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Training: recognise how your staff learn

The money’s been paid and the date is set.

Your staff are booked onto a training course and you’ve got high hopes for them coming back enthused and more knowledgeable. But just how do trainers make sure the delivery of their material strikes a chord with your employees?

It will come as little surprise that everybody experiences learning in different ways. But there are some well proven models which, when used as a guide, can be invaluable in the tailoring of training and its delivery.

The Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic learning styles model, usually abbreviated to VAK, provides a simple way to explain and understand an individual’s learning style.

The original VAK concepts were developed by psychologists and teaching specialists in the Twenties.

According to, a free learning and development resource run by Alan Chapman, VAK principles and benefits extend to all types of learning and development, far beyond its early applications.

“The VAK learning styles model provides a very easy and quick reference inventory by which to assess people’s preferred learning styles, and then, most importantly, to design learning methods and experiences that match people’s preferences,” Chapman says.

Visual learning involves the use of seen or observed things, including pictures, demonstrations, handouts, films and flip-charts. Auditory learning style involves listening to the spoken word, sounds and noises. Kinesthetic learning involves physical experience – touching, feeling, holding, doing; in a nutshell, practical hands-on experiences.

The VAK approach should be seen as incorporating a mix of styles. Everyone has a different combination of strengths and preferences. No-one has one style or preference. So trainers and trainees should bear this in mind when using these ideas.

In 1984, David Kolb, professor of organizational behaviour at Weatherfield School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, published his learning styles model, which gave rise to related terms such as Kolb’s experiential learning theory (ELT), and Kolb’s learning styles inventory (LSI).

Kolb’s learning theory sets out four distinct learning styles, which are based on a four-stage learning/training cycle. It offers both a way to understand individual people’s different learning styles and an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that is universally applicable.

Kolb includes this cycle of learning as a central principle of his theory in which experiences provide a basis for observations and reflections. These are translated into abstract concepts producing new action points and experiences. This process represents a learning cycle where the learner ‘touches all the bases’, meaning a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting.

Knowing a person’s (and your own) learning style enables learning to be tailored. That said, everyone responds to and needs the stimulus of all types of styles to varying extents – it’s a matter of using emphasis that fits best with the given situation and a person’s learning style preferences.

  • This is an extract from an article in the December 15 issue of AM. To subscribe click here.
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