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How to Connect With Your Learners

Posted by Jeff Welch on 8/25/14 4:00 AM
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A learning style is defined as an individual’s natural pattern of acquiring and processing information in a learning situation. As individuals, we all learn differently. Thus, a learning style is an individual’s preferred way in which to learn.


The idea of individual learning styles has been around for decades and has had an influence on both training and education.


From Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” to David Kolb’s “Experiential Learning Theory,” there are many learning style models in existence. However, due to its practicality and simplicity, the VAK Theory is widely used in both the corporate and educational classroom alike. Dr. Neil Fleming, a New Zealand educator, has been credited with the research and design of the VAK learning style model.


The VAK Theory includes the sensory modalities of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. Sensory modalities are the basis of Fleming’s learning style model, as he suggests that individuals have a dominant or preferred way to learn based on either their sense of sight, hearing, or touch. However, research has shown that some people have a mixed or evenly balanced blend of all three styles. So how does this apply to training?


Visual Learning Style

Visual learners learn through seeing. They tend to think in pictures by visualizing mental images, and they may prefer viewing graphs, charts, and other visual aids. The visual learning style has two sub-categories: linguistic and spatial. Visual-linguistic learners tend to learn through written language, such as reading and writing actual words. Visual-spatial learners learn better with visual images such as pictures and diagrams.

As trainers, we can best connect with our visual learners by:

  • Using icons and graphics to reinforce learning
  • Using color to emphasize important points in text
  • Providing written instructions to activities and exercises


Auditory Learning Style

Auditory learners learn through listening. They tend to think in words rather than pictures, and they may prefer to listen to lectures, participate in discussions, and talk aloud.

As trainers, we can best connect with our auditory learners by:

  • Using mnemonic devices to assist with memory and retention
  • Using metaphors, analogies, and stories to demonstrate key concepts
  • Carefully explaining instructions to activities and exercises


Kinesthetic Learning Style

Kinesthetic learners learn through hands-on touch. They express themselves through movement and body language, and they may prefer to use their hands to create, build, or complete an activity.

As trainers, we can best connect with our kinesthetic learners by:

  • Facilitating hands-on activities and exercises
  • Encouraging them to take notes during classroom instruction
  • Providing them with table toys such as koosh balls, Play-Doh®, or pipe cleaners to keep them engaged


Despite its widespread acceptance and application, the VAK Theory is not without its critics. Opponents of Fleming’s model suggest there is little evidence that adapting classroom methods to suit a learner’s preferred learning style actually improves the learning process.


One such critic is Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist and professor of pharmacology at England’s Oxford University. Greenfield argues that adopting such approaches is “nonsense” from a neuroscientific point of view. She insists that human beings have the ability to make sense of information because our senses work in unison. She states, “It is connectivity within the brain that enables us to make sense of the world, and therefore any attempt to separate the senses would be detrimental (if indeed it were even possible).”


I encourage you to be the judge on the validity of the VAK Theory. As a trainer who uses the model, I feel it does work. I can honestly say that I connect better with my audience when I incorporate various instructional techniques geared toward all three learning styles.


As a self-professed kinesthetic learner, I know for a fact that I learn better when I have an opportunity to do something. One can demonstrate and explain to me how to do a task until they are blue in the face. However, it’s not until I roll up my sleeves and actually do the task myself, that it makes complete sense to me.


What are your thoughts on the VAK Learning Styles Model?


Dealing with Difficult Participants

Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Tags: instructional techniques, adult learning principles

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