The Importance of Multimodal Learning Preferences

The Importance of Multimodal Learning Preferences

What comes to mind when you think “multimodal learning preferences?” For many, it’s the classic VARK (visual, auditory, reading, kinesthetic) Model that we learned in school. It emphasizes the idea that different individuals will learn best using different modes of learning. Similarly, here at The Center for Leadership Studies, we support the idea that learning is situational and different individuals will benefit from different styles of learning.

Put simply, multimodal learning uses various delivery methods to teach one subject. To draw a parallel with the Situational Leadership® Model, each style of learning works and each one doesn’t work. It depends on the person and the situation. As learning and development (L&D) leaders, if you’re not currently offering multiple learning modalities for your training audience, now is the time to begin considering it. According to a recent Training Industry report, “Offering multiple modalities is vital for training success.”

Four of the most common learning modalities utilized are instructor-led training (ILT), online, virtual instructor-led training (vILT) and digital blended. Let’s explore these modalities and how learner preferences fare when it comes to each one.

ILT: Instructor-led training is a lesson delivered by an instructor in person. It is the classic style of training in the L&D industry and beyond. Most learners are accustomed to it due to its similarities to the classroom setting. The benefits of ILT training are many: Learners can work together, interact with physical materials and activities and discuss the curriculum face to face. ILT is also unburdened by the technical difficulties that can come with other learning solutions. Fifty-five percent of learners preferred ILT, and it was equally popular across generations.

Online: Online learning is training delivered through a self-paced, digital platform. It can include solutions such as modules, sustainment and gamification. The goal of online training is to provide a structured, self-paced curriculum that users can complete without the need of a facilitator or instructor. The benefit of online training is that users can complete courses when it’s most convenient for them.

Online training is particularly popular among learners with many direct reports as it allows them to fit the training into their busy schedules.

vILT: Virtual instructor-led training is a modality that takes the ILT experience and reformats it to create a successful digital learning experience. The goal of virtual ILT is to simulate the feeling of being in the classroom with the added benefit of saving time. Breakout groups and group discussions, in particular, move quicker because with the click of a button, learners are grouped instead of waiting for participants to gather during an ILT training. Twenty-one percent of learners preferred vILT, and it was also highly ranked among those with more complicated roles.

Digital Blended: Digital blended learning, or hybrid learning, is a modality with elements of both vILT and online solutions; it allows learners to have live sessions with a facilitator and other learners while also providing a self-paced learning curriculum. The goal of digital blended offerings is to provide both the collaborative, interactive experience of an ILT solution in a digital format while also allowing the learner to train on their own time.

Interestingly enough, only 12% of learners preferred digital blended solutions, but that number is expected to grow as digital blended learning becomes more common among training providers.

It’s safe to say that a hybrid workforce is here to stay, and L&D leaders have been adapting ILT training to digital learning experiences to meet new demands. While many have already made the switch, some leaders still have hesitations about providing digital offerings. But it’s time to tackle the three most common “myths” around digital learning experiences.

Myth 1: Learners will not be engaged using digital offerings.

A myth about digital learning is that learners won’t stay engaged during digital live sessions and won’t complete self-paced learning. But engagement does not depend on whether materials are presented in-person or digitally; rather, engagement depends on the individual’s learning preferences. Providing a variety of solutions instead of providing one is the right approach. By doing this, a larger swathe of learners can benefit from the type of learning that supports them and allows them to stay engaged. This is especially true when considering the busy nature of modern-day work life—if learners can choose their preferred learning method, they can benefit by fitting learning into their schedules.

Myth 2: Learners from older generations will not prefer digital offerings.

A hesitation around using digital offerings is that a segment of the audience will be left out. The common misconception is that learners from older generations will shy away from digital modes of learning while younger generations will prefer technology-based learning. This would create an imbalance. However, there is no difference in learning preference based on age. Training Industry’s Learner Preferences Report states that, “What learners want doesn’t differ across generations. There was almost no relationship between age and modality, and the order in which each generational group ranked delivery methods was nearly identical.”

Myth 3: Learners won’t connect to each other if they cannot see each other’s body language.

Some leaders in L&D fear the social aspect of learning will suffer if training solutions are digital. Communication between learners can be a vital part of learning. And connecting to the facilitator leading the training is important as well. This is where instructional design is key. Ensuring that digital learning solutions, whether vILT or digital blended, allow learners to speak with each other through a variety of methods (video, voice and text) is important. Creating time for breakout sessions, discussions and guided reflection during a facilitation is also key to building interpersonal connection.


All of this is to say: Meeting learners’ needs, both in terms of how they learn and when they learn, helps business outcomes. Training Industry’s Learner Preference Report states that, “Training programs delivered through at least one preferred method are 50% more likely to be effective.” This means that the more methods offered, the more likely an organization is to benefit as well. The report also states that providing multiple learning modalities improves learners’ sense of work clarity, job satisfaction and perception of supervisor support.