December 1, 2016

Knowing Your Audience: Training Your Employees

Written by Leslie Holcroft


Not Everyone is Just Like You

As a leader in the corporate world, you know that good leadership means recognizing and addressing the needs of employees at all levels of the business model. Oftentimes, however, the employees you need to train are experiencing a different daily workplace atmosphere than you are. It’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes in the workplace, as evidenced by CBS and Stephen Lambert’s hit TV show, Undercover Boss. There may be a lot you share in common with your employees, but when creating training modules, the most common error is believing that everyone experiences learning the same way you do. This is why classroom teachers who have naturally excelled in school often fail to connect with the learning styles of their students. It all boils down to audience, and what you know about them.

Learner Types

If you’ve ever taken a basic philosophy course, you know that there are different types of persuasive appeals and that if you are trying to get someone to donate money to a cause, for example, you might be better off showing them a video of the starving children, rather than appealing to logic by explaining all of the reasons why a donation would be a good choice or telling the audience that they should feel morally obligated. Most people would feel more compelled by the emotional appeal. There would be other viewers who aren’t drawn to emotional appeals, though, so you’re most likely to catch the attention of all members of the audience by appealing to their emotions, logic, and ethics simultaneously. Addressing learner types applies in a similar way. The three most prominent learning styles are:

  1.  Auditory: Learning through listening to instruction and explanation.
  2. Visual: Learning through viewing images that provide explanation.
  3. Kinesthetic: Learning through hands-on practice of a skill or concept.

Everyone has one learning type they connect with best or gravitate toward, but the most effective and complete learning of a topic happens when all three modes are utilized. In his online course entitled “Instructional Design Essentials: Adult Learners,” Jeff Toister gives the example of the GPS. The device gives auditory directions, while providing visual cues, while you do the hands-on driving. The same concept applies to popular virtual reality games like Wii U and Rock Band where the player is involved in the game on all three levels, simulating a life-like experience that captivates the participant from multiple sensory angles. You don’t have to know which learner type applies most directly to each of your participants, you just need to create training that addresses a bit of each of the learning modes. Insert visuals to coincide with the auditory explanations of complex ideas, then pause the instruction to have the trainee execute a task that reinforces their ability to use the material in a practical way.

What else should I know about my trainees?

Part of what engages participants in your delivery of the material is a feeling of personal connection or investment. Validating the individuality of your participants and even teaching them a bit about themselves is an easy way to hook their attention and send the message that you care about providing training that is important to them. It’s essential to ask follow-up questions that lead to personal reflection before moving on. Something like, “What are your personal strengths as a member of your workplace,” or “What is one practice or mindset you’ve observed in a coworker that you would like to emulate in the future?” Think of self-learning and reflection as the way to shake the Etch-a-Sketch and clear away the clutter of the mind before beginning a new training

Establishing Purpose

The first step of building a purpose is to ensure your audience believes that the training materials are specific to their needs, which will be the focus of the next blog post. You need participant “buy-in” to the material for the training to have any influence on the future of your business. Participating in a training that was clearly created for a different audience will immediately shut down engagement, which is almost impossible to recover from within the time frame of a training event. Validating your audience and gauging their needs is an imperative initial step to creating a successful training program.

Leslie Holcroft

Leslie Holcroft is a professional educator in North Kingstown, RI.

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