Stacking the deck in your favor: Creating the right class mix

Guess who's coming to training? Here's a tip you can use to make sure personalities don't get in the way of learning.

When you’re planning a training class, student personalities can be as important as their skill levels. If you are an in-house trainer or if you have the opportunity to observe your students at work before the class starts, your observations can tell you a lot about work habits and individual quirks.

Who listens to directions and follows them? (I know, sometimes it seems like this art is completely lost.) Who is impatient and prefers to click away independently instead of following the lesson with the rest of the class? Is anyone overbearing? What about the people who have never worked with technology before? Are there any strong users you can cultivate into independent mini-trainers? Who is more likely to help a colleague by sharing knowledge instead of flaunting it?

If you can get to know the personalities and work habits of the people in your class, you can cut the classes down to a smaller size and get the right people in each group. This process is easier for in-house trainers who can observe how their colleagues work ahead of time and plan from there. For other trainers, it can be helpful to talk to the department supervisor before the class starts to get an idea of the personalities and experience levels of the workers.

Pairing up compatible personalities
Recently I had to train four users from the same department. I let them pick the time and the days. I did specify, however, that there would be two sessions and who would be in each session.

In the group, there was a woman, Ms. Congeniality, who had some experience; a man, Speedy, who thought he knew a lot more than he did; and two men, Bored and Interested, who had little to no computer experience. I paired up the first two and the last two.

Personality had as much to do with this decision as experience did. I knew Bored was not excited about this class and felt very intimidated by the technology. Interested was much more open to learning. The woman was patient enough to deal with the arrogant guy, and she listened to my instructions while he raced ahead, only to come limping back later, wondering why he couldn’t get the computer to do what he wanted.

The personality mix turned out well. Ms. Congeniality and Speedy knew the basics, so we got right to the new material. Interested was a quick learner and he helped Bored through the rough spots. Everyone was learning and moving at a pace that felt right.

Small classes are ideal because you can tailor your presentation to each person’s learning style. But even if pre-selecting your students isn’t an option for you, sorting out personalities early on can be a big help by allowing you to match up personal communication styles and create a good learning environment.
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