Here’s a simple formula for creating content that effectively communicates your point, especially if the subject matter is novel or complex. This strategy can also dramatically reduce the time it takes you to put together tutorials, white papers, or presentations of any sort.
The key is to cover all the bases when it comes to the different learning styles of the audience. Let me elaborate on that point a bit.
One way in which otherwise quality content fails to satisfy the needs of much of the prospective audience is by failing to address different learning styles. Moreover, failing to properly structure the different approaches to communicating information will leave many of your readers confused and your content in shambles from a flow perspective.
Luckily, it’s easier than it sounds, thanks to the 4MAT methodology developed by Bernice McCarthy as a strategy for teachers to create more effective instructional materials. This same approach will help you develop educational marketing materials such as essays, blog posts, and white papers, and develop tutorial content that draws traffic to your site and creates satisfied new subscribers.
The Four Learning Styles
Studies have identified four discrete styles of learning based on the different ways people perceive information:
- Innovative Learners (approximately 35% of people) want to know why they should learn something, and how it will benefit them. This is the “what’s in it for them” factor.
- Analytic Learners (approximately 22% of people) want “just the facts,” and will be keen to see what the features or supporting data looks like once the benefits have been communicated.
- Common Sense Learners (approximately 18% of people) are interested in how things work, and are best served by concrete, experiential learning activities.
- Dynamic Learners (approximately 25% of people) are enthralled with the possibilities offered by the information, rely heavily on their own intuition, and seek to teach both themselves and others.
Integrating the Four Learning Styles
Failing to address any of the four learning styles will likely diminish the impact of your content. More importantly, the four styles are interdependent, in that type 3 and 4 learners cannot optimally connect with the lesson without having first experienced content aimed at type 1 and 2 learners. Plus, addressing each learning style also offers something for everyone, regardless of that person’s preferred style of learning.
This is why the 4MAT approach is called a cycle, and is represented as a sequential pie chart with each learning type representing a phase of the instruction. Structuring your writing or presentations with this cycle in mind can make you a more effective communicator.
- Phase One: Why
Besides targeting the largest learning style group, starting off your content with the reason why the information is of value is a foundational element of the rest of the piece. It’s also critical for attracting attention. This is why your headline and opening paragraphs must quickly and clearly express a practical benefit to the reader, and why presentations must grab attention immediately before getting into substance.
- Phase Two: What
Now we come to what analytic learners call the meat—the features of a product and the supporting data. In other words, they want cold, hard facts and analysis. This phase of your content naturally follows the statement of the “why,” and failing to properly segue into phase two by dwelling on too much fluff up front will hurt you with these people, as well as bog down your overall delivery.
- Phase Three: How
Once common sense learners have heard the why and the what, they’re ready to dive in and learn—by doing. While it’s tough for people to get hands on when reading or listening, you can appease the how crowd with specific examples and illustrations of how things work in the real world. Case studies and other concrete scenarios bring things together for the common sense learner, and add extra understanding to the innovative and analytic learner.
- Phase Four: What If…
The dynamic learner has absorbed everything offered so far, and has been sitting there wondering what would happen if x is modified, or what if I did y instead because my situation is slightly different? These are the people who shine during Q and A at a presentation, who take the time to email a question to the author, and who leave comments requesting clarification or offering up their own illustrations in order to sharpen their understanding. Having an interactive online presence completes the learning cycle, and allows for the conversation to spread onto other blogs and social media sites.
Engaging Left and Right Brain
Now that you have the four-step cycle down, make the presentation of your information flow by keeping the reader constantly engaged across both hemispheres of the brain. How? Follow up facts or main points with stories, anecdotes, relevant quotes… basically anything cool that holds attention and reinforces learning. This method engages left and right brain in a healthy cadence that makes the experience less of a chore, and more entertaining.
The Four Phases and Business Blogging
You’ve likely noticed that this post is heavy on the why and what, with only a sprinkling of how and very little in the way of stories and illustrations. Comments are open so we can engage in what if… However, the great thing about applying this methodology via a blog is you can do a series of posts on the same topic and approach the subject from each of the four learning styles, or otherwise break up the content in a way that makes sense. This is why blogs can be such powerful tools for both educating and converting readers into customers and clients—they allow for a running dialogue via easily digestible portions.