Have you ever found yourself thinking any of the following?

I’ve TOLD her how do do that before, she should know.  
I really wish you didn’t need to know so much detail about this really simple task —  stop asking questions and just get it done. 
He just doesn’t listen.

Perhaps what these (or similar) statements reveal are actually clues that you might be able to use to learn about someone’s learning style.

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford  came up with their classic learning styles model several years ago in a clever and simple way to demonstrate how we learn as individuals, and in particular, how we take in information.  They devised a questionnaire that probes general behavioral tendencies. Their reasoning is most people have never consciously considered how they really learn. They also postulate that people prefer different methods of learning, depending upon the situation and their experience level. Because of this, they tend to move between the four modes of learning, rather than being dominantly locked into one mode.
Some of us prefer to study in depth before we tackle a task; others prefer to jump in and learn as we go along. Some of us are satisfied when the methods we use get the job done; others are more concerned with why a particular approach proved successful. Yet others spend time thinking through how the task could be tackled more effectively next time.

For example, a pragmatic person is someone who needs a solid application for what’s being said or what they’re being asked to do.  The pragmatist in us needs to be convinced of this particular request, this task’s importance, and its context into the bigger picture. They don’t need a massive amount of detail about it. So if you happen to be working with a pragmatist, remember that they just need some wording from you on how this will WORK for them.

A theoretical person, on the other hand, is someone that prefers a lot of detail and is more likely to ask lots of detailed questions. In fact, these may be questions that they already know the answer to: they just want to test their assumptions. To a non-theoretical person this may seem pedantic. But it’s important  to keep in mind how beautifully important  detail is to some.

The reflective learner is less likely to be upfront about their needs.  They are generally found to be the hardest to ‘read’ and may even seem a little too tentative in their request of information.

As you might expect, the activist learner isn’t afraid to jump in. Their enthusiasm will strike you and be instantly seductive, but it’s not always sustainable.

As a leader, it’s up to us to adapt to all learning styles. Not just for those we work for, those we work with and those who work for us, we also need an understanding of our own learning style.

Think for a moment how your team like to take in information and consider how that impacts the way you distribute it to them.  Here are a few things to do that  might help:

  1. Test before you assess.  Ask some tentative questions to test your assumptions about the way some may like to learn.
  2. Think before you speak to each individual once their preferences have been established. Your map of the world is most likely different to theirs.
  3. As you build your flexibility of delivery, you can gently introduce ways to help each style be more adaptive to other styles.


Watch this quick video about Honey and Mumford’s learning styles: