How we learn – and what you should do to get the most out of what you need to teach

 width=“How to Light a Fire Under People Without Getting Burned,” one of the seminars I offer, demonstrates the art of multiplying your efforts through others. I sometimes conclude the seminar with a role-playing exercise where each participant must list the tasks he or she presently does that could possibly be done by someone else, then list whom among their associates might possibly be trained to do it. Next I ask them to script how they as trainer would speak to the potential trainee to enlist their help. Finally I ask them to practice the actual interview with another student. The object of the exercise is to put the material I’ve taught into immediate use. Normally, the exercise works very well. However, on one occasion one of the seminar participants surprised me.

A leader of several years’ experience completely froze up when it came to this exercise. He was a very non-technical learner and could not grasp the activity at all. Instead of being a fun event and a practical conclusion to the seminar, it was for him a moment of extreme discomfort. Since a key element of effective learning is that the experience must be fun and non-threatening, he ceased learning at that point.

Effective leaders know how to develop and employ high impact training materials containing these four elements:

  1. The opportunity to be involved and participate.

  2. The capacity to overcome barriers to learning.

  3. The means by which the learner can buy-in to the material, i.e., “WIIFM = What’s in it for me?”

  4. The use of  appealing, non-threatening interactive methods.

A person’s innate, natural, and preferred learning style never changes and mostly depends on whether they are technically or non-technically inclined. Technical learners are those who are most comfortable with mechanics, devices, handwork, and machines performing “hard skills.” Non-technical learners are most comfortable with concepts, ideas, words, and paper, the “soft skills.”  All training materials and the experiences that employ them fit somewhere within and around these three classifications:

  1. Visual – what the student can see.

  2. Aural – what the student can hear.

  3. Kinesthetic – what the student can do.

But learners do not learn equally well between the three classifications. It greatly depends on whether the learner is technical or non-technical. To be most effective, use more than one method to impart information to those you train, remembering that each learns at differing rates and in differing ways. People with hard skills learn best by hands-on training such as practice with a machine or procedure, role-play, or simulation. Soft-skilled people learn best by seeing the information, but poorest kinesthetically. Neither group learns well through only aural means.

How do you find out whether the learner is inclined toward hard or soft skills if you don’t know them very well?

At the beginning of the training session or in an interview prior, ask them what they do for a living and for a hobby. Generally, what people do for fun fits their natural learning style.

What training materials should you use?

To show them, use:

  • boards
  • computers
  • charts
  • videos
  • handouts
  • Powerpoint presentations

To tell them, use:

  • lecture
  • discussion
  • workshop
  • tutorials

To let them, use:

  • buzz groups
  • case studies
  • brainstorming
  • action plan development exercises
  • critiques
  • critical incident analyses
  • field trips
  • games
  • interviews
  • practice exercises
  • project sessions
  • role plays
  • quizzes
  • simulation