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Why it's important to know how your employees learn

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Do you know how you learn? How about the people around you? Are you even aware that learning is not one-size-fits-all?

The answers to those questions could mean the difference between wasting scarce training dollars and getting the most for your buck.

Three experiences last week reminded me of the dramatically different learning styles that co-exist in any workforce.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, staff at Journal Multimedia (parent company of the Business Journal) took advantage of on-site training in Microsoft Excel. Folks decided on their own whether they wanted to start with the basic or intermediate level or to jump straight into advanced, and each person had the option of training in a group setting or following along individually on their desktops.

I opted for the group, knowing that I could be easily distracted back in my office. The bonus to picking up new tips and some great application ideas (thanks, Brian!) was observing how people approached the training. Some tried to write down every instruction; others sat back and listened, knowing summary sheets and other materials would be available to consult afterwards; and a few brought laptops and tried to keep up with the sessions on their keyboards.

On Thursday, in the lunchroom, I enjoyed watching and listening as a JM associate known for her knitting skills (and, as we learned last week, her wizardry with Excel) taught a co-worker how to knit. They sat side by side, both with knitting needles in hand, while one talked and demonstrated and the other followed along, correcting her actions as her teacher guided her through the steps.

Then, last night, I made gazpacho using a printed recipe – with a tasty result and a lesson learned, because I decided to skip an important instruction. I didn’t wear gloves to chop the jalapeno, as the recipe advised, and just washed my hands well when I was finished. Then I took my contact lenses out.

Ouch.

So what can we learn from these examples?

First, that when you offer training, unless it a mandatory topic such as safety reviews or a refresher on harassment in the workplace, you shouldn’t expect all your employees to be at the same level, and in most cases you can rely on them to determine where they are. Forcing everyone to start from square one is a waste of their time and your money.

Second, educational experts recognize basic learning styles* – often broken down as “visual,” “auditory” and “kinetic” or “tactile.” The mix in the Excel sessions was obvious, as was the fact that most people learn through a mixture of these styles – listening and taking notes, for example, or listening and typing (both approaches auditory and kinetic) or watching and following up later with the printed materials (visual).

In addition, some people thrive in a classroom setting, while others improve concentration and absorption of material by being on their own.

Third, some people – like the knitters – do best through demonstration and hands-on repetition of the skill (very visual and kinetic).

Then there are the people like me (a visual/kinetic, by the way). No matter what or how you tell them, you must tell them why you are telling them. Otherwise, they have to make their own mistakes and learn the hard way. A recipe is one thing. Can you afford a well-meaning but costly mistake at your business?

“Why” was the unifying factor in all these experiences last week: “Because a macro can’t be undone”; “because your stitches will be too loose”; “because the hot pepper will cling to your skin and you can get it in your eyes!”

Here’s a quiz to help you learn more about your learning style. And here is another.

*Various educational experts, psychologists and researchers break these down further into as many as seven.

The week ahead

Paint. Food. Power. More food. We’ve got stories about all those in the upcoming issue of the Business Journal. The unifying factor there is changing business models and the impact of industry competition. Two businesses we profile are on the upswing, two are hoping to reinvent themselves, all should offer insight for your business.

The Inside Business focus is on workforce development and continuing education, with an emphasis on how local post-secondary institutions are changing the way they educate students to make them ready for the jobs you’re trying to fill.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

When you were a student, were you one of those people who forever completed assignments at the last minute, even though you were always busy and felt organized? Now there’s a word for that – pre-crastination.

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. A Pennsylvania native, she is a graduate of Penn State and Xavier University. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at hopes@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @hstephan. Circle Hope Stephan on .

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