User training during change management: everyone learns differently

We all know that user training is a crucial thing during change management. If you feel you want to disagree with this, please stop reading, then this article is not for you and I don’t want to waste your time and mine.

You are still reading? Sweet, at least we are some page when it comes to that. In my day job I spend a lot of time helping Microsoft partners by going through statements of work of their change process. Most of these plans have a part where user training is included. My first question is always “How are you going to do this training?” Too often, the response is “We put them together in a class room and go through it.” Whatever the it might be, the new process, the Office 365 service they are implementing, intranet, etc …

Before I continue with this article, I want to share something about me. I graduated in 2008 as an educator (long after I finished my college degree in 2000) because I always had a big interest in education and the art of teaching. I spent over 5 years at the University College of Brussels as an Educator in the Teaching Department and a IT manager for the whole school. After that I spent 3 years at Microsoft Education dedicated to Office 365 in the Western European Team.

Going to back to classical approach for user training. When a group approach is chosen we have to realize that not everyone learns the same way and at the same speed. Educators are taught to differentiate between learning styles to make sure that everyone is approached in a way that works for them. When we look at ourselves we all -hopefully- know that certain things don’t work. Try to go back to high school where you had that one teacher where everything just clicked and also -unfortunately- that teacher that no matter the time you spent on the studying, getting more information, it just didn’t work. This is no different in the workforce. Unfortunately, when we are the teacher we tend to forget this little fact.

So what can we do about it? Let’s start with some basic information. Like we stated in the beginning everyone has a preferred learning style. When you ask people how they learn the best, it is often based on a gut feeling and their own success and failure experiences. Luckily for us, there are some smart people who did a lot of research on this topic. Their research can help us identifying the different learning styles of the people they work with and how they like to learn. Based on this information we can make sure that training is adjusted to their preferences.

It is definitely not my intention to overload you with all the theory behind it, but it is interesting to know that all of this is based on the theories of a guy called David Kolb. He stated that all people’s preferred learning style could be identified based on two axles. The X-axle is how we like to approach a task (doing or watching) and the Y-axle is our emotional response to the experience (feeling or thinking).


Based on these axles we can identify quadrants that look like these:


Now what does this actually mean? OK, fair enough, let’s make it concrete.

Here are brief descriptions of the four Kolb learning styles:

  • Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO) -a.k.a Reflector – These people are able to look at things from different perspectives. They are sensitive. They prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and use imagination to solve problems. They are best at viewing concrete situations several different viewpoints. Kolb called this style ‘Diverging’ because these people perform better in situations that require ideas-generation, for example, brainstorming. People with a Diverging learning style have broad cultural interests and like to gather information. They are interested in people, tend to be imaginative and emotional, and tend to be strong in the arts. People with the Diverging style prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.
  • Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO) – a.k.a. Theorist – The Assimilating learning preference is for a concise, logical approach. Ideas and concepts are more important than people. These people require good clear explanation rather than practical opportunity. They excel at understanding wide-ranging information and organizing it a clear logical format. People with an Assimilating learning style are less focused on people and more interested in ideas and abstract concepts. People with this style are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. These learning style people is important for effectiveness in information and science careers. In formal learning situations, people with this style prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through.
  • Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE) – a.k.a. Pragmatist – People with a Converging learning style can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects. People with a Converging learning style are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems. People with a Converging learning style are more attracted to technical tasks and problems than social or interpersonal issues. A Converging learning style enables specialist and technology abilities. People with a Converging style like to experiment with new ideas, to simulate, and to work with practical applications.
  • Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE) – a.k.a. Activist – The Accommodating learning style is ‘hands-on’, and relies on intuition rather than logic. These people use other people’s analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach. They are attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They commonly act on ‘gut’ instinct rather than logical analysis. People with an Accommodating learning style will tend to rely on others for information than carry out their own analysis. This learning style is prevalent and useful in roles requiring action and initiative. People with an Accommodating learning style prefer to work in teams to complete tasks. They set targets and actively work in the field trying different ways to achieve an objective.

Which learning style are you? I added a questionnaire that will help you identify this. kolb questionnaire final . Of course you can also use this in your organization to identify the preferred learning style of your coworkers. Finally, I want to offer some insights.

This article is by all means not intended to give you a crash course in education and how to teach better. It is however an introduction and some kind of eye-opening experience making you realize that different people will need different ways to assimilate the new processes, products, etc. Based on personal experience I can state that with a personalized approach in your user training you will have a greater success to reach everyone in your organization.

Feel free to reach out for more information or comment …


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