Addressing Learning Styles (Part 1)

People learn by different means. That is not likely a mystery to most people, but if our training efforts are going to reach our audience (those performing the processes essential to our organizations’ success), we must ensure our training processes connect with our learners.

In this series of posts, we will look at the learning styles one by one. Then we will look at training strategies to reach these learners, and focus on how procedures can be structured to reach people of different learning styles.

1. The Active Learner

The active learner likes to learn by doing. Their mindset is “give me the parts* and let me figure it out.” Active learners are best equipped for work that involves activity. In a manufacturing setting, the active learner is likely to reach a level of competence faster than most, but (unless preventative steps are taken) will also likely produce the most scrap in the learning process. Unless an organization is willing to accept scrap as a cost of training (and most organizations are not), learning by doing is not an acceptable route to training.

While the active learner cannot simply be told to go experiment and learn, training in an activity can be tailored in a way that meets the active learner’s style. The key is to, as much as possible, break the training of tasks into smaller segments. This will allow the active learner to receive information (through discussion or demonstration) and be able to put the information into practice before they become distracted by a relentless stream of information.

Procedures and active learners: admittedly, a written procedure is going to be less useful to an active learner than it will be to the other three learning styles. That being said, we still must insist on the active learner reading the procedure. Again, the procedure reading can be broken into smaller segments. We can tell the active learner to focus on the descriptions of the activities within the procedure.

We can also have the active learner describe back to the trainer the activity steps from the procedure, while performing the step. This will go a long way toward reinforcing the correct performance of a task, when the active learner can put words to their actions. It will also allow the trainer to compare verbal description to procedure description for conformance, and compare verbal description to actual task step performed. This will allow the trainer to check for understanding before committing resources to the trainee.

* in this discussion, I have used the example of someone learning an assembly or manufacturing task, thus the phrase “give me the parts.” An active learner, given a software program to learn, may take a similar path: “just let me play with the features until I figure out what they do!”  Just don’t permit them to “play” with critical files.

About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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