Utilizing learning styles in your training program

When dentists prepare to teach new methods to team members, they should be aware of the four different learning styles in order for their teaching to be most effective. Here’s a brief summary of the VARK learning styles.

Change is a constant in today’s business climate. Small business owners need to accept the reality of constant change, and those who wish to be successful should know how to effectively manage that change and take advantage of its opportunities. As an owner and leader, a culture of consistent learning in your business is vital to your ability to adapt to change. In fact, the capacity to learn and to develop your staff could be a significant competitive advantage.

One approach to training and development emphasizes the importance of the different learning modalities. A modality represents the method by which an individual most readily receives new information, and these are known as VARK—visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. It should be noted that there are many ways to describe these modalities in more detail. Here I will present an all-encompassing approach. But be aware that scholars have broken down these ideas more completely for use by managers, trainers, and coaches who work in this field.

The VARK1 approach identifies four different modalities

  • Visual—These are individuals who respond best to information that is taken in through the eyes. This most often includes images and observation or other visual means. It does not include text-based information.

  • Auditory—These are learners who retain information that they hear. They might learn from lecture, discussion, conversation, and other audible cues.

  • Reading and writing—These learners most often excel in traditional schooling. They have the consistent ability to take in and master written text and use their own writing skills to explain ideas.

  • Kinesthetic—These people learn by doing. These individuals are most effectively served through experiences where they can touch and manipulate materials.

As a leader seeking to design learning experiences, this can seem daunting. The good news is that effective learning should involve as many of these modalities as possible. We all benefit from exposure to multiple styles of learning. In fact, we learn significantly more when we can work with new information in several ways.

I’m going to share an example here. As you read it, consider the different learning styles that have been included.

During a “lunch and learn” at Dr. Jackson’s office, the goal is to learn the post-treatment hand-off process. The assistant needs to escort the patient to the front desk and explain the follow-up appointments that are needed. Dr. Jackson and the office manager lead this training, and explain what needs to occur. Each participant receives step-by-step information in writing, and each person is asked to read it and note any questions they have.

They’re then asked to pair up, one assistant with one front office staff member. In these pairs they’re to discuss what each of them should do in the hand-off. Pairs are then selected to share their process, and the group is invited to help refine their steps. Finally, the doctor and office manager both act as patients as the group practices the hand-off at the front desk.

In this example, there is an opportunity for all four modalities to be featured. The visual is handled with the observation of others, the auditory with conversation and questions, the reading and writing with text and written questions, and the kinesthetic with role-playing.

Your efforts to consistently engage in learning must be well-planned and well-executed. The time that a small business dedicates to these experiences must be effective. An awareness of the variation in learning styles that are present within your staff will assist you with creating opportunities that are more likely to stick.

The presence of constant change in the dental industry will make continuous learning vital to the success of your practice. It is unlikely that we can predict what might change or how it will impact businesses, but we can prepare our most valuable asset—our staff—to learn and adapt to these changes in a more effective manner.


1. Fleming ND, Mills C. Not Another Inventory, Rather a Catalyst for Reflection. To Improve the Academy. 1992:137-155. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.2334-4822.1992.tb00213.x.

John Budish, Jr., MSEd, joined the dental industry after a 20-year career in education. He’s looking forward to bringing his expertise in adult learning and leadership to the private sector. At Henry Schein Dental, Mr. Budish is responsible for leading the Dental Business Institute. He also provides leadership related to the educational offerings within the Business Solutions division.

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