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Solutions for Dealing with Difficult Learner Behaviors

Posted by Langevin Team on 11/27/17 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

If you’ve been in training for any length of time, you know the motivation and attitude of your learners can make or break a training session. As trainers, it is our duty to make training a positive and safe experience for our learners. This can be challenging when the attitude of a small minority dictates the temperature of the entire room. It’s important that you know how to quickly recognize the unmotivated learner so you can win her over before you lose control of the entire class.


In a perfect world, all learners would come into your training room skipping with joy and shouting, “I am so happy to be here!”  In my eighteen years of experience, I have never met this learner. Many learners appreciate that training helps in their current job. Some are genuinely excited and eager to learn; they bring with them an enthusiasm that is hard to feign. We love these learners! 


There are a few learners, however, who don’t want to be in your training and will go out of their way to make sure you’re aware of this fact every minute they are in attendance. We sometimes refer to this group as “difficult learners.” These are the participants we want to win over.


A difficult learner is any participant whose behavior disrupts the rest of the class. Some behaviors are more harmless than others. Here are four behaviors to watch for, tips on recognizing them, and simple solutions to help these learners get the most out of your class.


The Chatters

These learners love to talk. Usually this a good thing, unless they engage in lengthy conversations with their neighbor while you are in the middle of explaining a new concept or process. Most talkers don’t realize they are distracting. Standing near them while you are talking, or asking them a question, will help with their side conversations. Draw them out with kindness and engage them on breaks. Often the chatters are nervous and trying to “feel” out the people around them.


The Drummers

Typically, these are your kinesthetic learners. Most of the drumming comes from their need to “do something.” I feel that urge, myself, when sitting through training. Provide these participants with something to occupy their hands. Leave miniature puzzles, Play-Doh, and Slinky’s on the tables. Once their hands are busy with something quiet, they won’t need to finish their drum solo during class time.


The Preoccupied

We are all busy. Learners take time from their work and personal lives to attend our classes. Even though their bodies occupy space in our training, it doesn’t mean their mind does too. If possible, have your learners clear their spaces of all but the materials you provide. This will keep outside distractions to a minimum. Utilize more small group discussions and activities. Despite your outstanding presentation skills, the average learner opts to passively listen when they hear the same voice over time. Vary that by allowing them opportunities to problem-solve and work with others in the room. When all else fails, initiate conversation with the learner. Building rapport with your learner will give you greater insight into what you are dealing with. Act upon what you learn; make these learners’ experience better.


The Domineering

These learners are very clever at disguising themselves as avid participants…at first. They ask good questions and contribute stories in line with the current discussion. At first, you are excited because they bring valuable insight to the rest of the class. However, you soon realize they have a point of view concerning every discussion and they take up a lot of time. By the time you realize how close you were to rolling your eyes in irritation, you notice the rest of the class doesn’t have as much restraint.


The best defense in this situation is a good offense. Have the group establish ground rules at the beginning of the class. The peer pressure will usually keep the domineering person in line. If that doesn’t deter them, you can use a Koosh ball or other device to indicate who has the floor at certain times. This will help people from talking out of turn. Additionally, an “Questions” board, or other posting device, allows participants to post questions you can answer later. This tool allows you to remain in control without direct confrontation with the domineering participant.


These are only a few of the difficult behaviors you might encounter. If you have been in the training arena for any length of time, I’m sure you can add a few of your own. As professional trainers, our job is to make the learning environment as fun as possible. Managing difficult learner behaviors ensures that we do that.


What difficult learner behaviors do you find most challenging? How do you address them? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


In our How to Deal with Difficult Participants eBook, discover an effective, straightforward approach to manage just about every negative behavior you will ever encounter. You can also check out the guide below!


Dealing with Difficult Participants

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