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Training Methods: It’s Really All About Your Learning Style

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By Tina J. McConnell
Director of Professional Services
Trivalent Group, Inc.

In my previous life as a teacher, I knew, first-hand, the value of being able to offer different ways of learning to my students: say it, show it, demonstrate it, make them demonstrate it, make them teach it.  As a technology professional, I no longer “teach,” but I certainly use what I have learned to understand how to support our staff in pursuit of training and certifications.

Sure, there are lots of “training methods” on the market today, such as:

  • Read a book;
  • Research on the Internet;
  • Attend a one-day conference;
  • Watch a video or a series of videos;
  • Go to another venue for several days and sit in a traditional classroom with others like you; or
  • In what has become increasingly common, spend a week in an instructor-led online class (for which the employee and I discuss where s/he will do this when, in fact, “the office” is usually not the best place).

I bet that, as you read the above list, you were saying to yourself what would work for you and what you wouldn’t enjoy doing.  Did you know that your current preference for learning is likely based on the childhood learning patterns that were successful for you?

I have always been and continue to be a voracious reader.  But, is reading a book to learn something new for my job the most effective instruction for me?  Nope.  I like to have the book to hang on to, to write in, to lean on. But I also want to talk about the topic.  I want to see it in practice.  I want to play it out. These learning styles are labeled visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, and most people use all three styles while they are learning. Most have a preference for one, however.

The following definitions are from An Overview of Adult Learning Processes by Sally S. Russell, MN, CMSRN, CPP.

  • Visual learners prefer to see what they are learning about.  Pictures and images help them understand ideas better than explanations (think about someone telling you something versus telling you while drawing a picture on the whiteboard). The teacher creates a mental (or actual) image for the visual learner to assist in retaining the information. Visual learners read and follow directions (written instructions) as they work and appreciate it even more when diagrams are included.  Visual learners are often very organized.
  • Auditory learners prefer to hear the message or instruction rather than read it. They would rather have someone talk them through it than tell them about it.  Auditory learners remember verbal instructions and prefer to be the one completing the physical work or task while someone reads them the directions.  Auditory learners may want to talk through a topic they do not immediately understand.  They may talk to themselves while completing tasks, and while they may have difficulty working in quiet environments, they can also be distracted by noise.
  • Kinesthetic learners want to be physically involved in whatever is being learned.  Lecture and discussion classes are harder for them.  They prefer settings where they can get hands-on practice because they remember what they do and what they experience.  They may fidget in their seats or fiddle with small objects while engaged in learning.

Do you have a training program at your workplace?  Are you a teacher or trainer?  Do you manage employees who must engage in continual learning to maintain certifications, learn new skills, or learn how to install new products?

Do you offer training to everyone using the same methodology?  Or do you allow your employees to have a say in when and how they learn?

Effective training methods combine a variety of strategies to engage learners of all learning styles.

  • Provide context: help learners understand why this is important to know or do. Don’t expect they will figure that out for themselves.
  • Provide supporting materials in a variety of formats (print, audio, visual).
  • Be organized. For example, do you want to provide hands-on instruction in the newest company software?  Work through all the login issues before the day of the class.
  • Ensure key points are written down, said aloud, and demonstrated when possible. Make these key points available for learners to return to when they need a reminder.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to check their understanding (practice test, quiz one another, complete a task).
  • Allow learners to wear noise-canceling devices when completing tasks (they need quiet), listen to music through personal devices (they need noise), and stand or move around (they need activity).

Give your employees an opportunity to have a say in how and when they learn, and “training” will become most effective.