One night, a few years ago, I got home from a networking event feeling frustrated. It had been an evening of good food and fun, winding up a busy, two-day conference.
As we entered the nightclub, we dutifully dropped our name tags into a big cardboard box for recycling. After all, we live in Seattle. Who would not be green-friendly here?
That evening, with the loud chatter of people trying to be heard over the raging music, I felt like something was off. I wasn’t in my usual networking form. I was out of my element.
Several of my fellow conference goers, who I had seen in the halls but had not had a chance to mingle with, told me their names, but they didn’t stick.
Because, like 65 percent of the population, I am a visual learner. I see someone’s name printed once and I will remember it, like it is engraved in my brain’s memory cells. I hear it spoken and each time, it flies right out of my brain.
I was struggling.
I needed that name tag.
When I was a teacher in a program for gifted students, in my work on my Master’s degree, I studied the different ways students process information. I learned about the best ways to communicate, based on the person’s learning style.
Can these lessons in learning styles help us be better producers of online content?
What if, by understanding the different ways your readers take in information, you could communicate on a deeper level, reaching each one of them more successfully?
You can. Really, you can.
People think in different ways
Back in the 1970s, a linguist, a psychologist and an anthropologist walked into a bar. Oh, wait. Wrong story.
Actually what these three researchers did was conduct a groundbreaking study on how people communicate and learn.
Out of it came a new theory, namely that we experience the world primarily through one of three sensory systems: the eyes (visual), the ears (auditory) and the kinesthetic (touching, doing).
What’s all this got to do with developing your online content? For starters, knowing about learning styles naturally increases the number of readers who will process and remember your content.
The Three Little Content Consumers
Let’s start by understanding what makes each of these guys different. If you were standing in a room at a networking event, the visual learner would be leaning in to read what’s on your name tag; the auditory learner might be listening to your stories with fascination and the kinesthetic learner would be reaching out first to shake your hand—and lingering a second or two longer, holding her grasp.
With just a little thinking, you can appeal to each of them with your online content.
The Visual Consumer: Show Me
How to Identify: The visual reader thinks in pictures. She has images in her mind when she consumes your content. In school, this was the kid who responded to the teacher’s question by looking up, above her head. Sometimes the teacher would say, “Well, the answer isn’t on the ceiling!”
But for that kid, the visual thinker, it was.
The visual thinker prefers email to phone and sometimes tends to stay away from podcasts and call-in radio show formats.
How to Create Content: Digital blog posts are perfect for the visual thinker. If your posts have lots of images, it’s even better. If you have auditory-only content, try to supplement with text. Also, use image-rich language when you write. Try phrases like “imagine,” “focus on,” “see,” “get a picture of.”
And while most people find popup boxes irritating, the visual person is totally stressed out because it is covering the words, the content they need to see.
The Auditory Consumer: Tell Me
How to Identify: Representing about 30 percent of the general population, this one retains content better when hearing it. She may read the words of your blog post aloud to process it. Or close her eyes to listen to a podcast. In college, this was the student who could listen to an entire lecture without taking notes. She prefers talking on the phone or meeting in person to email.
How to Create Content: Be sure auditory is in your content mix. Videos are great because she doesn’t need to see (or write down) the words. Recordings of text pieces are appreciated. Match her thinking style by using words like “talk it through,” “tune in,” “ring a bell,” “keep telling myself” and “hear me out.”
The Kinesthetic Consumer: Let Me Try It
How to Identify: It is estimated that kinesthetic learners comprise just 5 percent of the population. On first sight, this consumer might be the hardest to reach because they cannot touch our words. Or can they?
Since they learn best through discovery, by doing, they want to know not just the what, but the how. They need to know how to apply the information to their own lives. They enjoy hands-on stuff and they like to move. If you are meeting with them in their office, they may fiddle with pens or pat you on the arm when talking to you. They are impatient when listening to how you solved a problem, mainly because they want to get out there and try their own solutions.
How to Create Content: Vary your blog post lengths because kinesthetic learners have been known to get antsy after 10 minutes or so. Ask them to apply something, to try it out in their own environment. Throw in a few words to appeal to them, like, “I’m feeling that some of you might need…” or “Let’s touch on this idea for a moment.”
So, do you need to create massive amounts of different content pieces?
The short answer is ‘no.’
While there is no conclusive evidence that developing separate learning materials for each learning style will produce better outcomes, there are studies supporting the use of combined strategies (for instance, visual and auditory together) to improve the results for everyone.
All the more reason to use mixed modalities with your content.
Here at BobWP, our instructional materials and lessons reflect this philosophy. Our podcasts are perfect for the auditory learner, who can listen and process the content on their commute to work. The videos are also good because they are hearing the content, not reading it.
The visual learner probably gets more value from our transcripts and screenshots. They get more out of the videos when they are accompanied by abbreviated text with key highlights of the content.
What it all means
Knowing all of this will not make you a mind reader, but it will give you some insight into the way your readers and online visitors think. Just remember that, although most people have a prominent thinking style, they cannot be put into neat little boxes.
What about you?
Does this make sense to you?
What is your primary thinking style?
An audio option for this post.