May 2019 - The 21st century has brought a new dawn to the workplace with so many changes, from the way people communicate
to the formats in which work is produced. That said, one thing that hasn't changed is people's individuality in learning, with some finding that
it just comes naturally whilst others face an uphill struggle to process the same information.
Individuals all have their own 'optimised state' in which they learn most effectively and this can be influenced by a variety of
factors. Employers who are savvy enough to recognise the importance of individual learning patterns can utilise this knowledge to their advantage,
as increasing the ability of employees to absorb, process, retain and recall information can lead to transformative results in productivity,
efficiency and morale.
Understanding different learning environments
One of the ways in which an employer can help staff to improve their learning potential is through providing an optimal learning
environment; however, due to the vast array of differences between individuals, it may be impossible to cater for everyone. Additionally,
environments can and do change regularly and, given the diversity of work in modern businesses, employees could find themselves having to learn
at different office locations, whilst travelling, at home or in co-working spaces. Therefore, a key element in mastering successful learning is
also understanding how to be productive in any environment, rather than procrastinating and constantly waiting for the 'perfect' situation to
present itself before getting started.
Understanding different learning styles is the first step in mastering the ability to learn in any setting. It helps to identify
what elements should be recreated and what influences will be most effective for an individual.
Common learning styles
- Kinaesthetic - This means that the individual learns better with 'hands on' experience as they retain information best by actually carrying out the task, even if it's in a 'trial and error' situation.
- Visual - These individuals can learn best visually, for example in diagrams. However it's the symbolism that these learners work best with; any form of colour or imagery will truly catch their attention and help them remember.
- Aural - This is the group of people that learn best when taught verbally, whether that be via general discussions or directly spoken to.
- Linguistic - In this category, individuals learn best by taking the information they've read and re-writing it up in whatever form they prefer.
- Multimodal - These individuals take in information well through all forms of learning, although in some cases may have to go through each form in order to truly learn the information they've been presented with.
By empowering employees to take control of their own learning, organisations can effectively upskill their existing workforce, improve
motivation and boost productivity. Employees who quickly see the results of investing in their own learning and memory will realise the benefits both
personally and for the organisation, leading to greater adoption of the practices which have resulted in higher performance.
Good mental health and wellbeing
Whilst creating optimal conditions for learning is vital, of equal importance is good mental health and wellbeing, as employees who
are stressed, mentally unwell or are physically exhausted will be unable to learn effectively. In addition to providing adequate mental health and
wellbeing provisions in the workplace, it is also useful to include relaxation exercises or brief meditations before embarking on training sessions
to help employees to clear their mind, relax and focus on the tasks ahead.
The importance of questioning
A common technique which applies across multiple learning types is the art of questioning. Consider how easy it is to get engrossed in
a novel compared to trying to memorise the contents of a textbook; this is because when reading the novel, your mind is constantly trying to decide
what is going to happen next, creating theories and then reading on to find out whether you were right or wrong. This same pattern of questioning
can be applied to any information which needs to be learned and retained. Building questions into the learning process and encouraging employees
to challenge themselves with questions or predictions can help to keep employees engaged for longer, whilst also helping them to retain more
information. If they have predicted the right answers, they will be pleased with themselves and remember that success. If they were wrong,
they're actually more likely to remember it, along with the right answers for next time, as nobody likes to be wrong!
In summary, understanding the basics of how people learn is critical to developing strategies and environments which will help
employees to learn most effectively and be most productive whilst avoiding unnecessary distractions. Understanding that not all employees will
benefit from the same combination of factors and helping them to identify their own preferred learning style will empower them to take control
of their own learning, thereby improving their own abilities and career prospects whilst also benefiting the organisation. When supplemented
with effective stress management and relaxation strategies to minimise any emotional distractions, an organisation will be well on its way to
developing teams and departments that are consistently working at peak performance.