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Designing a training program to accommodate different learning styles
By Ginny Stibolt

As discussed in my last column-The Influence of Technology on Training and Development for your Company-designing a training program is complex.  During this process, you may need to bring in an outside group to look at your situation.  You need to determine how much training can be put online, how much should be outsourced, and how much needs to be kept in-house.  There is no one correct answer and no one-size-fits-all training program. Even after you have crafted the best possible training program for your company, you will need to keep refining it.

Learning styles

People learn differently.  How do you accommodate different learning styles when designing your company's training program?  Also, in these times when greater diversity is desired, people's backgrounds and cultures may also influence how they learn.

Since learning occurs only when a participant is willing and able to understand and retain the information that you are presenting, it is important to consider each person's style of learning.  

The standard classification is that people learn in three different ways:

  • Visual - need to "see" what they are learning.

  • Auditory - need to "hear" the information and facts.

  • Kinesthetic - hands-on training and learning by doing.  This also includes taking notes or writing down the important parts or steps of a task.

Obviously, people use a combination of all three styles, but usually they tend to learn better when they use one style or method. 

In addition to considering what the employees' needs are, you also have to consider the economics of your presentations from a business point of view and then strike the best balance.  Furthermore, none of it would be relevant if a proper evaluation wasn't done first so that training programs are focused on actual needs for the employees and the organization.

Let's start at the beginning: 

What do your employees need to know?  The initial evaluation should be from both the management's and employees' perspectives.  Create two surveys: one for management and one for employees. Take some time to formulate relevant questions for your organization and its culture.  Cover the whole of the organization and ask some questions like these:

  • Are the employees comfortable with and know how to make the best use of the hardware and software to perform their jobs?

  • Do they know the legalities of certain actions such as sexual harassment and dealing with medical records?

  • Do the people they work with need to be better trained to be more effective?

Knowing what knowledge and which skills people need is the starting point for implementing changes. Also before you begin, you need to define the desired outcomes for the training program and set up a way to measure or assess the effectiveness of your program.  We talked about the needs for this in the previous column, but worth mentioning again because without it, you won't have any way to see if your training is working.

Before the training actually begins, the employees need to understand its importance to the organization as a whole.  This needs to be done in a way that will help to overcome the cultural differences when it comes to learning. The motivation to do well is not automatic for everyone, but with good planning and preparation, your employees and the company will both benefit from the training.

If you have decided to keep your training in-house, here are some considerations:

I. A teacher in a classroom with students is the traditional training setup.  There are many advantages to this: the teacher can present information in a variety of ways, interact with the students to see if they understand and provide opportunities for the students to do exercises with supervision.  If you look at the 3 learning styles, this model can cover all types of learners.

The disadvantages for this model for business training include:

  • It's difficult to get all the workers who need training together at the same time and still run the business.

  • Teaching to the middle shortchanges both the advanced students and slow learners or people with poor language skills.  The slow learners can be left behind or they will slow down the whole class.  The fast learners will become bored or restless if the pace is too slow.

  • It's expensive, both for the trainer and the training space. (If it's technology training, it is even more expensive.)

II. One-on-one coaching, mentoring and on-the-job training or apprenticeships offer another approach to training that will address all three learning styles.  These methods have some of the same advantages as the classroom with the added feature that one-on-one interaction can be crafted for each employee.

Some of the disadvantages for these methods include:

  • The trainers need more training and time allotted to accomplish the training. It is expensive to train each employee separately.

  • These methods are often catch-as-catch-can and they may lack organization and completeness.

  • It may be difficult to assess the success of this training.

III. Online, Intranet, or other self-running training options have certainly increased in the last several years because of their many advantages.  While developing the content may be an initial expense, it can be used many times over on an as-needed basis. People can take the time they need to absorb the information.  The whole employee handbook can be set up on the company Intranet for easy access and for easy updates.  Chances are good that even if you've outsourced the rest of your training, you will be using this technology for some additional or internal training and on-going communications.

Some of the disadvantages for these methods include:

  • The technology interface can be intimidating and confusing for some people.

  • Most on-line training works best for visually oriented people.

  • The students must be self-motivated and the interaction between students and the instructor is missing. If the student has a question, sometimes it is not easy to find an answer in a timely fashion.

But the reality of the situation is that often there is so much training needed and the training budget is limited, that it is tempting to just put the material into a PowerPoint Slide show and let each person sit through it.  If the slides are well developed, this may be adequate for someone who is visually oriented.  But generally this is a poor use of technology for training.

Here's a suggestion for making those PowerPoints work better for training-narrate the slides.  There are software programs to compress PowerPoints up to 95%!!  And the students do not have to have PowerPoint or a viewer to experience it. One easy-to-use program is Impatica for PowerPoint.  With a well-narrated* slide presentation, you've helped both the auditory learners and the visual learners.

* Well-narrated is NOT reading the words on the slides, but enhancing the content with meaningful examples and further explanations. See PowerPoint Problems.

This article was originally published on Digital Harbor On-line in 2004 and updated in 2014.

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Ginny Stibolt (You may not repost this article, but you may quote parts of it with links to this page. 
Ginny has years of teaching experience from seventh grade through college.  She's also owned three technology companies and has more than 20 years experience with computers and websites.

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