Members in Business and Industry Spring Sneak Peek: Techniques to Improve Learning

The following article is by Randy Johnston, Executive Vice President of K2 Enterprises, and is a sneak peak into techniques firms and organizations can use to improve learning internally. If you like what you see here, there’s more where this came from! Tommy Stephens of K2 Enterprises will speak at NCACPA’s Members in Business and Industry Spring Conference May 20-22.

Randy Johnston
Exec VP, K2 Enterprises

As accountants, one of the privileges we have is the freedom to be continuous learners. We are expected to take classes and read articles to keep our skills current, all to put us in the best position to help our firms and our clients. While there is some debate around if 40 hours of CPE per year is enough educational exposure with more profitable organizations requiring 60 to 80 or more CPE hours, it is clear that the right type of learning on the right type of topic is most beneficial. While selecting the right topics is important, the method of delivery also affects the amount of learning that will take place in any educational setting.

This year’s recently completed 2015 Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey by Network Management Group, Inc. and Insight Research continued to highlight the need for training for accountants. A number of our state society members participated in this national survey. Survey question 15 asked about the amount of time spent on training staff, and 63.2% of all firms reported that they spent zero time! The amount of training at the firm level in 2015 dropped to 3.2% from 6.0% in 2014. Notably, firms of 11 people or more spent around 5% of their time in training, where smaller organizations spent 4%. In question 19 of the survey, training was the top technology challenge in 5.6% of all firms responding. As a possible explanation of this top challenge, 17% of all respondents named training as their most annoying technology challenge. So how can we train effectively without getting annoyed about training? Understanding that people learn in different ways is a great way to start.

What Are The Main Learning Models?

There are many types of learning styles, but two similar models are the most popular. First, a learning modality model from Barbe, Swassing, and Milone (1979) claims there are three main types of learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Most people learn best through a combination of the three types of learning styles, but everybody is different. Although most people use a combination of the three learning styles, they usually have a clear preference for one. Knowing and understanding the types of learning styles is important for learners of any age. The three types of learning styles include:

  • Auditory Learners: Hear
  • Visual Learners: See
  • Kinesthetic Learners: Touch

Auditory learners would rather listen to things being explained than read about them. Reciting information out loud and having music in the background is common for these learners. Other noises may become a distraction, resulting in a need for a relatively quiet place. Visual learners learn best by looking at graphics, watching a demonstration, or reading. For them, it’s easy to look at charts and graphs, but they may have difficulty focusing while listening to an explanation. Kinesthetic learners process information best through a “hands-on” experience. Actually doing an activity can be the easiest way for them to learn. Sitting still while learning may be difficult, but writing things down makes it easier to understand. By the way, most accountants are kinesthetic learners.

A second model suggests that we learn through different techniques according to the model of multiple intelligences from Howard Gardner of Harvard (1991). When content is provided to your team members, you should recognize that accountants have different learning styles according to the multiple intelligence model. Your methodology should include one or more of the learning styles to achieve maximum effectiveness. This includes:

  • Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands, and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Gardner says that these differences “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning. Indeed, as currently constituted, our educational system is heavily biased toward linguistic modes of instruction and assessment and, to a somewhat lesser degree, toward logical-quantitative modes as well.”

How can you provide the learning content needed in an interesting way that satisfies the multiple intelligences model? One statistic of note about the most preferred ways to learn from Question 85 of the Second Annual Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey is that the top sources of learning include: educational webinars (36.1%), from my peers (31.3%), and Industry Events I attend in person (29.8%). There are assessment tools that measure learning styles as well as one from K2 Enterprises and this state society that measures technical competencies in tools like Microsoft Excel.

So What Do We Do About Learning?

Choose content that is relative to the tasks that need completed and a delivery method that fits the learning style. Consider the needs of the organization and the individual and make a learning plan that includes a career ladder. Provide the coursework during a time that the individual is most effective at learning. Consider one-on-one coaching for the busiest of your team members, particularly for tactical, “how-to” tasks. Ask them to simply keep a list of questions and structure the learning on how to resolve these specific problems. Always have orientation learning for any new product such as Windows or Microsoft Office, or an upgrade to your core application. Ask your team questions about where time is wasted, which processes are time consuming, about areas of confusion or topics that need clarity. Put yourself and your team in the habit of finding the best and most effective way of doing something. When you gain the habit of using the Kipling questions:

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

you will have a much stronger view of what is needed to improve your learning process.