Understanding the preferred learning styles of team members


Understanding the preferred learning styles of team members

As a team leader, it is useful to understand the preferred learning styles of each team member so that you can support them to develop their performance. This understanding will assist you in discussing the professional development and support options that will best suit a team member’s needs and how they prefer to learn.

These learning styles are only a guide. A team member will have a mixture of these styles and their preferred style will change depending on the type of activity being undertaken. The labels are not as important as being able to recognise the characteristics of each style and modify professional development and support options accordingly.

A brief outline of each style is given overleaf, including how team members with this preferred style learn best and how learning can be hindered .

Learning Style Descriptors (Honey and Munford, 1999)

Reflector - Reviewers

Reflectors prefer to view things from different perspectives with an opportunity to plan ahead, attend to detail and look for the meaning of things.

Theorist - Conclude

Theorists benefit most from learning through models, theories or concepts, and analysing ideas logically within structured environments.

Activist – Doers

Activists enjoy new and challenging activities, and benefit most from learning through experience and working with others.

Pragmatist – Planners

Pragmatists learn most easily through immediate practical application of activities with an obvious link between subject matter and “real life” applications.

The four learning styles are linked with the steps we go through as we learn.

Having an experience


Renewing the experience


Planning the next steps


Concluding from experience



Swailes, S. and Senior, B. (2002) The Dimensionality of Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles Questionnaire International Journal of

Selection and Assessment. Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 1 –11, March 1999


Activists involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here-and-now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new. Their philosophy is “I’ll try anything once.” Their days are filled with activity and they revel in short-term crisis. They tend to thrive on the challenge of a new experience but get bored with implementation and longer-term consolidation. They are gregarious and like to be the centre of attention.

Learn best when:

There is a wide range of new experiences, problems and opportunities to tackle.

They are thrown in the deep end with a task they think is difficult.

They are given free range to generate ideas.

• They have the opportunity to lead or organise themselves.


Learn less when:

They have to listen to lectures or long explanations.

• They have to work on their own a lot.

They are not able to get involved at the beginning of a project.

They have to follow instructions to the letter.

Reflectors like to stand back and ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They collect data and like to analyse it before coming to a conclusion. They are thoughtful and tend to postpone reaching a definitive conclusion. They take a back seat at meetings and in discussions. They enjoy observing other people in action while taking a low profile stance themselves.

Learn best when:

They can do things in their own time, without tight deadlines.

They are allowed to think before acting or commenting, they need time to prepare.

They have an opportunity to review what has happened and what they have learned.

They are able to painstaking research.


Learn less when:

They are worried by pressure or rushed

• They are forced into the limelight or leadership roles

• They don’t have time to prepare.

Theorists adapt and integrate observations into complex but logical theories. They think through problems in a step-by-step manner. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists and they like to rationalise and theorise. They favour logic and rationality. They can be detached and analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity. Their approach to problems is consistently logical. They feel uncomfortable with subjectivity and lateral thinking.

Learn best when:

There is clear structure and purpose

• They have time to think logically about ideas/event/situations

• They are intellectually stretched

They can see a logical progression in what they are doing.

Learn less when:

They are pushed into doing things without knowing the context or purpose

They feel intellectually out of step with others

• The activity is unstructured or disorganised

• They are not given a chance to use their reasoning skills.


Pragmatists are keen to try out new ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They search out new ideas and experiment with them. They return from professional development sessions with new ideas which they immediately will try out. They get on with the job and act quickly. They get impatient with ruminating and openended discussions. They are practical and respond to problems as a challenge. Their philosophy is “There is always a better way”.

Learn best when:

They see the new learning is practical

They have the opportunity to put into practice what they are learning.

They are given a chance to try things out for themselves and are given feedback.

Learn less when:

They cannot see any benefit in what they are learning

There is no apparent pay-off

They are not given a chance to try-out new ideas

There are obstacles to implementing what they are learning.

2 of 2