Different Adult Learning Styles

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Workplace training is a necessity and a reality for nearly every business or organization. Such training differs significantly from traditional, school-based education. Adult learners in the workplace and the college classroom have different needs and constraints than students fresh out of high school. Adult learners generally prefer self-directed learning, where the training acknowledges that their experience is relevant as they learn new skills and information. Adult learners in the workplace are goal-oriented: it’s important to define the expected outcome of the training course or program and how that outcome will benefit the learner in the workplace.

Adults with years of experience on the job will have developed a general understanding of their own “learning style.” While it would be a mistake to believe that each adult learns best in only one “style,” it’s helpful to understand these different adult learning styles and incorporate aspects of them into workplace training.


The visual learner responds to graphics, pictures, maps, and diagrams. They typically are also very attuned to places and environments, and are good at remembering the details of images. A visual learner prefers images, charts, photos, videos, or other graphics to break up long text or spoken information. This helps visual learners refine or reinforce verbal information.


Auditory learners respond to sound. They take in and retain information best if they hear it, rather than see it. Music, rhyme, and rhythm help auditory learners recall information. Because they learn primarily through hearing, auditory learners may not take many notes. This doesn’t mean they fail to take in knowledge—they simply take spoken information in better than written or visually displayed information. Though not as common as visual learners, auditory learners represent a significant percentage of people among the different adult learning styles.

Verbal or Reading/Writing

Unlike auditory learners, people with a preference for the written word take in information better if training programs present information as written text, either in books, papers, or on a computer. They may be good at word games and may take copious notes.


These are the “learn by doing” people. They prefer hands-on learning with the actual equipment they will use or operate. They’ll be good sports in role-playing situations or other forms of training that involve moving around. They also learn by watching others show them how to do the tasks they are learning. Incorporating some kind of physical activity into workplace training is important for these learners.

Many people learn in some combination of these styles. Whether presenting training online or in person, it’s possible to include exercises, quizzes, and activities that will appeal to each of these learning styles.

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