Advertising
Advertising

Published on August 6, 2018

How to Connect Different Learning Styles with Career for Great Success

How to Connect Different Learning Styles with Career for Great Success

How we define our career success is different from one person to the next, or at least should be different.

Many define career success through wealth symbols likened to those glossy images of The Robb Report containing pages of plush houses, luxury cars and superyachts. Others such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett seek other measures of career success, now giving significant amounts of their wealth away to charity.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy documented in 2017 that since the year 2000, Gates and Buffett donated $18 billion and $65.5 billion respectively. Their career success milestones now contain a stronger philanthropic foundation.

Whether or not you define your career success by the size of your bank account, the car you drive, your role title, level of accountability or the emotional and personal satisfaction you feel at the day’s end, one thing in common: you have to learn how to become that person that can obtain that.

Here’s where getting a strong handle on your learning styles really matters if you want to gain faster momentum on your career success pathway. You have to be highly familiar with what works for you and adapt where you can.

In our haste to achieve our personal definition of career success, we look for shortcuts to accelerate our progress pathway. If only we could learn faster…. if only. Well, we can!

The major connection between different learning styles and career success is actually a formula of awareness, variety, timing and being savvy in choosing the right combination of styles to meet your growth challenges.

Knowing our learning styles gives us great advantages but not in the way we might currently think.

The myth about questionnaire scores and labels

In climbing the corporate ladder, you might have undertaken three or four personality profile assessments such DISC, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or others. You complete a self-report questionnaire such as the VARK to help your new manager determine the best ways to help teach you.

The report you receive describes your preference of learning as a unique combination of visual, aural (auditory and verbal), read/written and kinesthetic preferences.

Advertising

The most commonly cited learning styles tend to be the following:

  • Visual – use of diagrams, pictures, symbols and videos or demonstrations;
  • Auditory – talking and listening;
  • Kinesthetic – practical, tactile, doing activities hands-on.

The questionnaire (any questionnaire for that matter) is designed to categorize our responses. Learning style assessments usually reveal we have a prevalence of at least two styles.

If we look at other research and assessment tools, we discover different perspectives on how our learning styles should be recognized. (See Yale Center for Teaching and Learning for additional learning style descriptions.)

What we need to recognize is that these categorizing labels are not absolute across all circumstances and all subjects. In fact, researchers encourage we remember that there is great variability even within the labels.

You might prefer singing karaoke style as you listen to songs you love rather than watch video music clips. However, when it comes to learning ballroom dance moves, you find it easier to watch someone model the foot positions first in the classic waltz before you attempt them yourself rather than listen to someone describe how you undertake the step-sequence.

Wrong and right ways to use learning style questionnaire results

Reading through the questionnaire report you feel validated and understood. You feel such relief when you read the summary and discover the reason you found math so hard was because the teacher did not teach you in the style you best learn. “They didn’t know how to teach me in a different way that best suited me!”

Here is mistake number one:

Your score doesn’t indicate how you best learn. It indicates how you prefer to learn.

You then apply a blanket conclusion that your report’s summary is all you need to know to best learn in all situations and fast track your career progression.

Here is mistake number two:

Advertising

Making generalizations can actually be limiting.

Whilst research reports that individuals develop a stronger understanding of their learning preferences,[1] there is no clear evidence yet that simply choosing learning formats that match your preference will improve our learning capability or speed of learning.[2]

This is not bad news!

Undertaking such questionnaires isn’t worthless but rather a way to recognize you have certain ways of learning which are more comfortable for you to learn. You can figure out how to make learning simple, easier and more enjoyable. That’s a big plus!

Research shows that students encouraged to think about how they learn actually achieve better learning outcomes. They are encouraged to reflect on how they drew conclusions and made connections and as such integrate the information better.

Take Richard Branson for example, with a dyslexia diagnosis, there were clear learning limitations for him. Whilst he probably would not have scored highly on the aural subscale of the VARK , he does credit dyslexia for being one of his greatest assets.

Branson has said he learned to delegate and communicate better and that due to these ‘limitations’, he realized he needed to work in ways that made business simple and easy for him. Branson might score more highly on a writing subscale!

    He has described his signature management technique to be his constant note-taking because remembering what people said was always too challenging. He takes a notebook everywhere.

    How to choose your personal best combination of learning styles

    Educators and researchers have found we actually learn better when we apply a variety of learning styles.

    Advertising

    Listen to a podcast, write notes, view a video and complete a workbook on a topic you need or want to learn. You are likely to have a stronger grasp and retention of the information than if you were to engage only one or two of those options.

