Great leaders know how to motivate all of their followers. In the same way, successful training sessions teach all of their participants. After all, a training session is only as good as what the participants take away. If you want to build a successful training session, you have to build it for every sort of person with every sort of brain.

Trainers often develop their trainings according to their own learning style, but they’re better off varying their methods so that their trainings address each kind of learning. Although there are many ways of looking at learning styles, the brain stores information both concretely and abstractly:

  • Concrete learners are inclined to focus on immediate reality and prefer real-life examples, explicit directions, and using their five senses. They learn best when they move from the concrete to the abstract in a step-by-step sequence. They value practical knowledge and tend to be precise and accurate in their work. They tend to excel at memorizing facts.

  • Abstract learners are comfortable creating theories about what they hear and observe. They tend to look at the big picture to get an overall impression of what’s happening and often leap to a conceptual understanding of material. They may be inattentive during sessions that predominantly give factual information.

Some learners can learn in either fashion; some require a concrete approach to then lead them to the abstract ideas. Many trainings share strategies and ideas, and so naturally abstract learners have an easier time. Concrete learners need a bridge from concrete to abstract.

To meet the needs of both concrete and abstract learners try the following:

  • Begin the training with the big picture. For example, if you’re teaching sales people how to sell a new product, the big picture might be learning the three things this product can do to change the lives of customers. Abstract learners need the big picture.

  • Give real-life examples. Show video clips, pictures, or charts that go along with stories of how this product changed lives. Concrete learners relate well to this step.

  • Use hands-on activities. Enable the trainees to work with the product to see how it works and get a feel for how it might affect others. Concrete learners especially like the physical contact with the product; abstract learners may do more talking and throw out ideas about the product.

  • Step by step, show trainees how the product works and what the benefits are. Have them work in groups or pairs to practice ways of sharing this information with customers. Together, abstract and concrete learners come up with big ideas and steps for selling the product.

Abstract and concrete learners make great teams. They cover ideas as well as facts, and they fill in any gaps for each other when they work together.