More on Learning Styles: Why, What, How, What If?

Jul 29, 2011 | Education, Marketing

The other issue to keep in mind when looking at the best ways to get your marketing people ramped up quickly is whether they are a “why,” “what,” “how does it work,” or “what if” learner.

There’s a whole chapter devoted to this in Teach What You Know, by Steve Trautman, which is a wonderful book all about teaching peers and people you are mentoring what they need to know to do a good job.

The entire book is full of gems – my copy currently has about 20 pages bookmarked. If you ever do mentoring or any kind of informal training, I recommend it highly. He’s also got an excellent website at

Here’s the short version of the chapter on learning styles…

“Why” learners
“Why” learners want to know why they should care – why they should be learning this, why it is important, why focus on it now. So start your explanation with this.

“What” learners
“What” learners want the facts without a lot of fluff. Give them an outline, documentation, or step-by-step processes. They like working with people who come to the conversation prepared, so having an agenda is useful. The bottom line for them is “What do I need to know?”

“How does it work” learners
“How” learners need to see the relationship between what they are learning and the big picture. They want to see the relationships and connections between the new information and what they already know. Give them context and show how what you are teaching them is similar to something they already understand or know how to do.

“What if” learners
“What if” learners will want to discuss the alternatives with you. They’ll ask questions about why it is done the way you outline and whether another way is better. They need to understand the boundaries and the issues that were considered in making the decision to do it this way. They can be a little frustrating to teach because they seem to veer into unrelated areas and have a hard time staying on topic. But this is how they learn. You need to allow them to ask a few questions and let them roll around the possibilities in their heads. They may give you some creative ideas you never would have thought of.

For everyone…
When I’m doing training, I’ve found it makes sense to combine all of these methods. Most people do not know which category they fall into, and covering all the bases provides a very solid training structure.

I start with “why” regardless of who I’m teaching. It’s always good to frame what you’re teaching with why it matters.

Then I like to have steps written out. A lot of marketing freelancers are “what” learners, and having the process written out or shown in a video is a very simple method of teaching. Plus it saves time because you document the process once and can then use it with anyone who needs to do the task.

Providing the context and comparing what you are teaching to something they already know how to do is also useful for most people.

So I do the why, what and how information for pretty much everyone. If I’m dealing with a what-if person that tends to take care of itself, because they’ll be asking me all kinds of questions anyway.

Who else should read this? Please share!

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