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Why We Should Avoid Labeling Learners

Posted by Lynne Koltookian on 4/27/15 4:00 AM
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While waiting in the security line at the airport last week, I saw a special line for TSA pre-check passengers and a different line for regular passengers. I proceeded to my gate and saw two more options: a line for first-class, frequent flyers and another line for general boarding passengers. I boarded my aircraft and thought about the many seating options I could have selected. My choices included first-class seats, preferred seating seats, extra-room seats, and economy seats. Gee, so many labels for so many options! We are a society of labels. We label people, places, and things.

Labeling may be good for sales or marketing purposes, or to help when buying airline seats, but it isn’t always a good idea for instructors to label students in the classroom.

What kind of labels do we use? Maybe some of these sound familiar: fast learner, slow learner, beginner learner, intermediate learner, advanced learner, difficult learner. I could go on and on. It’s part of human nature to do this, and I am no exception. However, there are times when it may not be a good idea to label a learner, especially the ones we label as “difficult.” Let me give you an example. A long time ago a colleague told me about a “difficult learner” who was disrupting her class. She called a break, and rather than labeling him a “difficult” learner and telling him to stop disrupting the class, she asked him how he was doing. He opened up to her and told her about some extremely tragic things that were going on in his personal life. On top of that, he told her that his boss was sending him to training to fix his performance or his employment would be terminated! No wonder the man was acting up in class! I learned a very important lesson from my colleague that day.

This experience matched a quote I once read: “Find out the pain they are in before you tell them about the pain they are causing.” Since my colleague found out was going on with the learner, she was in a better position to act from a place of knowledge and compassion. She offered to provide personal assistance after the training was over to ensure he applied what he learned. She also showed compassion for his personal situation. After their discussion they both returned to the training session and his disruptive behavior vanished.

So, whenever I teach people in my workshops about how to deal with difficult people, I caution them to ask first, try not to judge, and then act accordingly. The end result will always be better!

Do you have a similar story to tell?

Want to learn more? Check out these 25+ blog posts! Or, why not purchase Langevin’s How to Deal with Difficult Participants eBook that’s filled with simple, yet very powerful, techniques to nip just about any negative behavior in the bud.


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.

Topics: difficult participants

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