    There are more types of processing taking place which allow you to store and be able to apply the information better. The increased quality of engagement with your topic facilitates better learning.

    As you think of the steps in climbing the corporate ladder, each rung has inevitable increasing demands. Better skills in guiding and coaching your team, wider knowledge, thinking faster and effectively on your feet, analyzing comprehensive data and reports swiftly are but a few of the growth steps you must master.

    Think back to situations where you have felt similar levels and types of challenge and ask yourself:

    “How did I learn then? What styles do I feel worked best for me? What should I have done differently?”

    The pattern of learning styles which you applied then are patterns you can use as a framework now. But don’t stop there. Modify, strengthen and build on them.

    A mix of preferred learning styles & less preferred styles will accelerate growth

    Let’s consider the example of your needing to present a pitch to a potential client for new business. It’s a skill you’ve only seen contract paperwork for as a client administrator but the next step on the path to your career success is a business development role.

    You MUST prove your capability in this opportunity to show you’re worthy and deserving of promotion.

    What learning styles help you grow to demonstrate you’re the best person your company should put forward to win the client? You have the following options:

    1. Practice speaking the actual pitch to a group of friends. You would rather eat dog food for dinner than stand up in front of a group of people and speak but you know that role-playing is the closest simulation of doing the pitch;
    2. Practice your pitch to your dog. He will love you unconditionally anyway despite how you perform and will be even happier if you choose not to eat his dinner;
    3. Practice pitching to your work associates who are successful business development managers. Be sure to have your Wonder Woman or Captain America shield ready to protect you from painful but helpful feedback;
    4. Buy books and read literature about ways to make an effective pitch;
    5. Watch YouTube videos about how to make an effective pitch.

    Let’s pretend you’re identified as being a strong visual and verbal learner. The opportunities to only use these styles are either unavailable or limited. You feel sick about knowing to role-play and know the kinesthetic route is the most viable road to take.

    Advertising

    But that may not be the only way. Functional MRIs have now shown that our brains don’t actually know the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined. Research has also shown that physical performance can improve when we simulate the practice of ideal performance using visualization and imagery.

    You don’t only imagine seeing the movie scene of you delivering the perfect pitch. You also imagine feeling extremely confident, calm, have a sense of knowing that you deserve this opportunity and see in your mind the clients are delighted by your presentation. Imagery and visualization have that power to affect your performance.

    What if you practiced visualization incessantly, did at least one pitch in front of your work colleagues and asked for feedback and verbally rehearsed key statements in your delivery? With slightly less fear-factor, this mix of uncomfortable learning style strategies and preferred styles would surely be a winning combination.

    The right combination is key. Choosing the right combination of learning styles which feel comfortable plus engaging the uncomfortable styles are sure to drive you closer to your desired aim, faster.

    Match learning styles with your career path

    Growth can be painful and change is not something, we as humans, rush toward in fits of excitement.

    Our brains are designed to keep us safe. When we feel safe, we feel nice and comfortable. Our anxiety levels are low or non-existent, we feel in control, fully satisfied and content.

    The problem is though, we are unlikely to develop, stretch and progress.

    Knowing our learning style preferences can help us alleviate some of that discomfort in stretching and growing. However, what we want to create is a reverse plan.

    Choose your endpoint, map the steps backward that you need to grow into and move through. Chart against each step the learning styles and methods you feel will be the best balance of comfort and the amount of growth pain you feel you can handle.

    Sometimes no amount of standing on the sidelines and watching people glide around the ice-skating rink is going to help you learn how to skate. You are going to have to step onto the ice at some point to find your own center of gravity and balance. The weekend seminar junkie, listening to speaker after speaker telling them how to turn their four-figure revenue into six figures in six months.

    It’s great to listen, watch and read, but nothing changes until the behavior actually changes and action is taken. The major connection between learning styles and career success will always be a combination key to knowing what you prefer, knowing what works, choosing the right mix and applying them at the right time.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Malachi Thompson

    Executive Leadership and Performance Consultant

    15 Inspiring Ideas to Boost Your Motivation for Success How to Make Career Decisions That You Will Not Regret for Life 8 Critical Skills for Workplace Success and Career Advancement 17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities How to Make Changes in Life by Changing Your Habits

    Trending in Smartcut

    1 How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated 2 10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career 3 How to Make Going Back to School at 30 Possible (And Meaningful) 4 How to Write a Career Change Resume (With Examples) 5 The Savvy Employees Guide to Asking for a Raise

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

    Advertising

    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

    Advertising

    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

    Advertising

    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

    Advertising

    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

    Read Next