Are You Speaking Their Language?

June 1999

Managing:In-Store Education

Are You Speaking Their Language?

Your sales associates process information in different ways, some by reading, some by listening, some by doing

By David Peters
Jewelers of America

Have you ever had an employee who didn't understand something even after several verbal explanations? Did you make any assumptions about him or her? Perhaps you thought she was slow. Or maybe you decided he had an attitude problem. Well, maybe you were wrong!

Too many managers erroneously assume an employee is a "slow learner" when the employee's learning style is simply different from the manager's or different from the way a training situation is structured.

Each one of us learns and processes information in different ways. That's a fact. The primary reason we don't know this is because most of us received our formal education in schools where teachers pretty much taught the same way. The teacher talked and we listened, took notes and did the best we could to learn. Schools didn't help or encourage us to discover our unique learning styles. Thankfully, those practices are changing. We now know successful training programs must be designed to accommodate different learning styles.

The Way We Learn
First, let's look at some broad general ways people learn:

  • Concrete learning occurs through our five senses. You touch the stove and get burned. You learn the stove is hot!
  • Abstract learning occurs though a process of thoughtful reflections, imaginings and mental scenarios. Daydreaming produces some insightful and beneficial realizations.
  • Sequential learning is acquired in a planned, structured and organized manner. This approach is common in schools, churches and other formal learning organizations.
  • Random learning is acquired by chance from disjointed occurrences and experiences. Most of us learned societal expectations and family values this way.
  • Independent learning takes place alone. Reading is a good example.
  • Collaborative learning takes place through the interactions of people working toward a shared goal.

Chances are your sales associates are learning using all six processes described here, especially if you have an on-sight training program. But education researchers have found you can narrow down learning styles even more specifically into three distinct categories (see box at end).

You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars identifying employees' learning styles. Just keep in mind a few considerations when presenting new information or training programs:

  • Give information in multiple formats – supplement verbal explanations with text, graphics, pictures and videotapes.
  • Offer opportunities for your staff to work with new information in a "hands-on" mode as soon as possible.
  • Schedule time to engage in self-study and introspection.
  • Create collaborative learning groups to work out role-play scenarios and facilitate the exchange of ideas.

Hopefully, these concepts will act as a springboard to propel you toward a journey of self-discovery. By accepting our differences, even using them to help ourselves and others learn more effectively, we discover the wisest approach to learning – and living!

Next issue: An example of a training session that incorporates learning tools for different kinds of learners.

David Peters is the manager of education development for Jewelers of America Inc., where he works on the design and delivery of education and educational services to members.

Different Learning Styles

Read these different ways people prefer to learn then pinpoint your favorite style and those of your staff. Encourage them to understand that every person's unique learning style is valid and acceptable. You may want to share the information below at a staff meeting and ask each associate to identify the way he or she best learns. Then keep this in mind when planning education at your store.

  • Visual (by sight). Visual learners prefer to read information and generally work well with text and graphics. They often create mental images in the form of words and numbers; they don't depend on interpersonal interactions to facilitate their learning.
  • Auditory (by sound). These learners prefer to hear information. While reading they may mouth the words quietly. They also may reason aloud.
  • Tactile/Kinesthetic (by touch or movement). Tactile/kinesthetic learners excel when given the opportunity to work with new information in a "hands-on" mode. They benefit from manipulating objects, moving around and working through scenarios.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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