In an Industry Week article, “The Importance of Hands-on Learning,”1 author Michael Collins discusses the surprising breadth and depth of skills required in manufacturing, and he uses maintenance technicians to illustrate his point. This manufacturing role calls for knowledge and experience with hydraulics, pneumatics, electrical and electronics, software, PLC programs, wiring and automated equipment, along with math proficiency, schematic-reading, and assembly and tear-down skills.
Collins notes that it almost always takes more than online and classroom instruction to master these skills and acquire these proficiencies. Effective training often also requires some hands-on instruction – for everyone from assembly technicians to engineers. How can a training director, overseeing education for a whole slew of manufacturing roles, get a handle on this?
The VARK Model of student learning, developed by Neil D. Fleming and Coleen E. Mills, is a way to understand the learning styles of – and thus the best training methods for – diverse individuals. VARK stands for visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic – the ways in which trainees take in and retain information. Here, then, are the top five learning styles of the community of manufacturing workers.
1. Visual learners
Visual learners do best at taking in and incorporating information when the new info is presented graphically – with charts, diagrams and the like. They tend to process information most effectively when it is described as a complete, summarized system rather than when detail info is presented in bites that eventually add up to a whole. A top-down learning style, as opposed to a bottom-up style.
2. Auditory learners
These learners grasp and integrate new information best when it is presented vocally to them. In-person presentations, webinars and podcasts might be the info vehicles of choice for them. And giving auditory learners a chance to verbally discuss new info with their fellow learners really reinforces their learning.
3. Reading/writing learners
Reader/writers learn best by processing the written word. Presenting information in handouts and via slide presentations helps these learners excel. These learners are natural note-takers. Completing written assignments and doing online research of text-heavy sources cements their retention of the new info.
4. Kinesthetic learners
These learners do best when they can actively and physically participate in learning, by exploring the subject matter in an active way. More than just tactile learners, these individuals use all of their senses while they take in new information.
5. Hybrid learners
Not found in the VARK model, but just as important, are the hybrid learners. In fact, the majority of people have more than one learning style that works well for them, and their learning style of choice may depend upon the subject matter being studied or whether they are being introduced to a new subject or learning the fine points about a known topic.
In Collins’ experience in manufacturing and automation, he found that field service people, for example, tended to be hands-on learners. These were the kind of trainees who responded well to verbal or visual classroom training but who also really needed to actively engage with the physical equipment to solidify their understanding. Collins stressed that this often was the case for most manufacturing-oriented trainees, including engineers.
Collins urged manufacturers to take their employees’ individual learning styles into account when choosing training methods, and to not underestimate the need for a hands-on component in training the next cohort of skilled workers.
When planning a new training course, consider how to include more than one learning medium. Graphic info, spoken word, written word, hands-on sessions – variety is the spice of life and rounds out the recipe for training in a surprisingly impactful way.
(1) Collins, Michael. “The Importance of Hands-on Learning.” Industry Week, online. Oct. 23, 2020. https://www.industryweek.com/talent/education-training/article/21145756/the-importance-of-handson-learning.