How do techies and creatives learn best

I recently ran a survey designed for creatives and technologists. What I wanted to know was how they learn best, and then get teachers, mentors and coaches thinking about different learning methods and how best to teach to their audience.

Ever since I was at school, I’ve always learnt in a different way to others and been bored by traditional teaching styles (kinaesthetic, auditory etc*) and a lot of people I meet in the field say they don’t prefer traditional teaching either. However, in my experience, if you enjoy learning something, you will learn better or more easily. This is why the survey is about ‘preferred’ learning styles, not, what is your learning style.

This survey initially started as research for my own project** but I soon realised that this information can be used for multiple purposes.

*For more on why learning styles (auditory, kinaesthetic, visual etc) are not accurate, watch ‘Learning styles & the importance of critical self-reflection’ by Tesia Marshik

Demographic for the survey

This was an open survey, filled in by 60 random people, including a variety of different technological and creative skillsets.

The question asked was:

Pick the top ways that you prefer to learn — you can pick as many as you like but a top 3 would be great

The answers available were:

  • On the job — learning as you do
  • Watching videos/tutorials and then putting it into practice yourself
  • Watching videos only (you then just remember what you’ve learnt)
  • Reading books/blogs
  • Talking to others
  • Teaching others
  • I like it when people sketch it out for me
  • Analogies help me
  • And ‘other’

The majority of people that answered were user experience designers, with the rest being made up of Web/Print designers, Developers and Writers.

I also asked where these people were mainly working — I ended up with quite a broad mixture with the least being charities, small businesses and their own business. The majority of people either worked for themselves or for small, medium and large firms (about 75% were employed).

We can safely say that the main demographic from the survey were employed or self-employed designers and developers.

The results of the big learning question

The first set of basic results showed us that ‘learning by doing’ is absolutely the top result. Out of the 60 people only 5 people did not include it in their preferred learning styles.

Most people picked 3 answers but the average was 3.6 answers

This was closely followed by ‘reading books/blogs’ and ‘talking to others’ then ‘watching videos and putting it into practice’ and teaching others’.

Very little people thought they could just watch something and remember it and very little liked it sketched out/through analogies. I do wonder, with the latter, if people just haven’t experienced being taught that way as when I’ve tried these methods in the past it’s always worked well.

In the ‘other’ box, two people added ‘Trial and error’ to the options — an interesting thought I hadn’t considered.

What about per job title?

If we split this up into three more general categories of designers/developers/writers (leaving out some of the smaller categories or ‘other’ job roles) we get some really interesting results.

Purple for designers, blue for developers and green for writers
Preferred learning styles of the designers

The designers’ top selections were:

  • On the job — learning as you do
  • Watching videos/tutorials and then putting it into practice yourself
  • Reading books/blogs
  • Talking to others

The most interesting thing for me was that the designers weren’t interested in having things drawn for them for understanding. Despite a very visual role they didn’t prefer to learn in that manner.

Preferred learning styles of the developers

The developers generally followed a pattern I would expect — practical and theory-based learning but one that might surprise you is that both talking to others and teaching others were really high on the list. Developers are often perceived as quiet introverted types — better rethink those stereotypes kids.

Preferred learning styles of the writers

No surprise here that writers like reading and writing, right? Interestingly though, none of the writers chose videos in either form but there are a lot of courses that teach people to write, based around videos coming out at the moment. Often being conceptual in their thoughts I’m also surprised that analogies didn’t score at all.


Whilst this was only a small study I think it is safe to say two things

  1. People love putting what they’ve learnt into practice, however they prefer their learning. Nearly everyone in the study chose learn by doing and nearly eight times more people preferred to watch a video and then practice rather than just watch a video.
  2. Stereotypes aren’t everything — do your market research!

This research was also featured in an interview with Gregarious Mammal — listen to the discussion.

Senior User Experience designer