The idea of different strokes for different folks is very apt for the training world. One style of training will certainly not suit all and one way of learning may not be the most efficient way.
Honey and Mumford learning styles are described as the following: activists, who are described as have-a-go learners; reflectors, who are tell-me learners; theorists, who are convince-me learners; and pragmatists, who are show-me learners.
Most of us at some point in our career will be sent on a presentation course where learning how to present includes the torturous experience of being videotaped and standing up in front of a room of people and stumbling through the learning process. As painful as this may be this is the best way to learn how to present - in front of an audience, self-aware and doing it.
However, a classroom situation doesn't have to apply for all types of learning. Take learning a graphic design package. Some people are more than happy to plough through manuals or e-learning solutions. Others will prefer to launch right in and learn through trial and error. The final group are happy to sit in front of a trainer and be taught step-by-step through classroom exercises in a timed environment.
A training programme must take into account different learning styles and the best trainers are naturally tuned into recognising the most appropriate learning style to the group. This may mean ensuring that in an hour of training, participants listen to 20 minutes of talking, have 20 minutes of visual materials and 20 minutes of doing an activity linked to this information using as many senses as possible.
It's also important to recognise that learning can take place outside the formal learning environment as a group discussion, tea break or even a learning journal.
For a successful training programme, both the trainer and participant must also be prepared and willing to get out of their comfort zone. A buoyant trainer faced with an introverted, reflective group will need to curb somewhat his or her level of energy to avoid overpowering and losing the audience. While a go-hung group who want to launch straight in may switch off to too much theory.
An area of training where appropriate delivery can encourage or discourage and which always gives rise to heated debate is soft skills training. This is especially the case amongst die-hard left-brain techies. Personally, I think 'soft skills' is too simple a term for describing what these courses offer.
The aim is to enlighten, educate, empower and facilitate changes in behaviour through self-awareness. Typically those who need it the most are the ones who refuse to come along or HR will not pay for them - until it’s too late and they keep finding they are missing out on promotions or getting stuck in their career, leading to cynicism and unhappiness.
The number one way of switching off the techie audience is the ra-ra 'let's put on a show and entertain you' style of training. What always tends to work well is to mention early on similar respected organisations that have benefited from soft skills training.
Credibility is crucial to a technical audience - every single spoken word matters and it's important to avoid blasé sentences if they can't be backed up with facts - consider it soft skills training suicide. The participants will no longer trust the trainer and the rest of the day will be an uphill struggle.
A trainer should approach such as audience with caution - greet them as they arrive to recruit a few potential allies, just in case. Quickly read the mood and energy of the room and tailor the style as appropriate. Introverted techies don't like to be bombarded with questions on demand. Give them time to relax while engaging in banter with the extroverts. Before time the introverts will start to join in and contribute - give them the time to come to you.
A trainer who is naturally reflective and introverted will find it easy to judge the pace - a highly verbose and extroverted trainer will need to reign themselves in - at least until there is trust and a positive group energy in the room.
Industries such as IT and engineering are beginning to understand the benefits of personal development courses alongside upgrading technical skills. The performance levels of a self-aware, communicative, emotionally intelligent and a positive team are far greater than a group of technically brilliant, yet socially challenged, individuals.
We are already seeing steps in the right direction, but it's always worth bearing learning styles in mind when designing and delivering your training programme.