Learning Methods

Why Learning Preferences Are More Important Than Learning Styles

Young woman using a laptop at a desk to learn while taking notes

The VARK learning model is a popular model used to describe “learning styles.” The premise is simple – there are four learning styles (visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic), and when learners are accommodated to their preferred style, net retention and understanding increase.

While this approach is well-known and common even in corporate learning, there is no evidence suggesting that diagnosing and accommodating learning styles will help learners understand and retain information.

New York Magazine reported that the idea of people learning differently depending on their personal preference for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic cues is a “neuromyth.”

These neuromyths have been researched by many, and the common conclusion is that even though all sorts of research is out there advocating for the use of learning styles, very few have used methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles. Those that did actually contradicted the idea with their findings.

However, a recent study by Training Industry covered learning preferences to increase comprehension and retention of information, and the results suggest these are worth the attention of trainers and educators.

Learning preferences refer to how much a learner prefers certain educational modalities over others, such as watching a video online vs. in-person instruction. They differ from learning styles, because they don’t hinge on a learner needing all training to be delivered through one sense- visual, auditory, or kinesthetic- to learn best.

Rather, the research suggests that learners retain different types of training best through different delivery methods, so providing multiple modalities will be most effective for learning retention.

The study author, Dr. Amy DuVernet, discussed this topic with us on The BizLibrary Podcast, and these are the insights we’ve compiled about learning preferences.

Adult Learning Preferences

This might sound unexpected coming from a leading provider of online training content, but classroom learning is important – 55% of learners surveyed reported that instructor-led training (ILT) is their preferred learning method.

This means while roughly half of employees do prefer ILT, relying solely on classroom training leaves half of your workplace without their preferred learning method.

An ILT-only approach to training isn’t ideal, but it is a great start to a strong learning program.

Multiple Learning Methods Increase Effectiveness

Between coaching, online learning, and instructor-led training, using multiple modalities to deliver training has a strong correlation to increased training effectiveness.

We already understand that not everyone has identical learning preferences. Blending two popular modalities (such as elearning and ILT) is proven to have increased results.

A 2015 study in New York found that students in blended learning classrooms performed better than their peers – they scored 18% higher on reading tests, and 7% higher in math compared to students in traditional classrooms.

Blended learning is a powerful way to transfer information. It delivers information through multiple modalities, meaning learners are more likely to be instructed through their preferred modality.

Finding the right type of training for your company can seem daunting, but understanding how to blend a few different delivery methods can really give you that boost in training effectiveness and ROI that you’re looking to achieve. 

BizLibrary’s learning technology allows you to efficiently manage classroom sessions and online training all in one easy-to-use platform. Learn more about why training and L&D pros trust us for effective training delivery.

Generational Differences Might Be Less Important Than We Think

One of the questions we asked Dr. DuVernet, conductor of the Training Industry research study on learning preferences, is whether generational differences affected learners’ preferred style. She suggested no relationship between age and learning preference exists!

The idea that veteran employees dislike online training, or that millennials prefer online learning to other modalities, is a myth. Programs that rely on this strategy to determine their training delivery may be falling short of their full potential.

There’s a lot of applicable information we can learn from studying learning preferences. By focusing on offering multiple modalities, you can increase the effectiveness of your training program as you deliver training that aligns with multiple learning preferences.

Access the Learning Science for L&D ebook, where we’ve researched and analyzed the science behind adult learning and summarized several best practices for employee learning and development.

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Caroline researches and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at L&D and HR issues and industry trends and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.