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Different Learner Styles in a Classroom Environment

Last week we reviewed the different learning styles that your team or class participants may respond to. In addition to the 4 basic learning styles, we all also have preferences as to whether we do better alone or in varying sizes of groups.

Many companies will opt for in-person classes or presentations, requiring attendance by employees. The key advantages of this is that everyone gets the same message at the same time and large numbers of people can be trained at once. The disadvantages include time/scheduling and addressing varying learning styles.

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a class or presentation, listening to the teacher drone on, looking at PowerPoint slides that you could printout and read by yourself, rolling your eyes at your fellow participants’ questions and wishing you could skip this required attendance and just read and research your way through the class.

Or maybe you prefer the classroom setting – the interaction between your fellow students and the teacher as well as between and among the students invigorates you. You just don’t understand why the person next to you is so bored.

Not everyone responds to the same stimulus. To get peak performance out of your employees and students, it is important for the presenter or teacher to include a variety of different styles and exercises within the lesson in order to ensure that everyone is stimulated to absorb the material.

Sometimes the teaching style may be directly related to what it is you’re trying to teach, the goals of the training session. Is the goal to teach a new skill or new techniques for achieving old skills? Is this a pure compliance exercise or are you trying to change behavior?

Some ideas for mixing up training techniques within a classroom or instructor-led environment may include something as simple as using a whiteboard and/or flip charts. This may seem old fashioned but it can still be extremely effective. By inviting trainees to participate by writing down thoughts and feedback as you go through the materials and discussion, you are actually appealing to the kinesthetic type of learner as well as the read/write learner and even the visual learner.

By including a video in the class to explain certain concepts or case studies, you are not only addressing the visual learners but also the auditory learners in the group. PowerPoint is, of course, a key training tool used by most trainers and leaders today and are ideal for instructor-led group training. Depending on how it is used, PowerPoint can satisfy several learning styles because while the presenter is primarily lecturing – appealing to auditory learners – there’s also a visual element, particularly when the slides contain more images than bullet points or text.

Finally, storytelling is a very old method of teaching. Storytelling obviously appeals to the auditory learner, but can address kinesthetic learners too by encouraging participation through asking questions such as:

  1. How does the story relate to the topic or training about?

  2. How does the choices made by the characters affect the outcome?

  3. What assumptions did the student make as the story progressed?

  4. Were they correct?

  5. What would they have done differently.

These stories can make training sessions more personal because they help the trainee to determine whether decisions were made correctly and to visualize the potential effect of decisions made.

A good instructor will break up training sessions with a variety of exercises including quizzes, group discussions and feedback, Q&A sessions, role playing where applicable, and demonstrations. It goes without saying that the more interactive the session is the more engaged the trainees will be which makes them generally more receptive to new information. The primary disadvantage just such a session, is that it can take longer because the activities mentioned above are time consuming.

Another challenge is getting buy-in from veteran employees who feel they have nothing new to learn. Encouraging them to comment on their experiences and pass on their knowledge to the new employees makes everyone feel valued and encouraged to learn from each other.

Next week we’ll explore how eLearning programs address different learning styles.

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