How do people learn?

Martin_ManserWe are pleased to offer you this exclusive interview with Martin Manser, author of the new book, Effective Training in a Week

Q: Tell us about the different learning styles you’ve encountered when training writers or others. 
The main different learning styles I’ve encountered when training 
are the following: 
Visual – those who like to see information in the written word, pictures, videos or diagrams to take it in well 
Auditory – those who learn by listening to information 
Kinaesthetic – those who learn by actively doing things, e.g., by role play or team games 

It can be very useful for you to discern where your own personal preference lies: I am more visual and auditory rather than kinaesthetic. The aim is to challenge your assumption that the way other people learn is the same way that you learn. To be an effective trainer, you  need to be alert to the styles of those you want to train. 

You can discern others’ learning styles from how they respond. These words are indicators, for example: 
Visual: see, look, picture, focus 
Auditory: hear (“I hear what you’re saying”), buzz, rings a bell 
Kinaesthetic: feel, concrete, get to grips with, contact 

Q: Why is it important to weigh learning styles when training your colleagues? 
People learn in different ways. We tend to think that they all learn in the same way that we do. Our way is often simply word-based.

I was leading a course a few months ago and I noticed that I didn’t seem to be making any headway with one particular participant. I happened to draw a diagram on the flip chart, and the participant responded well. So I started thinking in terms of communicating well to this participant that I should draw stick men or other simple drawings. This worked; the participant found flowcharts very helpful, for example. 

When I am producing a PowerPoint, I make sure that the words are brief but also I select a picture to accompany my words. I am amazed how few trainers do this. When we look at the television news, very often a picture is behind the newscaster. It takes a long time to find a suitable picture, but as we know, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The picture will probably be remembered more than e.g., alliteration with words. 

Q: How do you alter your training during a course upon discovering different learning styles? 
It is important that during the training you focus not on yourself but on your participants. The temptation is to think that you must get through your material, but that is not your aim. Your aim is for your participants to learn.

For example, I was leading a course a few years ago and my wife was present. She was much more aware of the participants than I was, and she said to me at mid-morning break, “Do something!” In other words, I needed to change my style of teaching so 
that the participants would learn effectively. Someone has said that you need to change your style every 20 minutes. 

I led a course last week and two of the participants came alive during the role-play. We were acting out negotiation and one was acting as a general manager. He had been very quiet up to that point, and suddenly I was amazed that he could speak so well. 

Q: Is there an ideal style of training? 
There is no ideal style of training. You need to adapt to those who you are training. I work on the basis that people will remember more what they say and do themselves than what I say. 

So if I want to teach the need for planning, I could give the participants six points on the importance of planning, but that would not sink in with them. So often I prefer to ask them to work in pairs and then I might choose one participant to come up to the front and to 
write down answers on the flip chart. I can then fill out what they are saying with further points and good and bad examples from my own experience. I round things off by going through my points on a PowerPoint which lists points and has illustrations. We can then 
proceed to do a group exercise on e.g., planning a project to reinforce the points taught by taking an actual case study/example. 

I may get through less material but I think the teaching is more effective as the participants actually learn well. In your preparation, consider a variety of ways of teaching and training. Your participants are not aware that you choose one exercise or one way of teaching in preference to another. 

Effective TrainingMartin Manser will be leading a webinar for MAI on January 13 on the topic, “Communication and Business Skills for Publishers.”

Check out Martin’s new book, Effective Training in a Week (Hodder Education; McGraw Hill). He has compiled or edited over 200 reference books on the English language, Bible reference and business skills. Martin is an English-language specialist and teaches English to business colleagues. He is an MAI-Europe Trustee.

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