Take your pick: Available options for learning are expanded with technology

Barb ClearyDifferences in learning styles can be no more apparent than in responses to the challenge of assembling something ordered from a catalog that comes with “some assembly required” notice.

Some of us read the enclosed instructions, perhaps laboring over not-so-clear directions related to Part A and Slot B. Others dig right in, trying our own hand at putting the thing together. And others just give up and ask someone else to assemble that wet-dry vac that we ordered.

The same differences are true when it comes to learning about process control—both the system of process improvement itself and the tools that advance that system, including software programs. When it came to the theory, process, and tools of improvement, the traditional way of learning often involved travel, hotel stays, and full days of seminar training. Companies sent learners to conferences, where they participated in sessions selected for special interest or need.

All that has changed. While conferences and seminars continue to offer value in the learning process, technology has made it possible to expedite that learning, saving money and time. Webinars, for example, where participants in distant sites share their interactions with each other and with trained facilitators, allow a more highly customized approach to individual needs.

And that’s where different learning styles come in. For some, the charged energy of a conference promotes conversations that become even more valuable than the sessions themselves. Interacting with those in the same industry or with potential customers and vendors offers its own approach to learning, and can be more fruitful than the formal learning offered by specific sessions. Conferences also offer opportunities to review books and other materials related to an industry topic, thereby enriching knowledge that may improve one’s organization.

Short of participating in a large-scale industry conference, some learners prefer the targeted training of seminars that are dedicated to a single topic or application, including those that provide opportunities to learn more about a software solution and to expand one’s expertise with one that is already known.

Seminars provide the same opportunities for conversation with others of like mind—users of the same software, suppliers to the same industries, etc., in a less formal environment, where it’s possible to have a cup of coffee with others in the same field or with the same interest. An intense one- or two-day seminar can change the way one approaches a task or utilizes a program.

The seminar that has been transformed by technology has become the webinar, where participants sign up from remote sites and pursue learning from their own desks or common areas. The webinar, using software such as Go To Meeting, has become a ubiquitous part of company life, offering low-cost and efficient training that does not demand the time commitment of travel nor the extended experience of seminars. While learning from one’s desk offers challenges of easy distraction, a two-hour webinar offers an opportunity for enlightened use of a specific product or program that one might otherwise pursue in a two-day seminar or multi-day conference. While it lacks the social interaction of the other two, the webinar is nonetheless the most efficient and least costly of these approaches to learning.

In a traditional classroom, differences in learning styles mean that some students read avidly, others prefer to listen to books on tape, and others need projects to make the learning come to life. While organizations do not always offer employees their choice of learning opportunities, companies would be well served by understanding that there are indeed different tracks to mastery of a topic or application, and that acknowledging an individual’s best fit for getting the most from learning opportunities is critical to long-term success. Identifying specific needs will always work better than a scatter-gun or one-size –fits-all approach.