I’ve been working with my CUSO for almost eight years now, and with all that experience comes a lot of knowledge and responsibility. I oversee the training of each new communications employee, who must learn the data processing system’s data tools, including but not limited to query, dashboards, and other sales-related tools in the system. We’ve had a lot of personalities, learning types, and differing experience levels come around, and I’ve found myself learning from the trainees just as much as they’ve learned from me.
Creating a training program that can change with the times and speak to different learning levels and personalities is challenging, but it is possible. After some fine tuning over the years, I’ve found that the following methods work best when addressing each obstacle individually.
Training different learning styles
It’s never safe to assume that everyone learns in the same ways. I’ve worked with people who learn best simply by reading through documentation, while I’m the type of person who needs a visual explanation and hands on learning to not only learn but absorb the information. The same is true of others you will work with and train throughout the workplace. The safest way to ensure that you’re targeting every learning type isn’t to focus on only one or two ways of learning, but to include all the possibilities.
In my trainings, we always start with a verbal explanation before we transition to some type of visual explanation to better break down what we’re working with from a bird’s eye view. After that, there’s a full walkthrough of the concepts we were just discussing to provide a real-life example, and finally I sit back and make the trainees walk me through an example, so they have the chance to think things through. Homework is always provided and uses a mixture of quizzes, reading, video recordings, and hands on practice.
No matter what you’re teaching, ensure your training caters to each type of learning style, instead of trying to change it on a dime depending on who is sitting in the training seat or worse, forcing them to adopt your preferred method. Include handouts with words and flow charts or graphs so you meet two learning styles in your documentation and be open to letting people practice with you present so they get some of the hands-on experience they might need.
Working with different learning levels
When I first started training, I had a really tough time with this. Occasionally, I do run into further issues with this when I have one trainee who is really struggling to grasp the source material and the another who is asking questions to get ahead of the material we’re currently covering. Hosting training sessions separately isn’t always an option, especially if your schedule and sessions look anything like mine, where we meet for 90 minutes twice a week and I usually have work on top of meetings scheduled consistently throughout the week.
While this is one side of the problem, the other is that I originally came from another department in the organization before I joined this one and had to learn these things myself. This set me up with a small problem: I assumed that everyone else who walked into these trainings already had the same base knowledge that I did. This is absolutely not true, especially in the departments that I work with these days. The people walking into these positions come from all sorts of education levels, experience backgrounds, etc., and so I need to be ready and willing to teach everything from the bottom up.
To accommodate this particular struggle, I’ve had to change the way I train a little bit:
Don’t assume everyone knows the basics of what you’ll be teaching.
Start back at the very beginning, with the most base-level knowledge, especially if your company tends to hire people who came from a variety of workplaces. For example, instead of assuming that everyone who walks into the room knows the different types of loans that can exist and what their purpose is, I ask “Does anyone need a refresher on what a home equity loan is and how it’s used? Does anyone need help understanding the difference between a closed end versus an open ended loan?” This helps us get to our next point without having to back track and keeps everyone from feeling embarrassed about having to ask a question based on my own assumptions.
Let people go early if it seems right.
I run into the same problem almost every time I start training: half the room has a little experience or is just “wired” to better understand the information we’re looking at, where the other half of the room gets lost after the first two sentences. At the end of the day, we each have our own skill sets and areas where we shine, and those where we struggle. Sometimes the person who is grasping the topic tries to rush through the class to get to the next idea, which is not part of the lesson plan that day. I’ve also had someone stand up and try to start teaching the class while I was in the middle of instruction, thinking additional input would help. I’ve found that if one person has something down with minimal instruction, I can set them free to go start their homework early and continue further instruction and practice with the struggling person in the room.
Schedule extra time as needed.
At the end of every training session, I offer up my time to everyone in the room. I ask if we need to stay a little longer, if it would help to schedule time for me to be available as they get started on the homework and have offered additional training sessions as needed. Just like in the above example, while some people hardly need instruction, some need instruction plus reinforcement to understand certain concepts, and that’s okay.
Training different personalities
This one has probably been my toughest obstacle yet. Combine my introversion with my desire to avoid confrontation, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster when it comes to other strong personalities in the training room. I’ve experienced shy people who are afraid to voice their concerns and only trust one person in the entire company to relay feedback to, so I don’t know they’re struggling until it’s too late. I’ve had trainees with strong personalities that get up in the middle of me speaking and start drawing on the whiteboard and try to take over the class. I’ve had distracted people pick up their phones and start texting or constantly check their smart watches. I’ve even had avoidant and procrastinating people who call in every single time homework is due or we have a training scheduled.
This particular concept almost ties in more with being able to lead and manage people, and while we might not all make the connection at first, training a group of people requires that we lead them, even if for a short period of time. We are responsible for running the room and managing what goes on, so I’ve had to get over my shyness and start being more assertive.
When someone keeps picking up their phone, I ask if it’s an emergency and we need to reschedule, or if they can mute and put the phone away for the remainder of the class. When someone was trying to take over the class, I had to have an individual heart-to-heart as to why this isn’t necessarily acceptable or respectful. If I don’t voice that the behavior is a problem, it’s not going to change. It’s all about approaching it in the right way, and this is something that has taken practice and patience to get right. For the most part, I’ve found that the occasional 1-on-1 check in works best, so that I can get a better feel for where everyone stands without anyone needing to feel embarrassed, irritated, or “slow” in comparison to their fellow trainees.
For others, the problem may be just the opposite: maybe we’re coming on too strong and people don’t feel comfortable talking to us when they’re struggling. In this case, our approach should be softened, and we should try allowing for more quiet spaces throughout the training, asking more questions, and letting others voice their opinions without shutting anyone down entirely. We’re all only as successful as we allow others to be, and if we’re monopolizing every conversation, we’re not allowing for everyone to grow.
Come prepared and punctual
This is a dream I wish everyone followed for every sort of meeting, not just trainings. Being punctual is a general rule of thumb when trying to respect everyone’s time, especially for longer training sessions. If someone arrives ten minutes late, that’s ten minutes out of everyone’s time to learn, and ten minutes out of mine to get the objective across as clearly as possible while allowing for hands on learning experiences in the classroom.
Coming prepared is also on everyone in the training session, but especially when you’re the one training. Make sure all materials are prepared and reviewed for necessary updates prior to bringing them with you into the room. Double check that your lesson plan is up to date with what you’ll be covering that day, and that any review materials are also ready to use as necessary. Ensure you have access to all necessary tools and software, and arrive early if you’re going elsewhere to ensure there are as few technical difficulties as possible. While we can’t be perfectly prepared for every single training session, the more effort we put into being prepared, the fewer unnecessary obstacles we’re likely to face throughout the training.
Adjust the plan as you go
No matter what it is you’re teaching, your training program should be equipped to deal with changing technology that impacts your training objectives and meets every learning style. Scheduling 1-on-1 check-ins with your trainees for long term trainings can help to get more honest feedback and combat dealing with different personalities, but it’s important to remember that everyone will approach and want to be approached differently. The point of training is to ensure that everyone can learn what you are teaching and ensure that you’ve done all you can to set everyone up for success. It’s not always up to us to put forth all of work to learn while in the training room, but it is important that you have put in the effort to make it possible for as many people as possible. Be prepared to adjust your program after you get started, and remember that just because you’re the one teaching, that doesn’t mean you won’t get the chance to learn something too.