There are different styles and preferences in learning, but individuals can't necessarily be pigeonholed into one style or another. To maximize the educational impact of your meetings, you need to understand how attendees learn within different aspects of a meeting, said Lee Schmucker, president, Schmucker Training and Consulting, Wichita, Kan., speaking at the 40th annual RCMA World Conference & Expo in Kansas City in January.

“When analyzing learning styles, you have to look at three different elements of the meeting or session — purpose, structure, and involvement,” she contends.

Purpose

The purpose of the meeting is about why the attendee is there. Why is he or she attending? What is the learner hoping to get out of the session? This category can be broken down into two different types of learners — practical and information-seekers. Practical learners want information that they can use right away, perhaps tips that they can apply immediately to their jobs. Information seekers are looking for new ideas, trends, or information that might give them a better understanding of the big picture or future trends.

Structure

The structure of the session pertains to how the information is presented. Individuals generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to information delivery — specific and general. Those who fall into the specific category prefer structured presentations with defined objectives and a clear agenda. They would prefer specific details and examples over generalizations. They require specific directions on how to proceed. Individuals in the general camp prefer a broad framework and look for relationships among ideas. They don't necessarily want specific directions; instead, they learn better in a more free-form environment, where they can decide what information is most relevant. They value creativity and want ideas for creating strategies independently.

Involvement

The third element of the meeting is involvement. There are two types of learners in this area, participative and reflective. Participative learners prefer to actively participate in the session. They like opportunities where there is audience-generated content, crowd sourcing, or co-creation. They prefer to work in groups and like hands-on activities or visual aids to help them learn. They want feedback from others because discussing information helps them understand. Reflective learners need time to process content. They prefer lectures to group activities or workshops and respond better to words than visuals. They want to think independently about the content and favor self-directed learning.

Schmucker acknowledged that participatory learning is one of the principles of adult education, but sometimes presenters take it too far. Not everyone likes that kind of involvement, and just because someone is not actively participating doesn't mean they're not engaged.

When developing educational programs, the key is to know your audience and how audience members like to learn. If the group is largely made up of practical learners who want specific information that they can reflect upon, then lectures would be the way to go. Conversely, if they are mostly information seekers who don't like structure and prefer active participation, then a highly interactive session would be more suitable. If the group consists of a mix of learners, as most do, then planners should offer sessions that cater to both styles so participants can attend those that suit them best.