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Quote about the need for learning in 21st century workforceAlthough providing training and development opportunities for employees has long been shown to drive engagement in a wide array of businesses, the reality is that workforces have changed over recent years. How we address training for these workforces must change too.

Ever since the internet became part of everyday life, it has moulded and shaped how people access information. Whereas once employees relied on experienced trainers to help them develop new knowledge and skills, people now take it for granted that they can research and access the information they need immediately without the help of an intermediary.

Another challenge is that our cross-generational workforces have different needs. Older members of a team may have always attended ‘stand and deliver’ style training, while younger employees may be incredibly tech savvy and expect a greater degree of interaction, as well as bite-sized content. They like being challenged to overcome challenges on their own, and often use the internet, computers, devices and games to interact with information and their peers.

One survey I read about recently reported that employment engagement is at an all-time low and that businesses are suffering the consequences of an ever-growing skills gap. In my experience, the straightforward approach to learning by rote and sitting at a desk is being increasingly abandoned in classrooms and isn’t always right for training sessions either.

The challenge we face as trainers is how to make learning accessible to the 21st century workforce.


Interaction and participation

Most of us learn better when we are actively participating in training.

When you are likely to struggle with engagement as a trainer is if you keep your trainees deskbound throughout the learning cycle and fail to provide opportunities for interaction. Evidence would also suggest that black and white, word-only training materials may not be the most effective way to communicate information, and can contribute to inertia at the end of the training process.


Accommodating different learning styles

As well as acknowledging that generational differences might require different approaches, it’s widely recognised that – regardless of their backgrounds – different people have different learning styles. Therefore, training needs to be delivered in a way that’s flexible and individually focused, encompassing the varying needs of these learning styles.

But how can we achieve this?

The first step is to think about how you can communicate with Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learners within the same session. What visual elements can you add? Can you get people up and moving with opportunities for hands-on experience? Can you provide data to back up your claims?


Learning roles

As well as learning styles, people tend to fall into specific learning roles:

  • Activists – Always brainstorming and looking for the next opportunity, they’ll try anything once but like to be the centre of whatever’s going on, even though they’ll involve other people.
  • Pragmatists – These down-to-earth people have bags of common sense and like to test new theories and ideas out to see if they work in practice. They love new ideas and will implement them straight away, as well as experimenting with how things can be improved.
  • Theorists – These learners like to create logically sound theories and test them out step-by-step. They ask lots of questions and challenge assumptions, analysing information and situations until they make sense.
  • Reflectors – These people like to look at things from every possible angle and think before they speak or act. They collect data, observe, listen to other people’s opinions and learn from other people’s experiences to help them understand the bigger picture.


The best way of learning about anything is by doing quoteCreate training for learning styles and learning roles:

As you’re no doubt aware, your training needs to incorporate techniques and strategies pitched at the different learning styles and roles.

For Visual learners, Theorists and Pragmatists, you might use:

  • Films, pictures, diagrams, demonstrations
  • Opportunities for reading and writing during the training session

For Auditory learners, Theorists and Pragmatists, you might:

  • Encourage verbal discussions, or small group discussions
  • Avoid jargon, and speak in plain English
  • Convey plenty of spoken information about the course content
  • Allow questions throughout the training event rather than just at the end
  • Give opportunities to read aloud
  • Use audio files within your presentation

For Kinaesthetic learners, Activists and Reflectors, you might use:

  • Physical hands-on experiences, such as carrying out a task
  • Games and simulations
  • Opportunities to move such as icebreaker exercises or role-play
  • Interactive computer-based tools
  • Opportunities to learn through trial and error
  • Artefacts that can be moved around, touched and assembled


Learning on the go

People in the 21st century workforce, regardless of their learning style, seem to prefer a bite-sized approach, as well as the flexibility to learn anywhen and anywhere. We all live busy lives and employee engagement can increase when individuals are given the opportunity to fit their training into their schedule.

On the flipside, without obvious structure and the accountability provided by a trainer being present, bite-sized self-managed learning can be hard to complete.

Is there a way that you can adapt your training to provide on-the-go learning? Or provide training that still offers structure and accountability with some autonomy over what is learned and when?

Many of the trainers I work with are exploring how to provide their training in short videos broken down into smaller topics that can be accessed when the trainee needs them. The trainee might need to complete a questionnaire or online worksheet to show they’ve interacted with the content before unlocking the next module/video.

Alternatively, you could add a component of remote learning as a follow-up to your in-house training to help participants consolidate their knowledge. You might do this (if you don’t already) by providing:

  • Training manuals
  • Small sections of bite-sized information (such as FAQ documents or web pages) that can be accessed 24/7
  • Posters highlighting the key points of the training
  • Videos that reinforce your training but can be watched in the trainee’s own time
  • Audio files for people to listen to in their own time
  • Follow-up support for an agreed time period over the phone
  • A private Facebook group to chat with other trainees

Another idea is to create a dedicated web space where trainees can access the FAQs, training manuals, audio and video files, Powerpoint presentation so that all learning styles are catered for. You might also decide to set multiple choice questions or interactive tools to check individuals are consolidating their newly gained knowledge.

A way to add value for your clients is to offer short refresher programmes at three- to six-month intervals, so you create an ongoing cycle of training that keeps employees’ skills well honed.

This is an exciting time to be a trainer. Technology, gaming, digital materials, and live simulations are all adding new layers into what we are able to deliver our clients. Only time will tell whether we can boost levels of employee engagement but I know my interest is sparked and that I’m constantly being inspired by the creative ideas of fellow trainers, and that can only be good news.

Do you think training has to change to meet the needs of the 21st century workforce? Do you notice generational differences? How do you address the needs of different learning styles and roles? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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