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How do trainers allow for differences between learners?

How do we tailor learning so it can be absorbed by people who come with differing levels of knowledge and ability?
Image show large number of people who are different in age, gender and ethnicity
© Health Education England Creative Commons 4.0 International

Every learner comes to training with their own unique blend of experience, ability, knowledge, likes and dislikes. Each will have different needs. We saw in Step 3.6 that segregating learners into ‘styles’ has been shown to be unreliable. Everyone has their own personal preferences, but tailoring teaching to match them produces no improvement in learning.

The best trainers use learning activities which are engaging for everyone, and which have been shown to work well for the topic.

(There are over 100 ‘learning styles’ and ‘cognitive styles’ theories, some of which contradict each other. It is beyond the scope of this course to go into them all. If you would like to find out more, there are two articles at the bottom of this step under See also).

Learn about your learners

The more a trainer knows about their learners, the better able they are to ensure training matches their needs and abilities.

Multiethinic group of faces

Trainers can find out about learners’ needs by:

  • Testing the training with a representative group of learners at the design stage to establish how well its design supports understanding and retention.

  • Sending out pre-course questionnaires

  • Meeting everyone as they arrive and asking about their expectations.

  • Observing of progress to ensure no-one is left behind.

  • Regularly checking of understanding during training.

As we shall see in Week 5, expert trainers watch learning activities and note which ones work best, to inform future training.

How fast? Matching training to trainees

There is a saying in teaching, ‘You can’t ride a horse faster than it can run’. However much the trainer knows, trainees can only learn so much at one time. The best trainers stay alert to the progress of everyone in the room.

Cartoon of galloping horse with its rider in mid air ahead of it

As we saw in Step 3.5, we use the strategy of ‘mastery learning’ in healthcare because we need all our learners to become competent and safe. So, it is crucial that no-one gets left behind.

Online learning and individual requirements

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) aim to make online content accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities. The guidelines include accommodations for blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, and photosensitivity. Designers of online learning should be familiar with its content and ensure the guidelines are taken into account from the planning stage.

Reading difficulties

It is estimated that up to 10% of the adult population have some level of reading difficulty. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide guidance to inform eLearning design. For classroom-based training, the possibility that someone in the room has a reading difficulty is yet another reason to minimise the amount of PowerPoint text.

Not everyone with a reading difficulty wishes to make it known. When trainers use text-based materials and exercises, they need to bear in mind not everyone may be able to read it easily. They should be prepared to assist sensitively if they suspect such a difficulty may be present.

Colour blindness

Colour blindness is a decreased ability to see colour or differences in colour. It affects up to 8% of the male population and represents a potential problem with visual aids and screen text. A simple check involves changing visual aids temorarily into ‘grayscale’ before use. If everything in the slides is clearly visible in this mode, it is likely that they contain sufficient contrast to be visible to trainees with colour blindness.

Should learning be ‘fun’?

Occasionally, trainers advertise courses with the strapline ‘We believe learning should be fun’. The sentiment is usually well intended and aims to reassure learners for whom school may not have been a positive experience. However, the notion that learning is fun may be poorly received by healthcare professionals who obtained their qualifications through determination and hard work.

The terms such as ‘engaging’ are perhaps more appropriate. If, on reaching the lunch break, a trainer hears their group say, ‘Goodness, this morning has gone by quickly!’ they can be confident their learners have been positively engaged.

Talking point

Consider sharing your answers to these questions in Comments:

  • How much do you find out about your learners before a training event?

  • What do you do to ensure training matches the needs of learners?

© Health Education England Creative Commons 4.0 International
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Train the Healthcare Trainer

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