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5 Reasons to Deal with Difficult Learners Quickly

Posted by Lynne Koltookian on 10/2/17 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Deutsch via Pixabay

Nobody likes conflict. In fact, there’s lots of training available on how to avoid it, how to deal with it, and how to manage it. Conflict can even happen in our training sessions. Trainers often refer to this challenge as “managing difficult learners.” It’s not the learners themselves that are difficult, it’s their behavior. Difficult behaviors can manifest in many ways, including side bar conversations, inappropriate questions, ill-timed electronics usage, and late arrivals.


Sometimes it is hard for new trainers to confront these difficult situations because we are so concerned with our content delivery that we ignore, or put up with, inappropriate classroom behavior. New trainers might also struggle to confront difficult learners because they don’t know how the learners will receive the direction. Also, the new trainer may simply not know what to say and when to say it. When we do nothing about difficult learners, the other participants may become angry or upset by the disruption and might hold it against the instructor for not managing the classroom dynamics well enough.


So, new and experienced instructors alike should be sure to handle difficult learners quickly, professionally, and compassionately. In our Instructional Techniques for New Instructors workshop, we encourage new trainers to use what we call “I” statements. For example, if two learners are having sidebar conversations, the instructor can call them into the hallway, away from the class, and say something like, “I’m finding it difficult to teach with the sidebar conversations going on.” At this point, usually the participants will apologize and return to class knowing what they need to stop doing.


It is key to deal with difficult learners correctly for five reasons:

1. Your credibility as an instructor is on the line.

2. It is your responsibility to maintain a positive learning environment.

3. Both the difficult learners and the rest of the class will respect you more in the end.

4. Your focus needs to be maintained.

5. Your efforts will pay off with less time spent dealing with future problem issues once a good example is set.


Now that you have some strong reasons to keep those learners focused and on task, be sure to practice your “I” statements and many other techniques from your Langevin training so that your integrity and professionalism as an instructor will remain intact!


Dealing with Difficult Participants

Lynne has been a course leader with Langevin since 2007. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Penn State University and a Master’s degree in Education from Boston University. After working many years in human resources and sales, Lynne transitioned into training, her true passion, where she’s been facilitating since 1994. Her training philosophy is simple—learning should be fun! The essence of a good instructor is someone who can make complex things easy to understand and fun to learn. In her free time, you’ll find Lynne cycling, hiking, downhill skiing, and scuba diving.

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