If not Learning Styles, then what?

Last week I wrote this blog post about why Learning Styles should be consigned to the bin. Not just my opinion on it, but because there is no research of any kind that supports the use of Learning Styles in the design or delivery of training/learning solutions.

For those who have trained for years using this type of model – and don’t forget, Learning Styles is many theories not just one thing – it can leave a sour taste. If I don’t use Learning Styles to design a course, then what do I use?

It’s a valid question.

The answer lies in our understanding of training problems / learning needs.

Often, business leaders will inform us of the problem they face. My team need communication skills training. My team don’t deliver their sales targets.

Then comes the request. Can you deliver the training course we need to fix either of those two problems?

A lot of trainers / L&Ders see this as their mandate to deliver for the business. That they can show their value by doing what was asked for. That they will have clear learning objectives.

LET’S TAKE A BIG PAUSE RIGHT HERE FOLKS.

Before you’ve even started designing or thinking about how you could deliver on the solution, consider these further lines of enquiry back to the business leader.

What change are you seeking from the training?

What are you doing to manage that need yourself?

How are you giving the team feedback on these needs?

What are the structures in place that either support what you’re asking for or hinder the outcome you’re expecting?

What have you tried already?

Who else is doing something impressive that you have seen?

How are the team measured on these needs?

Any one of those questions will start a further line of enquiry with the business leader. What I like about this performance consultancy approach is that you’re engaging the business leader and asking them to take responsibility for the results they’re seeking without defaulting to your training course / learning solution.

That whole process above will nearly always result in a different set of solutions – one of which may still be a course – but that doesn’t become the default option trainers are used to.

Then when it comes to the design of the thing, don’t start from the content side of things. The content is only important if you understand the context the team are working in.

Spend time with the team. Sit with them to understand what challenges they face with the training need identified. Use their input to inform the content you need to design for. Ask questions on what kind of practical solutions they want a training/learning solution to provide. Then design for those things specifically.

Through none of that does it matter what kind of learning preference the individuals may or may not have. You’re not delivering against their learning preferences – that’s not the business need. You’re delivering against their performance needs. That’s what will be measured.

There are many other options when it comes to thinking about the design of training / learning solutions including areas like user experience, behavioral economics, the 70:20:10 model, and experiential learning. Learning Styles has no place in the work we do.

It can be hard to have to re-learn what we know and trust, and if we can’t demonstrate that in ourselves then how are we hoping our learners will fare any better?

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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