MRO Magazine

Maintenance Management: Improving your training techniques

You attempt to teach a skill to a particular employee ... time and again. But despite your efforts, he just doesn't seem to get it. He's a good performer, and you know he's a smart guy, so what's wron...


September 1, 2001
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

You attempt to teach a skill to a particular employee … time and again. But despite your efforts, he just doesn’t seem to get it. He’s a good performer, and you know he’s a smart guy, so what’s wrong?

Or another scenario: You have conducted a few presentations about some new equipment in your plant in recent months but they just didn’t seem to go over well. Your instincts tell you that the people around you were interested in what you had to say … but nothing clicked. What happened?

A likely answer: you’re presenting information in the wrong way. Most people learn best through a preferred “learning style” — a set of deeply held preferences that take their own habits and experiences into account.

Far from being the province of educators, the subject of learning styles is on the minds of many effective supervisors and managers these days. It should be on your mind. Understand the diverse ways to impart knowledge and information about anything, and you can do great things: improve communication, enhance the performance of the people around you, even sell your ideas or products more persuasively.

Learning styles can be classified in many different ways, but here are some of the common styles you’re likely to find in the people around you:

Learning by doing. People who prefer this style like to kick the tires. They’re fond of practice and trying things out. Example: If you’re trying to explain how to work on a tangible product to someone who favours this style, you’ll increase the chance of a success by letting him play with the product during the presentation.

Learning by touching. These folks learn best by tactile means. They like to turn concepts into tangible items, and they try to understand the shape and sensations associated with objects. Example: If you’re introducing a new skill to someone who prefers this style, let him hold the equipment or tools he’ll be using while you explain what they do.

Learning by thinking. These individuals want to understand the principles behind an idea or skill. Unlike those who favour touch or practice, these people learn abstract or theoretical principles first. Example: If you’re teaching a new computer skill, you might first demonstrate some of the programming principles underlying the skill.

Learning by analyzing. Analytic folks value logic and reason. They want to know exactly how and why things work the way they do, and they often prefer structured learning. Example: Try methodical classroom-style instruction for an individual who prefers this style.

Learning by partnering. These individuals learn best when the subject matter is reinforced by discussion and involvement with other people. They enjoy learning in a collaborative, group environment. Example: Invite skilled individuals to informally mentor the individual you’re trying to teach. And give both the mentor and student some hands-on projects to allow them to practice their skills.

Learning by asserting. Some individuals like to take control of their learning environment. These leaders may want to ask tough questions, compete with others who are trying to learn, or even take on the role of instructor. Example: When you’re trying to sell an idea to a colleague who fits this style, explain the learning outcome you’re trying to achieve, and let him take the lead.

Learning by controlling. These individuals want to control their learning environment, although not necessarily lead it. They appreciate goals, objectives and structure. They want to learn the facts — all of them — and only then turn the facts into holistic principles. Example: Start off with this individual by explaining vocabulary, procedures or rote rules, and then explain the underlying principles.

Learning by following. Here we see individuals who learn by closely observing the examples and instructions of people they respect. They appreciate authoritative trainers, and work well with outlines and concrete assignments. Example: Speak about your own qualifications and background when teaching or presenting to this individual. Also, “walk through” each principle or assignment before inviting the individual to do so.

Learning by guessing. Often difficult to teach, these individuals are quick to throw structure to the wind. They may guess how things work, move from idea to idea, and build their own understanding from the facts they already know. Example: Give this individual a project to work on, and be patient as he takes the project in different directions.

Learning by problem-solving. These individuals like to approach learning in real-life terms. They are often confident, become immersed in simulations, and like to work independently. Example: Give this individual a real-life task, and let him complete it under broad supervision.

The next time you must explain a new idea or teach someone a new skill, try approaching the task with several different teaching methods. And don’t hesitate to ask individuals how they believe they learn best; the answers might offer fruitful, time-saving clues.

Whatever you do, remain conscious of the widely varying learning styles among the people around you. Your ability to tailor training and presentations to those styles can profoundly influence your success in imparting new information.

Richard Ensman is a freelance writer specializing in management topics.