When it comes to corporate learning and development, no two employees learn the same way. We all have preferred ways of taking in information, whether that’s visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic. This led to New Zealand educator Neil Fleming creating the VARK model in the 1980s to describe the different learning styles teachers and students could employ to maximize their ability to absorb new information.
Over the years, there’s been much debate as to how effective the VARK framework is for learners, with several studies1 showing mixed results when tested in exam conditions. But VARK remains extremely popular with teachers and educators, with almost 90% of those surveyed believing the model.2
Learning and development managers are always on the lookout for ways to better engage learners and make sure that new information sticks with their workforce, so it’s natural that businesses are looking for ways to cater to different learning styles in their corporate training. A learning management system (LMS) offers a helpful way for organizations to deliver content that’s tailored to the learning preferences of their workforce. Making sure employees achieve the same training outcomes, regardless of their learning styles.
In this piece, we’ll explore some useful strategies for adapting your LMS to different learning styles and show how you can create a more inclusive eLearning experience for your whole team by mixing and matching multimedia content.
Understanding learning styles
Before we dive into adapting your LMS for different learning styles, it’s worth taking a moment to understand each learning style.
respond best to visual learning aids such as charts, graphs, diagrams, and images.
find they learn best through spoken word, discussions, lectures and audio materials.
prefer written text, taking notes, reading textbooks, and writing out their thoughts.
feel they need to participate in activities to get the most out of learning. They prefer hands-on projects and physical engagement.
From the research, we can see that most people are visual learners.3 Although its easy to think of ourselves as purely visual or auditory learners, many have doubts about whether any learner is this binary. In a piece for The Atlantic, Polly Husmann, a professor at Indiana University, explained her hesitancy to embrace the model, “I think as a purely reflective exercise, just to get you thinking about your study habits, [VARK] might have a benefit… But the way we’ve been categorizing these learning styles doesn’t seem to hold up.”
A study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better, but the results didn’t align with the respondents’ learning styles. Essentially, all the learning style meant was that the subjects preferred words or pictures, not that words or pictures resulted in better performance. A closer look at the VARK Questionnaire reveals that although visual learners make up most of the “single preference” respondents, there are far more learners that could be described as “multimodal” or “trimodal”—learners who prefer a mixture of two or more types of learning content. This phenomenon, known as “the multimedia effect”, has been shown to improve learning across the board by offering teaching materials in a variety of different formats.4
It’s also worth considering what you’re trying to learn as well as how you’re trying to learn it. It would be significantly harder, for example, to take a course on contemporary classical music if the only learning materials available were textbooks. As such, it might be more effective for learning managers to provide a variety of instructional methods and content that’s best suited to the subject matter, while also offering choice to individual learners where possible. This way, learners can develop a range of skills and strategies that can be applied to different situations and subjects.
In education, the focus is now shifting from the idea of fixed “learning styles” towards something that might be described as "learning strategies", creating adaptable learning programs that allow learners to switch freely between the VARK modalities as the task requires. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering how best to create content that appeals to different learning preferences so that employees have the choice of how they want to engage with your content.
Customizing LMS content for different learning preferences
Now that we’ve defined the most common learning styles, it’s time to explore some of the best practices for creating learning content to suit them.
Visual eLearning content: When creating visual content for your LMS, it’s best to present things in a coherent style, in line with your brand guidelines. Create infographics, charts and images in a well-structured layout with clear headings, fonts, and color schemes. Where possible, use video and animations to keep your visual content dynamic. When creating video content, be sure to offer closed captioning to make your videos accessible to everyone.
Audio eLearning content: Auditory learners respond well to podcasts, audio descriptions, recorded lectures and discussions. It’s vital to ensure the quality of your audio is crystal clear and provide transcripts wherever possible so that learners can quickly and easily pull out useful quotes. For discussions, be sure to establish clear guidelines and participation expectations to encourage meaningful contributions. After all, no one wants to wade through rambling discussions looking for something useful.
Reading/writing eLearning content: For reading-focused learners, it goes without saying that your written content should be of a high quality, with comprehensive documentation that your team can consult when they need it. However, it’s also a good idea to think about how you can help learners who like to write and take notes.
Could writing a learning journal improve knowledge retention, encourage reflection, and develop critical thinking skills?
Kinesthetic eLearning content: Kinesthetic learners thrive on interactivity, so it’s a great idea to employ a blended learning approach to your training, mixing in-person sessions with virtual training modules. Using gamification techniques like leaderboards, badges and progression systems can help engage participants. But to really appeal to these hands-on learners, consider content like role-playing scenarios, interactive scenarios, and other practical exercises that test your team’s problem-solving skills.
