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Fresh ideas on ‘learning styles’ needed!



I'm about halfway through designing a course on handling challenging delegates. I've focused on the impact the Trainer can have before, when opening, during and after the event and then I've moved on to include a section on what the different types of challenging delegates are, and how best to handle them.

I now want to move on and include a section on how if the Trainer tailors their approach to their group's individual learning styles, this can also help to turnaround a challenging delegate.

My problem is that the majority of the people at my company will have at least a basic understanding of activist, reflector, etc - if not a more advanced knowledge. So I want something that's going to look at it from a fresh angle.

Any ideas will be very gratefully received!

Chris Mooney

5 Responses

  1. Challenging delegates
    First some old classics. You might try Brostrom’s Training Style Inventory – a nice counterpoint to learning styles as they already know that side of the coin. Alternatively, looking at Transactional Analysis would be good if you are looking at crossed communications, personality issues, potential conflict and how to handle it. There is also a TA profile questionnaire if personal diagnosis would be helpful.
    Slightly more current is Emotional Intelligence and EQ – that could be a great angle for trainers. In the area of learning styles you might try the cognitive styles questionnaire, which in the review of different learning styles instruments by Newcastle University came out top.
    If you want to zoom in on conflict per se, the Thomas-Kilmann conflict instrument is well regarded.
    Finally, you could forget theories and questionnaires and just get the group to identify what can or does go wrong and what can you do about it. You can get them to bullet point top tips, act out a scenario or present back to their peers.
    Whichever way you go, best of luck.

  2. Gardner’s 8 Intelligences might be useful
    Hi Chris. I’m slightly confused here. You say that you want to use learning styles as a way of looking at handling “difficult delegates”, BUT that most people in your company already know about learning styles and you therefore want something new.

    Perhaps the new perspective here would be asking people how they might use learning styles (“old knowledge”) to handle the “difficult delegate” issue.

    As you imply, providing alternative learning approaches might be a good way to try to tackle this. If you are looking for something different from learning styles you might like to experiment with Gardner’s “8 Intelligences” – linguistic; logical-mathematical; musical; bodily-kinaesthetic; spatial; interpersonal; intrapersonal; naturalist. He is also considering adding another – spiritual. There are many refs to this framework (it used to be 7 Intelligences) on Google or Amazon; most are in the context of primary education but I find it works well in management development. I find that people take to this pretty well – and it lends itself to all number of activities.

    I’m fairly sure you could tackle some “problem delegate” situations by varying the learning methods to allow for diverse “intelligences”.

    There may of course be other ways of engaging with “difficult delegates” (I have put the phrase in inverted commas because I am a bit wary of the concept) – such as talking openly with them about the whole situation, what you are doing, what they are doing, and how between you you might move forward. I quite often use the process known as “role negotiation” – things you do that I find helpful – please continue; things you do that I find unhelpful – please stop; things you don’t do that I would find helpful – please start.



  3. Getting them to come up with their own solutions?

    Graham’s ideas of ‘get the group to identify what can or does go wrong and what can you do about it’ could work well as it would get them to come up with solutions to specific challenges they may have had in the past.

    It’s also worth checking out trainerbase ( as they may have something you can download there to look at.


  4. Look at alternatives
    The concept of learning styles is losing currency among learning professionals. There are over 70 models, and the theory behind most of them is sketchy at best and inaccurate at worst. People are not limited to one style of doing things. And one approach is clearly not universally applicable. For example, you are likely to approach an Ikea flatpack very differently from the way you would approach learning a new computer application.

    I would suggest a better approach would be to teach them to read people’s non-verbal signals to identify where a person is coming from right now, rather than trying to pigeonhole them on a longer term basis.

  5. A “difficult delegate” is…?

    Even now I remember a situation that occurred over 40 years ago when our headmaster was instructing us how to use a fork to eat a vol au vent (sp?)(the school was about to be visited by the Queen Mother) – and yet disciplined me because I was quietly miming his instructions.

    No doubt he thought I was being “difficult”, though in reality I was learning the best way I knew how – by doing rather than by just listening.

    The first point that might be useful, then, is to consider why trainees might be behaving in a way the trainer sees as being “difficult”.
    Could it be that the trainer him/herself is creating difficulties by expecting everyone to adhere to too rigid a form of “learning”?

    For example, many people will be aware that any given group of trainees will include some who prefer material to be presented aurally, some who prefer a primarily visual presentation, and some who prefer to dive straight in and “get their hands dirty”, so to speak.

    On that basis “difficult” trainees are often merely indication that the presentation style is leaving them with the feeling that they can’t really get a grasp on what they’re supposed to be learning.

    Often just making a range of learning materials available can make a big difference (rather than the trainer trying to analyse each delegate’s learning style) – though it will, of course, require that the trainer be a whole lot more flexible.

    Be well

    Andy B.


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