employees’ preferred learning styles, and creating and maintaining the appropriate learning environment which embraces and accounts for these individuals’ differences should not, therefore, be underestimated.