In training, modalities represent different forms of learning, such as online learning, instructor-led training, mentorship and other formats. The number of modalities that trainers can choose from is growing every day, and technological advances such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will only increase that rate.

Why Use Multiple Modalities?

Let’s say you have big dreams to become the world’s best croquet player. You’re presented with two options for your training regimen:

  • Read every book available about croquet, master the concepts and rules, and become familiar with the “legends” of the game.
  • Read a few books about croquet, play in your backyard for three hours each day and schedule twice-weekly coaching sessions with last year’s state champion.

Which one would you choose? The second option is a no-brainer, right? This is the multi-modal approach, and it’s advantageous for a number of reasons:

  • Combining conceptual learning with skill reinforcement helps cut down on the forgetting curve.
  • Practice opportunities over time paired with coaching feedback contributes to deep learning.
  • Croquet takes physical input and muscle memory, and a purely informational approach is insufficient.

The multi-modal approach is becoming increasingly popular in the training industry, as companies are seeing the pitfalls of one-dimensional programs like the “croquet book reading” method. According to Training Industry’s 2017 report “The Anatomy of the Modern Learning System,” 52 percent of training providers use three to six modalities for their training programs, where “instructor-led training (ILT) and e-learning typically serve as a foundation, and additional modalities are incorporated to accommodate specific topics and organization and learner contexts.”

Figuring out which modalities are best for your training program can be a lofty task, but having the right criteria in place helps make it a far smoother process.

4 Criteria for Selecting Training Modalities

Once a training curriculum is developed, choosing modalities is a function of analyzing the content, audience, goal and context.

1. Content

Your content lies at the core of modality selection. If the method of learning isn’t compatible with the learning itself, then there’s no point in training in the first place. You wouldn’t use a bike to cross a river, so don’t choose modalities that fail to provide for the requirements of the training.

For example, if your content calls for memorization of certain industry terms, then e-learning with a continual reinforcement tool might be the best option. If you’re training new workers on how to deal with difficult customers on the phone, then one-on-one coaching with performance feedback could be a great choice.

2. Audience

The preferences of your audience are important to consider when choosing a training modality, and asking the right questions is paramount. Have you received feedback that your employees tend to skim over the text-heavy training content you’ve been sending them? Microlearning is a nice alternative. Suppose that your workforce consists of mostly college-aged employees. Would they prefer a mobile app-based training approach, or maybe virtual simulations? Distributing a survey asking questions like these before the program is formulated is a great way to gauge the preferences of your learners and have a frictionless training process.

3. Goal

Training should have a purpose. Determine where the learning will ultimately be applied and what you’d like employees to walk away with in terms of new abilities or understanding. If you’d like to improve the disciplining skills of your managers, then role-play scenarios where they actually discipline each other in a safe and judgment-free learning environment could be beneficial. If you’d like to increase employee engagement and transform workplace culture, a collaborative social learning format lends itself well.

4. Context

Understanding the context in which your trainees will be learning is crucial to modality selection. To determine context, analyze the physical location, time constraints and technological access of your employees. If your entire workforce is working from home, then ILT might not make much sense logistically, and virtual instructor-led training (VILT) could suffice. If you only employ part-time employees, then on-the-job training could eliminate the need to find a window in everyone’s busy schedule.

Making Your Modalities Work Together

If you give your learners the same content with multiple modalities, there’s a good chance they’ll become disillusioned with your training approach. Similarly, if the concepts they learn in different modules fail to contribute to a larger common framework, they’re unlikely to see the benefits of the training as a whole. Modalities should be consistent and compatible in order to engrain the concepts and skills into the minds of the participants. Choose modalities that complement, strengthen and reinforce one another if you really want to have a comprehensive impact on the successes of your learners.