Learning Styles and why they matter

Tuesday 22nd September 2015

 Delivering training to a group of people is a rewarding experience and as a trainer, your job is to make sure that your trainees feel the same way. You can prepare the finest training materials possible and deliver them in an engaging way, but ultimately, as trainers we have to remember that everyone is different. One style or approach may resonate really strongly with one candidate, while at the same time leaving another cold.

This complexity is what makes training groups of people such a challenge. Individual preferences, personalities and traits create a conundrum that you really can't plan for. But knowing that there are different and distinct learning styles and crucially how to manage them, gives you the knowledge to dynamically alter your training delivery. Doing so ensures that everyone gets the most out of the training experience.

Learning Styles

There are many different theories and descriptions of learning styles from a variety of eminent educational scholars - but the one that we principally use at Quest is the Honey and Mumford model.

The Honey and Mumford Model

In 1986 Peter Honey and Alan Mumford conducted research that would help shape their thinking on the subject of learning styles. Their findings and subsequent approach has become the most widely used by training practitioners, many of whom use the Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire (LSQ) to help them understand the learning styles of the individuals within their training group.


An Activist will involve themselves fully in new experiences. They can often act first and consider the consequences afterwards. An Activist prefers involvement with others, group discussions, activities and problem solving. As a trainer you will know an activist because they will volunteer for doing activities and also finish tasks quicker.


A Reflector likes to watch, think and review experiences. They prefer to think about things before coming to any conclusion. They may look like they are not interested because they take a longer time to respond to the trainer. As a trainer you may see a reflector taking lots of notes.


A theorist will think problems through in a logical way but are keen to know about principles, theories, models and systems. They tend to be analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective. As a trainer you will recognise a theorist as they will frequently ask 'why?'


A Pragmatist likes to try out new learning in practice to see if it will work. They positively search out ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with new applications. They like to see the link between what you train them in and the actual task they need to carry out. A pragmatist will check how things relate to what they will do when they go back to work.

Knowing these four distinct styles and how to spot them in your learners gives you the opportunity to tailor your approach to the individuals within your group.

The Trainers Learning Style

It's just as critical though to understand your own learning style as a trainer. Having this crucial piece of self-awareness gives you not just an understanding of your own particular style, but it also serves as a reminder to empathise with those who are not like you.

If you don't, you could quite easily find yourself in the unfortunate position of leaving a number of your candidates behind.

If you, as a trainer are an outgoing, conversational Activist, then it stands to reason, not to mention the laws of human nature that you will resonate strongly with Activist learners. Resonating is just fine, but if that turns to favouring, then you will lose your other learners - particularly those that fall into the Reflector style.

You are not a mind reader, but you are an experienced human being, and as such you can get a sense of the how your candidates are feeling by observing and listening. Use the time at the start of the training session to get a feel for which of the learning styles they naturally fall into.

The earlier you can get a feel for the individual styles the better. Creating a couple of icebreakers before your session starts in earnest will give your candidates a relaxing and hopefully enjoyable way of starting the day. It will also give you as the trainer the opportunity to get a feel for the group through the simple act of watching.

Final Thoughts

When a scriptwriter writes his script, he knows that he's not writing it for everyone. He knows, that not every filmgoer will like his movie, so he writes for those that will. When you write your training materials, you have a distinct advantage, because not only are you the writer, you are also the director. You have the ability to alter your delivery to the individual audience member to ensure that everyone gets what they need out of the training.