008. Visual Learner or Auditory Learner? Neuroscience Says You're More!

How Neuroscience Unmasks the Truth about Learning

Welcome back to my fourth of twelve myth-busting issues. This time I’m turning to a widely accepted belief that's been circulated in classrooms, workplaces, and self-help books for decades: the idea that people are either visual or auditory learners.

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Think about it. When you're learning a new task at work, do you only read about it (visual), or just listen to instructions (auditory)?

Many of us have taken a test or quiz to determine our 'learning style.' We've been categorized as visual learners (learning best by seeing information), auditory learners (learning best by hearing information), or perhaps kinesthetic learners (learning best by doing). While these categories can feel insightful and personal, neuroscience presents a more nuanced picture.

Research shows that while people might have preferences for how they like to receive information, the idea of strict 'learning styles' is overly simplistic. In fact, most learning—whether it's remembering a list of facts, mastering a new skill, or understanding a complex theory—engages multiple senses and cognitive processes.

Think about it. When you're learning a new task at work, do you only read about it (visual), or just listen to instructions (auditory)? Most likely, you do a mix of reading, listening, discussing, and doing. It's this rich, multi-sensory experience that helps embed new information in our brains.

Let me share how this works in real life. A lot of my friends and colleagues love to listen to business podcasts and audiobooks. They take long walks and rides, culminating with a brain filled with new ideas. When I do that, it seems I hear about every other sentence and repeatedly find myself tapping the rewind button. Auditory learning is not my strength. BUT when I listen to a podcast or audiobook and have the opportunity to write down the words so I can see them, it’s like magic. It’s not that I can’t learn new things using auditory senses. It’s just not natural but with a few tweaks and practice, it works like magic.

Context also matters a lot. The nature of the material being learned often dictates which senses are most involved. Learning to play a musical instrument, for instance, is going to involve more auditory and kinesthetic processing, while learning to design a webpage will involve more visual and kinesthetic processing.

Brain Hacks

As we chart a course through the myth-laden landscape of 'learning styles', remember, we're not merely visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners - we're a dynamic blend of all three and more! But as a manager, understanding your team's learning preferences can be a game-changer in personalizing their learning journey and enhancing their performance. As a manager, what can you do?

Encourage Self-Reflection

Start by asking your team members to reflect on their own learning experiences. Encourage them to consider situations where they felt they learned most effectively. Was it during a hands-on workshop, a PowerPoint presentation, or perhaps a brainstorming session? Their answers can provide valuable insights into their preferred learning methods.

Observe Behavior

Observation can be a powerful tool in identifying learning preferences. Notice how your team members prefer to approach tasks. Do they dive right in, sketch ideas visually, or prefer to talk it out? These behaviors can hint at whether they lean more towards kinesthetic, visual, or auditory learning.

Communicate Openly

Don't be shy to have open discussions about learning preferences. This can not only help you understand how best to support each team member but can also foster a culture of understanding and respect for individual learning styles within the team.

Once you have identified your team members' learning preferences, you can adapt your management style and training approaches to meet their needs:

For Visual Learners

Provide plenty of diagrams, infographics, and visually rich presentations. A monthly "Sketch Your Success" session could be beneficial, where team members can visualize their progress, challenges, and strategies using sketches and diagrams.

For Auditory Learners

Incorporate more verbal briefings, podcasts, and audio-recorded instructions. Why not start a team podcast where every week a member discusses a new business trend or shares a successful case study? This way, auditory learners can relish the experience while broadening their knowledge.

For Kinesthetic Learners

Engage them in hands-on activities. Organize regular workshops and simulation activities. A 'Trial and Error' day, where they can learn new software or processes in a practical, no-pressure environment, can work wonders for kinesthetic learners.

By identifying your team's learning preferences and tailoring your management approach to suit them, you are not only debunking the 'one-size-fits-all' myth of learning styles but also cultivating a work environment that fosters growth, empowerment, and productivity.

Keep an eye out for our next brain-myth busting journey where we tackle the tantalizing question, "Do we truly possess a 'photographic memory'?" Until then, here's to nurturing diverse learning preferences and enhancing whole-brain learning

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Thanks for joining me again as I continue my myth-busting journey through the fascinating labyrinth of the human brain. I hope you’re enjoying my Brain Guide to Bossing series on debunking neuromanagement myths enough to share this with just two connections.

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Thank you and watch for next week’s myth: what neuroscience has to say about the “photographic memory.”

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