Have you ever found yourself in a training session, bored out of your brain, while around you others seem enthused? Have you ever wondered why that happens?
The answer lies in our preferences for different thinking styles.
What’s a Thinking Style?
Let me ask you a question. When you are in a training course, which of the following situations do you prefer?
- The trainer gets right to the point, is clear and concise, lets you form your own opinions, and provides you with ample reference and evidentiary material—which you have time to read and digest.
- The trainer provides you with plenty of opportunities for discussion and exploration of the material, conducts most learning by discussion, and runs without a timetable.
- The trainer provides you with an up-front summary of the day’s material, gives you opportunities to practice throughout, and does not deviate from a set timetable.
- The trainer plays music, conducts most learning by role plays and group work, and encourages interaction between learners during the training.
Each of these options represents a different thinking preference, as follows:
Option 1: Analytical and Factual
If your preference was option 1, you identify with a thinking style that includes logical, clear thinking, objective decision-making, critical and rational thought, and a preference for facts and figures.
Option 2: Strategic and Unorthodox
If your preference was option 2, you identify with a thinking style that includes big-picture thinking, speculation, and flexibility.
Option 3: Organised and Detailed
If your preference was option 3, you identify with a thinking style that is about structure, sequential thinking, planning, and step-by-step approaches to work.
Option 4: Interpersonal and Sensitive
If your preference was option 4, you identify with a thinking style that includes empathy, thinking about people, playfulness, and expression.
Thinking styles such as these can be measured by several different psychometric instruments, including the Neethling Brain Instrument (NBI™). (For more information on the NBI, visit our page here) The NBI assigns a colour to each of the four primary thinking styles—or quadrants—as follows:
- Analytical & Factual: blue quadrant.
- Strategic & Unorthodox: yellow quadrant.
- Organised & Detailed: green quadrant.
- Interpersonal & Sensitive: red quadrant.
The Effect of Thinking Style Preferences
Our relative preferences for these different thinking styles can affect us in different ways—the most obvious of which is our preference for different types of work.
Let me give you an example. Someone—let’s call him Tony—has strong preferences for thinking styles covered by the blue (analytical & factual) and green (organised & detailed) quadrants. His friend Bernadette, in comparison, has strong preferences for thinking styles covered by the red (interpersonal & sensitive) and yellow (strategic & unorthodox) quadrants.
Tony prefers work that allows him to be:
- Focused on the facts
Bernadette, on the other hand, likely prefers work that involves:
- Flexibility and change
Broadly speaking, Tony might enjoy being an engineer, but Bernadette would likely find such work boring and restrictive; she might prefer to work in sales, for instance.
How Thinking Style Preferences Influence the need for Multi-modal Training
Consider how the differing thinking styles we have examined so far might affect the way in which people prefer to learn:
Learners who prefer blue quadrant thinking styles generally prefer to learn at their desk, with summaries and research available. They will prefer a quiet and neat environment where precision and clarity is valued more than emotion.
Learners who prefer yellow quadrant thinking styles generally prefer to learn experientially, using diagrams and games as learning aids, and working in an environment that is flexible, challenging and colourful.
Learners who prefer green quadrant thinking styles generally prefer a structured learning experience with a timetable, detailed summaries, opportunities to practice a skill until they master it, and with detailed notes available to them.
Learners who prefer red quadrant thinking styles generally prefer a learning experience that prioritises emotion over facts, gives them an opportunity to interact with others, and has room for movement, expression and individuality.
Think about the last training course you were on—or, if you work in the instructional design field, the last training you designed. Do you think it adequately catered for each of the different thinking styles represented by the preferences above?
If it didn’t, there were probably a few people there who were finding it very difficult to learn.
What about Me as a Facilitator?
If you’re a facilitator, it’s well worth considering your own thinking style preferences, because they will affect the way in which you teach. For example:
- If you’re a facilitator who favours blue quadrant thinking styles, you probably enjoy working from textbooks or other written materials, you give precise instructions, favour logical arguments, and your participatory elements are probably dedicated to analytical and technical discussion.
- If you’re a facilitator who favours yellow quadrant thinking styles, you probably enjoy introducing new concepts and experimentation, and use a lot of visual materials. The participatory elements of your training are probably spontaneous and you try to make your training sessions a fun experience.
- If you’re a facilitator who favours green quadrant thinking styles, you probably prefer to maintain a formal (rather than informal) relationship with your attendees, and by default you probably structure your training such that they are well-planned and organised with clear objectives. Your participatory elements probably involve drilling and practice.
- If you’re a facilitator who favours red quadrant thinking styles, you probably enjoy creating an emotional experience for your attendees, with plenty of movement and music if possible. You likely encourage your attendees to show their emotions and the participatory elements of your training probably involve a lot of group work and discussion.
How does it all fit together?
Every individual has their own preference for different thinking styles—and every individual likes to learn in their own way. When you combine the thinking style preference of the attendee, the facilitator and the instructional designer, then results can vary.
Consider a training course developed by an instructional designer with strong preferences for the red quadrant, being delivered by a facilitator who has strong preferences for the green quadrant. The facilitator will probably find it difficult to deliver activities that require interpersonal reaction and participation, and depending on the clarity of the instructions, may even find himself flustered at the lack of planning and preparation in the materials.
Then consider an attendee who has strong preferences for the blue quadrant. She would normally prefer to learn from textbook-style materials—but none were provided by the instructional designer, who favours experiential learning. She would also normally prefer a quiet and orderly environment in which to learn—and so would the facilitator—but the instructional designer has developed a course that involves a lot of colour and movement.
What does this mean for Training Design?
You’re probably familiar with the Visual/Auditory/Kinaesthetic breakdown of learning styles, and the maxim that suggests training design should try to account for all three.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, however, you can effectively train some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t effectively train all of the people all of the time; training, therefore, needs to be multi-modal in terms of its delivery in order to provide as many opportunities as possible for the different thinking styles to flourish.
We find it best to consider providing different experiences for the different thinking styles, so for example we might create a training course where:
- Learners who favour thinking styles represented by the blue quadrant can refer to plenty of written material in workbooks during or after the completion of the course, including further readings if they want to learn more or conduct their own research.
- Learners who favour thinking styles represented by the yellow quadrant have the opportunity to interact and explore ideas through open-ended workshops and other learning activities.
- Learners who favour thinking styles represented by the green quadrant have a clear agenda set at the start of the day, and are provided with opportunities to apply the training material directly back to their day-to-day jobs (e.g. via templates and other tools they can use immediately when they return to work).
- Learners who favour thinking styles represented by the red quadrant are able to engage in role plays and discuss the training material freely in question and answer sessions with the facilitator.
By considering and taking into account all the different thinking styles, we can design training that is transferred more effectively to the workplace by appealing to the preferences of different individuals.