It’s a good idea to remember that while different types of learning content appeal to different people, these VARK strategies each have tasks and topics to which they are better suited. It’s better, for instance, to use a kinesthetic approach to teach practical skills with simulations, role play and hands-on demonstrations, but kinesthetic learning has less utility when conducting something like compliance training. The key is to to think of these learning methodologies as a tool kit and decide when and where to apply each tool.
Personalization and multimodal learning
One of the great benefits of using an LMS for corporate training is the potential for creating personalized learning pathways for your employees. This is especially important when trying to cater to different learning styles, as one recent study found that over 70% of respondants preferred to learn by multiple sensory modalities.5 With an LMS-enabled training program, you can mix and match modules from different VARK modalities to create the perfect blend of learning content for each learner. Personalized learning also fosters a sense of inclusivity, accommodating diverse learning styles and ensuring that all learners have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Mixing things up with learning styles isn’t just a matter of preference either, it’s proven to work. As a learning leader, your job is to provide multiple avenues for your learners to access and interact with the content. As Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, told The Atlantic, “It’s much better to think of everyone having a toolbox of ways to think, and think to yourself, which tool is best?”
By incorporating regular quizzes and assessments into your learning programs and utilizing the data insights from your LMS, you can find out which content is most effective for each learner and adapt your training plan to suit.
Microlearning, blended learning, and asynchronous learning
There aren’t just different learning styles, but also different ways to learn that you can incorporate into your LMS-powered learning plan.
A microlearning approach, for instance, breaks your eLearning content into smaller, bite-sized modules that can be delivered on mobile so your team can learn on the go. Your LMS can deliver and organize these short modules and personalize them, so learners only see relevant content.
Blended learning combines in-person teaching sessions with online learning, something that’s especially effective with an LMS as your learning management system can quiz employees on what they’ve learned in person and offer a place to review lecture notes.
Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, refers to a method of training that doesn't require all participants to be engaged in learning activities simultaneously. Instead, it gives employees the content they need to learn at their own pace and convenience. An LMS-powered training plan can help ensure that even if your team isn’t learning together, they all receive the same knowledge.
An excellent example of these training methods in action is Procede Software, a learning provider of dealer management solutions for the commercial trucking industry. With dealerships across the U.S. and Canada, Procede Software has deployed Absorb LMS to provide eLearning opportunities as well as instructor-led training with webinars, checklists, videos and a full library of eLearning courses available.
Another successful application of Absorb LMS can be found in Mister Car Wash’s “Mister Learn” training program. Mister Learn uses Absorb LMS to deliver structured onboarding, professional development opportunities, and on-the-job training for over 7,000 users of both headquarters and field staff. New hires undergo between five and eight days of training,l including 5–10-minute micro-learning courses designed to target performance objectives.
Assessment and feedback
As with any learning and development (L&D) program, it’s important to track the progress and effectiveness of personalized learning experiences through your LMS. Start by conducting a pre-assessment of your workforce to act as a benchmark for training that can be compared to assessments later down the line. You can then use data analytics integrated with your LMS to monitor learner progress, participation and performance over time.
With advanced reporting and analytics features, your LMS allows you and your team to gain insights into how learners are engaging with the content you’ve provided, as well as their learning preferences and areas where they may need additional support. Alongside this, it’s vital to conduct regular surveys and feedback sessions with learners to gather qualitative data on their experiences and satisfaction with personalized learning content. Perhaps most importantly, it’s best practice to continuously review and improve your eLearning content based on feedback and data to make sure your workforce is getting everything they should be out of your L&Dprogram.
Embracing diverse learning styles with LMS
Effective corporate training requires a nuanced approach that accommodates the diversity of learning styles among employees. Learning management systems serve as invaluable tools for tailoring content to suit the preferences of each learner, ensuring consistent training outcomes. Understanding the four main learning stylescan help lay the foundation for the creation of more inclusive learning experiences.
However, while corporate learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, we shouldn’t think of learning styles as rigid categories either. By adopting a multimodal approach to delivering eLearning content, you can ensure that your employees get the most out of your corporate training regardless of their learning preferences. Your LMS can play a pivotal role in creating personalized multimedia training pathways that engage learners through a blend of relevant modules, regular assessments, and insightful feedback. This approach fosters inclusivity, ensuring all employees have an equal opportunity to succeed.
If you’re ready to explore some of the ways your LMS can help your business adapt to the different learning styles of your workforce, get in touch or book a demo today.