Learning Styles

Understanding and using learning styles to make your training stick…

Learning styles are something that a lot of L&D professionals know something about.  Originating from the work of Gregory Bateson and Kolb, the four learning styles of Activist, Pragmatist, Theorist and Reflector were developed and popularised by Honey & Mumford some 30 years ago. They have gone on to become one of the most widely used models for understanding how people approach learning differently.

In summary, the four styles are:

  • Activist: Enjoy new experiences, enthusiastic about new ideas, can act first and consider the implications later, enjoy team tasks
  • Theorist: Like to think problems through step-by-step, can be perfectionists, like structured situations with a clear purpose, enjoy questioning and probing ideas
  • Pragmatist: Are eager to try things out, may be impatient with long discussions, like models and concepts that they can apply, often practical in their approach
  • Reflector: Like to collect data, review and think carefully before coming to a conclusion, appreciate having time to think and prepare, often listen before contributing their view

Whilst everybody is capable of utilising all styles they often exhibit a preference for one or two which informs how they approach learning something new. When used in the context of you as a business trainer, these become ‘trainer styles’ and they can explain certain habits around your approach to design and delivery.

By not utilising all learning styles in your training you run the risk of creating a training programme that appeals to some but not all participants, is skewed by your preferences and does not maximise the chance for learning to take place.  We interviewed Peter Honey as part of our research for the Financial Times Guide to Business Training and he had some very insightful views on how trainers can utilise the concept of learning styles in their training to increase the chance of effective learning and, most importantly, transfer of the learning to the work environment.

Whilst the book goes into more detail on this topic, here are our top five tips to improve the effectiveness of your business training with learning styles:

  • Be aware of your own learning style preferences as a trainer
  • Consider how these preferences ‘infect’ the design and delivery of your training
  • Use learning styles as an integrated aspect of your business training – not just as an ice breaker
  • All learning styles are important for each of us to learn (not just the styles we prefer) so structure your training to appeal to ALL learning styles
  • Signpost how you are using learning styles as you deliver sections of your training so that, for example, activists know that you are consciously challenging them to reflect which may not be a preference of theirs.

Your learning style preferences will communicate themselves through your trainer style.  Developing an awareness of your style preferences enables you to develop greater flexibility in your training.  Flexibility is important in the context of learning.

For more information on learning and training styles and how to utilise these effectively in your business training we suggest you read the Financial Times Guide to Business Training.