Are Trainers Really Taking Learners’ Learning Style Preferences Into Consideration?
Too often, some trainers believe that their preferred method and use of training strategies are conducive to all learners’ learning style preference. However, not all learners process information in the same way and could have different learning style preferences that dictate how they learn best. The varied learning style preferences of the learner should be taken into consideration when designing training programs and implementing training strategies.
The training strategy should not be determined solely by what the trainer prefers as methods for providing instruction. Our goal as trainers is to teach learners. Who is the most important to consider in a training and learning situation? If our objective as trainers is to ensure that learners learn the content we teach, then our training strategies used to meet those objectives should foster a learner-centered training approach.
Carl Rogers, who is known for his theory on client-centered counseling, is one of the pioneers who helped to transfer the student-centered approach to learning into the field of education. In the workplace, the new employee is the trainee (the learner). Educator Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson uses the term, “differentiated instruction,” to describe “instruction to accommodate the different ways learners’ learn.” The term has changed over the years, but the intended purpose is still the same: implementing diversified training strategies to help ensure all learners have an equal opportunity to learn. If trainers want to successfully achieve learning objectives, then trainers should provide training strategies that support all learning styles.
Questions Are a Learning Experience
In my experience as a trainee, trainer, and educator, I noticed over the years that not all trainers use effective training strategies that are conducive to the learning styles of diverse learners. Too often, when learners have a difficult time grasping training concepts, they tend to ask a lot of questions, perform poorly, experience frustration from lack of knowledge gained, and are usually dismissed from employment or resign on their own. Sometimes, when trainers receive questions from learners regarding training instructions, they jump into defense mode, as if the trainee is saying the trainer did something wrong. However, if we look at trainee questions as a learning opportunity for both the trainee and the trainer, we begin to understand that information can be misinterpreted and that the trainee is merely asking for clarity to avoid misunderstandings and/or mistakes. Trainee feedback helps trainers modify instruction to make the information clear and easier to understand. Learners will teach you how to teach them, meaning learners will teach you how to teach them in the best manner conducive to their learning style. Therefore, trainers should be flexible with the use of training strategies.
When developing training programs, the training strategies used in an online or face-to-face training format is critical to meeting learning objectives.
The way in which trainers convey information to learners can and will affect trainee learning outcomes. Because there are different types of learners from diverse backgrounds in every business setting, trainers should use a blend of training strategies, including a verbal component (auditory), a visual component (visual graphic illustration and/or video), written instructions and questions that are clearly written and easy to understand by all audiences, as well as hands-on practice (kinesthetic) opportunities, where learners can apply what they learn in real-world situations.
At the end of any training program, learners should be able to make the transition from applying theory to practice. It is important to implement training strategies that will provide learners with a theoretical framework that they can apply and/or make an analogy in comparison to a real-world situation. Although teaching and training are different words, both have the same goal in mind: to teach learners what you want them to know about a specific topic area.
Dr. Tomlinson is an educator at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, who discussed on the Reading Rockets Website (an organization that supports literacy efforts and provides resources and guides on teaching, reading, and writing) three important things to consider when planning teaching strategies:
- Learner readiness
- Learner interest
- Learning profile
Trainers can administer a pre-evaluation, questionnaire, or quiz to learners prior to or the start of the first day of training to help determine their readiness, interest, and learning profile. Dr. Tomlinson also discussed four components to consider during the planning phase/process:
- Content: What the learner needs to learn or how the learner will get access to the information
- Process: Activities the learner engages in that will help him or her make sense of or master the content
- Products: Such culminating projects ask the learner to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit
- Learning Environment: The way the training environment works and feels (online or in-person)
Here are some suggestions on how these components can work in a training environment:
- The content should be clear and easy to understand, so trainers should write instructions with the readers in mind. Assume readers do not know anything about the content. Your job as a trainer is to teach them what you want them to learn from the content.
- The content should be directly related to the learning objectives and also should include tools to assess whether the learning objectives were met successfully. Some measurement tools to consider are: end-of-training quizzes, hands-on activities, questionnaires, decision-making and problem-solving activities. When selecting measurement tools in training, it is important to also develop a grading rubric to determine levels of proficiency and if additional training is needed.
- The process is the manner in which trainers use the training strategies to convey information to the learners and how the trainer engages trainees in their own learning process. This information should align with trainee learning objectives, and training should be an ongoing, as-needed process.
- The products are the training assignments/tools that should incorporate hands-on activities that will allow learners the opportunity to apply what they learn in real-world situations, thereby allowing learners the opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of training concepts. This can be done through practice exercises that promote decision-making and critical thinking skills needed in their roles on the job.
- Lastly, the learning environment, should be learner friendly, meaning it is conducive to all learning styles, and encourages active trainee engagement/participation, learner resources and support, and trainee feedback.
Obtaining feedback from trainees allows the trainer to determine learners’ preferred method for receiving, processing, and retaining information. Trainers can use this information when planning training design and training strategies that can help to meet the needs of all learners. Often, necessary training modifications that result from trainee feedback also can help to improve employee retention. Trainers have to know that direction does not mean correction. When learners ask questions and/or challenge training content, it is a learning opportunity for both the trainee and the trainer. It gives the trainee the opportunity to gain better clarity about training content and expectations, and it provides the trainer with the opportunity to modify/revise training instructions that are unclear to learners.
Training objectives should be connected to trainee learning outcomes that are measurable, so with each learning objective, there should be measurement tools used to assess whether or not the intended outcome was met successfully or if further training and/or support is needed. A good way to determine if learners are grasping training concepts is by asking trainees to describe in their own words how they can demonstrate or apply the use of the concept in a real-world situation. Diversifying instruction with the use of various training strategies—such as training/instructional videos, graphic organizers, hands-on practice activities, collaborative working group activities for peer-to-peer learning, and verbal and written instruction related to job responsibilities—is important in any training environment.
Whether or not a trainer considers his or her training strategies effective, keep in mind that resources and other support services and accommodations could be needed, as well, to ensure that all trainees are learning and have what they needs to perform their job responsibilities. Therefore, when needed, encourage learners to seek additional resources available to help them.
Always remember that a trainer’s preferred method/strategy used for training might not be the learner’s preferred method for learning concepts. This will help you focus on designing differentiated training programs that give all learners an equal opportunity to learn. In short, be as innovative as possible in your approach to training and learning.
Tomlinson, C. A., “Fulfilling the Promise of Differentiation.” Retrieved on June 22, 2017, http://www.caroltomlinson.com/
Tomlinson, C. A., “What Is Differentiated Instruction,” Reading Rockets. Retrieved on March 3, 2017, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/what-differentiated-instruction - content
Lynnette Clement, M.Ed., is the program director for the B.A. in Organizational Leadership and M.S. in Human Capital Development programs, as well as an academic advisor and adjunct instructor, who trains new staff and new instructors in her respective programs at La Salle University.