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September 5, 2012

How to Use Learning Styles to Boost Your Content Strategy

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Over the long weekend, I met a woman on the trails of Yosemite National Park. We walked together for a while and talked about all sorts of things. She told me about her 9-year-old grandson who didn’t read and how everyone was making a fuss over it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read, he just didn’t want to spend any time doing it. The schools were afraid he wasn’t at the reading level as the other children. The family wasn’t sure what this meant for his learning abilities. Everyone was sort of searching for answers.

His grandmother, the woman I walked with, thought: he just needed something he could connect with. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read; it wasn’t even that he didn’t like to read. She believed her grandson just hadn’t found anything yet that spoke to him in a way he could relate to.

As an artist herself and a family that had artistic tendencies, she thought maybe her grandson needing something light and creative to spark the love of reading within him. So she decided to buy her grandson the Shel Silverstein book, “Every Thing On It.”

Cover Image of Shel Silverstein Book

Image courtesy of BarnesandNoble.com.

And guess what? He read it from cover to cover. And guess what else? He started to enjoy reading. He began to pick up other books and it soon became a pastime for him.

If you’re not familiar with Silverstein’s books, they are a collection of poems with whimsical illustrations. Usually there isn’t much more than a few lines on every page accompanied by a great visual.

Brilliant.

See, Silverstein probably knew that different children learned and connected to topics in different ways, and that there’s more than one way to tell a story. The woman I walked with that day knew this, too.

And this is the lesson you can apply to your business’s content strategy. Make it engaging by appealing to the different ways people like to consume their content. In this post, we’ll explore how understanding learning styles can make your content more relatable to more people within your target audience.

Learning Styles Impact Your Audience Preferences

People have varying circumstances: ways they learn, how they want to receive information and time constraints. It would be silly to think you could fulfill all the requirements of your audience in your content all at once, but there are ways you can weave it in to individual pieces of content and your overall content strategy.

Studies around the way people learn have been around for many years. From these studies comes the VAK model. The VAK model by Neil Fleming is among several approaches to learning styles but is one of the more widely accepted models.

Fleming states that people have a preference in the way they learn, and that their dominant preference falls into one or two of the three categories:

  • Visual learners: Learning through seeing.
  • Auditory learners: Learning through listening.
  • Kinesthetic learners: Learning by doing.

Tailor Your Content to Relate to Learning Preferences

So let me explain how learning styles fit into your content strategy. First, let’s take a look at a single piece of content, for example, a blog post. Within your target audience, you likely have a set of people who are auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners.

To appeal to the various types of people within your content, you’ll want to look at:

  • How you tell your story. The words you use, the emotions you create, the details you include. Have a good balance of emotionally charged language along with important details (some people connect with emotion, other with how things work). Use words that connect to the different styles of learning. Depending on what type of learning preference a person is, they will often use unknowingly use language to support their preference. For example: “I see your point” or “I hear what you are saying” (visual and auditory learners, respectively).
  • How you format the content – the accessibility of it. I wrote an article in July for the SEO Newsletter on blogging and the user experience. I talked about how the information laid out in a blog post can affect the user’s experience. Going back to Silverstein’s books, if you make things a lot simpler for people to consume, this can pay dividends for many types of learning styles.
  • What types of content you’ll include. This is the the graphics, the videos, the high-level takeaways. Think about your content in terms of supporting visuals and notes, and you can help those people who learn differently and have varying time constraints.

Next, for your overall content strategy, think about how can you connect with these types of people with the different types of content you create. You want to consider what types of content “speak” to different people, the way they consume information and how they learn. Then, match this with where they are in the sales cycle for your product.

If you’ve done some persona profiling for your business, you’ll likely know the subject matter your audience is seeking. If you’ve done additional research with your keywords and with your client base, you’ll also have an understanding of what sorts of needs they have at particular points in the sales cycle for your products or services.

Each of those concepts are important to understand in your content creation strategy. But taking your content strategy a step further, think about the formats you can package your content in for each type of topic to appeal to different learning styles.

Let’s look at a 5-step approach of this idea in action:Image of Books, DVD and Computer Mouse

  1. You can create an introductory blog post on “X” topic (whatever it may be), giving a high-level introduction to the topic for those who are in the research phase and looking for starter information. This will be a short and easy-to-digest post for those who maybe don’t have a lot of time to dig in but want to know the basics.
  2. That same topic can be made into an audio file and presented in a way that speaks to the busy guy or gal who just doesn’t have time to sit down or simply doesn’t want to read. The only time they have is on their commute to and from work, and that’s the best way they can consume the information.
  3. Then, for the person who has a high drive to learn by doing and is ready to dive in, you want to provide a step-by-step manual in the form of an ebook or something similar. This type of content can give very clear direction on how to perform a task or accomplish something for those who prefer this method.
  4. Another person in your target audience who is motivated to learn but would rather be taught to do something in a more traditional format could benefit from a video teaching series on the same topic. In this scenario, you could show them how to do something step-by-step over a longer period of time. You could also put together a one-day educational workshop where you can appeal to the face-to-face learners is another option.
  5. The highly sociable person online may want to participate in a Google Plus hangout on the topic, a Twitter hashtag chat or something similar.

Going back to the first example of the blog post, use those methods to weave in all the learning styles into each of the content pieces you produce within your strategy. If you look at all the opportunities you can make your content appeal more to the masses, the more terrain you get out of them.

This approach is just one in many ways you can use other findings, disciplines and teachings outside the marketing world to learn from and apply to your content strategy to make it stronger. There is much yet to learn about your audience and many chances to use your business’s content to relate to the people within it.

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One response to “How to Use Learning Styles to Boost Your Content Strategy”

  1. Ryan Malone writes:

    Content marketing is very crucial step when marketing any website or business online. You have to be willing to take the time and really understand what type of content your audience will gravitate towards. Writing content for the sake of writing content is not a strategy. Step into the shoes of your audience and anticipate what type of information is best for them.



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