E-Learning Styles

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Claudine McClean MCIPD of Structured Training looks at Kolb's different learning styles and how these influence the way people approach e-learning.

E-learning is a different way of learning from the traditional workshop approach. Many people, including training and learning managers, express concerns about how e-learning will meet the needs of their learners.

Workshops can struggle to meet the needs of Activists who perhaps don’t enjoy the slower pace required by other learners, and of Reflectors, who may feel rushed and will want to revisit ideas after the workshop end, or Theorists who become irritated at ‘fun’ exercises and undirected discussions, and of Pragmatists who may feel their time could be better spent.

Yet workshops remain a popular option, particularly when designed by training consultants who take all learning styles into account when designing their material.

Learning Styles
So how does e-learning stack up? Will e-learning meet the needs of your learning style, and those of your people? Let’s take a look at the styles, and whether e-learning could be the right solution for you.

1. Activists

People who prefer the Experience stage of Kolb’s cycle, ‘Activists’, enjoy involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new. Their philosophy is: 'I'll try anything once'.

Strengths
* flexible and open minded
* happy to have a go
* happy to be exposed to new situations
* optimistic about anything new and therefore unlikely to resist change.

Warnings
* tendency to take the immediately obvious action without thinking
* often take unnecessary risks
* rush into action without sufficient preparation
* get bored with implementation/consolidation.

E-learning style
There needs to be plenty to look at and with video and audio segments as well as animation, activists won’t get bored. The experience isn’t passive, activist learners will be clicking around exploring conversations and taking quizzes and exercises as the work through the material, giving them the opportunities they need to discover new experiences and place themselves at the centre of their learning.

E-learning also helps Activists to guard against their weaknesses. By trying out new ideas in the safe environment offered by a well designed e-learning framework they can learn about the risks inherent in situations, and discover the benefits of planning and preparation.

2. Reflectors

People who prefer the ‘Review’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Reflectors, like to sit back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them. When they act, it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others' observations as well as their own.

Strengths
* thorough and methodical
* thoughtful
* good at listening to others assimilating information
* rarely jump to conclusions.

Warnings
* tendency to hold back from direct participation
* slow to make up their minds and reach a decision
* tendency to be too cautious and not take enough risks
* not-assertive, they are not particularly forthcoming and lack 'small talk'.

E-Learning Style
Learners can take information on board in bite-sized chunks or work through larger sections before taking a break. This allows learners to think about what they’ve discovered, looking for examples in their own lives, and forming their own views before returning to the Module. There’s no rush, and the system remembers how far the learner has got so they can return directly to the last topic they studied. A Learning Journal facility allows learners to jot down notes as they go along, which they can return to later.

E-learning can helps Reflector to make the most of their learning style, building confidence in their skills and knowledge at their own pace, allowing them to take more informed decisions independently.

3. Theorists

People who prefer the ‘Conclude’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Theorists, adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won't rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesize. They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. This is their 'mental set' and they rigidly reject anything that doesn't fit with it. They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral thinking and anything flippant.

Strengths
* logical 'vertical' thinking
* rational and objective
* good at asking probing questions
* disciplined approach.

Warnings
* restricted in lateral thinking
* low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder and ambiguity
* intolerant of anything subjective or intuitive
* full of 'shoulds, oughts and musts'.

E-Learning Style
E-learning needs to have modules with clear concepts and theories which can be tested and remembered. Where additional research may help theorists to gain additional knowledge reading lists are been included to assist theorists to explore concepts in greater detail. Key thinkers on each topic can be identified so that learners can anchor their knowledge to academic research. By including models, acronyms, and clear logical concepts well designed e-learning gives theorists the structure and clarity they need. Warnings can be included to identify the limitations of theories and their application in the real world, helping theorists to build their knowledge whilst maintaining their ability to take a contingency approach.

4. Pragmatists

People who prefer the ‘Apply’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Pragmatists, are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice. They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical down-to-earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities 'as a challenge'. Their philosophy is: 'There is always a better way' and 'If it works it's good'.

Strengths
* keen to test things in practice
* practical, down to earth, realistic
* business-like get straight to the point
* technique oriented.

Warnings
* tendency to reject anything without an obvious application
* not very interested in theory or basic principles

E-Learning Style
For pragmatists, the content should be arranged in clear, easily identifiable modules designed to deal with everyday challenges. Within each module the material can be accessed at an element level, allowing pragmatists to access the sections they need to address the issues they are facing now. Practical examples of how to apply new knowledge are included, along with handy downloadable forms and checklists to enable easy application.

Exercises allow Pragmatists to take the concepts and profile themselves and their teams against them, and strategies for dealing with individual situations are included to keep the learning real. By including case studies and anecdotes well designed e-learning enables pragmatists to better retain and apply information about concepts.

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