At some point in our lives we fully grasp how we learn. It may hit you in various ways over your lifetime, but you slip into that comfort zone and you know what works.
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 consumers 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?
While there is no conclusive evidence that developing separate learning materials for each learning style will produce better outcomes, there arestudies 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.
Over the years I have created mixed content. Short and long posts. Video tutorials. Podcasts. Each one hitting a different learning style. Although it seems as if this can be overwhelming, you will need to find the sweet spot for your site and audience.
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.