Training Troubles? Why Your Teaching Style Is Likely To Blame

When it comes to on-the-job training, you’ve probably noticed that some people seem to learn quickly, while others require more time and attention. But have you considered that your method of teaching might be to blame for the varied responses from your staff?

Just because a new employee doesn’t understand your instructions doesn’t mean he can’t be taught. It just means that he may have a different learning style than you’re used to. No two people learn effectively in exactly the same way, so it’s up to you to employ different methods of teaching to accommodate your audience.

Regardless of the level of training, it’s important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, says Laurent Duperval, president of Duperval Consulting in Montreal, Canada.”Speak to them at their level,” he says.According to the “Index of Learning Styles” developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman in the late 1980s, there are four dimensions of learning, each of which exists across a spectrum:

  • Sensory to Intuitive: Sensory learners prefer concrete, practical facts, while intuitive learners look for the meaning.
  • Visual to Verbal: Visual learners like graphs, pictures and diagrams, while verbal learners like to hear or read information.
  • Active to Reflective: The active learner likes to learn by doing, while the reflective learner prefers to learn through analysis.
  • Sequential to Global: Sequential learners like orderly, linear details, while the global learner wants the big picture first.

Ideally, learning styles fall somewhere in the middle of one of the spectrums, otherwise comprehension can suffer. But when you’re teaching others, there is no guarantee that you are working with balanced learning styles, or even those that fall on the same spectrum. The best approach is to offer a variety of training programs.

  • For the sensory/intuitive spectrum, focus on both hard facts and general concepts.
  • For visual/verbal, you’ll want to provide both visual and verbal aids.
  • For the active/reflective learners, offer experiential learning, as well as time for analysis.
  • With the sequential/global spectrum, you’ll need to provide the big picture as well as structure.

Duperval suggests using different types of learning materials—including audio, video and books—and letting individuals select the approach that works best for them.“

Another option, which is especially useful in formal training, is to include all three major learning styles [visual, audio and kinesthetic] in the training session,” Duperval says. “For example, when presenting a new concept, show it on a screen, talk about it simultaneously and have people write it down. They are then seeing, hearing and ‘doing’ simultaneously, which helps them learn it faster.”

If possible, Duperval says, let the person discover the concepts by themselves.“For example, use exercises to illustrate a concept, debrief, explain the concept, then, let them use the concept again in a different exercise,” he says.

You also need to make sure your own personal learning style doesn’t become a hindrance, says Duperval.”

If you are detail-oriented, you have to get away from the details and present the big picture. It’s your job, if you are the person providing the information,” he says.

The stage at which the learner is on the Conscious Competence Ladder is also important. Identifying where she stands on the matrix equips you with how to approach her.

  • Unconscious Incompetence: At this stage, you may need to gently remind the learner of how much they have to learn.
  • Conscious Incompetence: At this point, lots of encouragement and allowances for mistakes are needed, with the goal of helping the learner improve.
  • Conscious Competence: Now the learner needs to stay focused on effective performance. Give her lots of opportunities to practice.
  • Unconscious Competence: While this is optimal for effectiveness, watch out for complacency.

“If you teach things that are too advanced, many of the less knowledgeable will be in over their heads and will not learn much,” says Duperval. “If it is too basic, the more knowledgeable will be bored and stop listening—and might even disrupt [the lesson]. You need strategies to address these situations. Prepare different learning exercises for different levels of knowledge, and mix and match veterans and rookies so the former can use their experience and expertise to help the latter.”


What types of learning styles have you identified in your office? How have you modified your training style to accommodate them?

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