How Do You Learn?

If you are reading this, it is likely that you prefer to learn through reading. This is just one of the several ways people take in information, process it, and commit it to building a new skill or perform a task. Surprisingly, many people don’t know we learn differently. In communication, knowing how someone learns is just as important (if not more important) than the content of the message you are communicating. In this post, I will discuss the types of learners there are and how you can use this to have more effective communication.

Types of Learning

There are four primary ways we learn, and knowing how you learn and how people in your circles at home, work, and in your social life learn will be important to your communication approach. Before I talk about these four ways, I want to start with the basics. If you look at communication textbooks, business books, and online resources, they will structure these ideas differently, however, they all start here with the listening, seeing, and experience approach to learning.

learning approach

The Four Pillars of Learning is another way of looking at the same information. It further categorizes the types of learning, clarifying how each specifically works. The four pillars are reading, listening, writing (or sometimes called “doing”), and talking.


Sending and Receiving Messages Using Learning Approaches


The Four Pillars become extremely useful when you are trying to understand and communicate effectively with a person. Below I will describe in more detail how this type of person learns and communicates, as well as things to think about when working with this type of person.


The Reading Learner

When researching or working on a project, this type of learner prefers reading books, blog posts, journals, and white papers.

Communication Style: This type of learner prefers to receive emails over going to meetings.

Management Tips: Keep meetings brief and on point with these learners. Be sure to take notes or formal meeting minutes and email them out at the end of the meeting. Encourage these people to send you an email if they have any questions about a project or meeting.


The Listening Learner

This person prefers to learn by listening to audiobooks, watching short instructional videos, or listening to podcasts.

Communication Style: This type of learner tends to prefer to communicate in meetings and in person over email.

Management Tips: Let these people speak up at meetings. Ask if they have any questions. This is their time when they absorb information, so make use if it. Avoid overloading them with emails, they will go unread or partially read. Instead of sending an email, drop by their office or ask them to have lunch together.

Once you identify what type of learner you are, make sure to use this to your advantage by telling your team how you best communicate.

Personal Development Learning

How you learn on your own is incredibly important. In addition to reading and listening, there are two other types of learning that magnify the internal thinking process.

The Talking Learner

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone controls the conversation and “talks” out the problem? Or maybe you had coffee with a friend where the friend did all of the talking and it seemed more like they were having a conversation with themselves rather than a conversation with you. Learning through talking is a kind of learning that is basically, what I would call, external thinking. People who learn through talking like to have conversations with people, even though sometimes it’s as if they are talking to themselves, which, technically, they are doing.

The Writing Learner

Writing can take the form of journaling, note taking, and fictionally playing with an idea using a persona or future self. This kind of thinking utilizes putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. Some people write down ideas and never read them again because all they needed to do was write it to commit it to memory. “Doing” is sometimes included in this group, this is to include problem-solving and other internal types of thinking which are similar to this process.

Once you know how you learn on an internal or intrapersonal level, be sure to grow this skill so you can efficiently learn information.

Managing Your Diverse Team

Young managers sometimes think that if their message isn’t getting across, they need to amplify the volume of it. The thought of taking a new approach doesn’t cross their mind. If the manager is a reading learner, they may increase the amount of emails they send a co-worker to remind them of tasks or give them oversimplified instructions. If the co-worker doesn’t learn by reading, the messages will go unread and the problem will remain. The manager will feel like she has done all she could do (even going out of her way reach out to the co-worker in this ONE way), and the co-worker will be annoyed that her manager keeps on sending her emails all the time. What’s being said isn’t the issue, the approach is the issue. Spending time refining an email or learning how to craft an email so it will be read will fall on “deaf ears”. In this situation, the manager needs to use the approach that works best for that individual co-worker.

It’s hard to be more than one of these types of learners as typically your brain is programmed to work ONE way. It will be tiring to adopt a new style if a colleague learns differently than you. With practice, you can train yourself to become a better listener or reader. Sometimes, a better approach is to look for ways you can still use your learning style. Here are some tips:

  • If you are a listening learner, use a text to speak software program to listen to your email. If you have a hard time writing and prefer speaking, check out Dragon Naturally Speaking. You can also use this software to write emails.
  • If you are a reading learner, try recording meetings. Take brief notes, notating parts of the meeting you want to return to later. Use a digitization company to transcribe your meeting or run the audio through Dragon so you have a text copy of the meeting you can read and refer back to.

Reaching People

(A Reminder for Your Marketing Team)

People tend to prefer to either listen to or read messages when communicating with each other. When releasing information to your consumers, you should keep this in mind as well. If you write a blog, try reaching other learners with a podcast or short videos. If your goal is to reach as many people as possible, make sure you are using all the tools to do so. Sometimes using a bunch of adequate marketing tools works better than one sharp one.

Andrew J. Wilt
SEI Junior Consultant
Apprenticeship Program